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December 27, 2017

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Lesson from FIA: say ‘yes’ to corruption

ISLAMABAD: A close relative of an FIA director had to register a vehicle with excise department. The director assigned this task to his subordinate who facilitated the relative of boss by doing the needful in no time. Nevertheless, the director was unhappy.

The subordinate officer was transferred to a remote district from Islamabad. Before he relinquished the charge, the penalised officer was summoned. “I asked you to help out my relative. Other than the swift registration, you were supposed to pay the fee from your pocket. You are new in the service. When boss orders something, you have to take care of everything,” the director said. This incident is almost 15 years old. The situation has not changed much. A few years ago, an officer was brought on deputation in FIA and appointed on a lucrative post in immigration. He was a contractual employee in his parent department. Being the son of a politician was his only qualification. He used to send Rs200,000 per day to a boss in interior ministry during his stint in FIA, according to officers who worked under his command. These are just a couple of anecdotes but not the only one. However, they provide a cursory glance into the system and how deeply it is rotten from top to bottom. A director can’t hold to account his subordinate who is forced to pay from his pocket for helping out the relative of boss. Such officers rather corrupt their subordinates. A ministerial boss can’t go against the corrupt when he himself is a beneficiary.

If corruption is at the director’s level, it can be fixed by appointing honest officers provided there is an upright head of the department. That FIA is presently headed by Bashir Ahmed Memon, a man of impeccable integrity, is good news. Pointing fingers at him for any kind of misappropriation is next to impossible. “I have set my price tag so high that none could buy me,” he said on a lighter note when asked how he preserved his reputation.

I can vouch for the integrity of my team of directors, he told The News, but can’t give a clean chit to the subordinate staff. He proudly claims having taken action against around 50 officials notorious for corruption. They have been stopped from working as the investigation is under way. Will such harsh measures serve as deterrence without addressing the issues relating to resources? This remains a daunting question.

Corruption flourishes under the garb of anti-investigation measures. Nothing better than the status of pending inquiries explain this. Right now, there are as many as 29,089 cases pending with the FIA. The bare minimum budget estimated for one small-level investigation is Rs17,650 and thus Rs216.72 million required for the efficient disposal of pending cases. In contrast, the total budget allocated for investigation to the FIA is Rs2.65 million only. This means just Rs150 for one investigation.

This meagre sum tells a lot how the investigation is either compromised or remains pending. The investigative officers have to bear the expenses right from sending notices to the accused to arranging transportation for their arrest and subsequent production before courts. If an investigator bears the expenses of investigation, he will eventually extort from the accused.

When this extortion process starts, sky is the limit. By the end of the day, the accused who is already facing charges of misappropriation comes out clean as the money changes hands. An investigator drawing average salary around Rs60,000 and working without basic facilities finally has a field day.

An FIA inspector was recently accused of demanding Rs3.5 million from someone facing an inquiry as he lodged a complaint with FIA director general. The inspector under question was probing a scam of fake NOCs issued by the lower staff of the interior ministry to moneyed people who wanted to import bulletproof vehicles. As many as 67 fake NOCs were issued. He would have made Rs235 million if succeeded in charging the demanded amount from 67 accused.

Compared with other investigation agencies like the National Accountability Bureau and Anti-Narcotics Force, the FIA receives the lowest budgetary allocation. The agency is finally left with no option but to rely on investigators to spend from their own pockets and extort from the accused 10 times extra. The budgetary allocation is reserved for high-profile cases. For example, investigation of Grand Hyatt scam cost FIA around Rs1 million. The JIT on Panama Papers headed by an additional DG FIA was allotted Rs20 million on the orders of the Supreme Court. “The budget allocated to JIT shows how much an investigation costs. What is allocated to the FIA is nothing more than a joke,” said an official commenting on this sorry state of affairs.

Lack of resources for investigation is not the only problem the FIA is facing. It doesn’t have its building infrastructure. It has directorate in main cities and all of them have been placed in rented buildings whereas no conveyance is provided to the officials up to assistant director level.

When DG FIA was asked if he has any credible plan to deal with the issues forming the basis of corruption, he was optimist that the situation will improve under the watch of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who, he said, has promised Rs1.5 billion for building infrastructures. Translating the promises into reality may address issues to a certain level but entire revamping is needed to curb the menace of corruption.

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