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June 4, 2018
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Big salaries in 56 companies to be taken back: CJP

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June 4, 2018

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LAHORE: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Sunday reprimanded Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif after he failed to satisfy the court regarding the hiring of people as heads of 56 public sector companies on very high salaries.

A two-judge bench at the Supreme Court Lahore Registry has been hearing a suo motu notice of appointment of a retired officer as the head of the Strategic Management and Internal Policy Unit on a salary package much higher than that being given to the Punjab chief secretary.

“You are custodian of the public money. Leave it what the result or performance of the companies is or what the policies are, just tell us how the officials of the same grades at the public departments posted to the public sector companies could be doled out public money in millions,” the CJ asked the chief minister.

“This is public money, and not booty that you give anybody whatever you want, as salary and perks,” remarked the chief justice.

He also asked him if there was any assessment test, the test to ascertain the IQ level, capacity building or any other grounds on the basis of which the officials were paid Rs2.5-Rs3 million as salary, including perks and privileges. These officials had been getting around Rs100,000 salary in their respective departments.

“Why Mujahid Sher Dil is getting one million rupees?” the CJ asked the CM by naming an official.

Shahbaz told the court that the relevant authorities, and not him, had appointed the chief executives to the said companies. He said such companies had also been set up in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and in the Centre as well, adding that these companies were also established before he assumed power. “We are custodian of the national exchequer and safeguard every single penny of the nation,” he added.

The CM stated that the appointments had been made on merit and if any corruption had been committed somewhere, the CJ should get it dug out. Shahbaz claimed that he saved billions of rupees from being plundered. “I say without fear and favour that I have saved billions of rupees of the nation in different projects and no one did so in the past.”

The chief justice, however, rejected Shahbaz Sharif’s explanation and questioned the merit of appointments, asking why such hefty amounts were paid to government officers. "We are not satisfied with your answer," Justice Nisar added. “Question pertained to high salaries of particular officers, why you bring your persons in every matter,” added the CJ.

Shahbaz responded saying he would accept the court decision, upon which the CJ asserted: "You will have to accept it, either you like it or not." The CJ said that tens of millions of rupees were invested in the Punjab Saaf Pani Company, but not a single drop of water was supplied. “Rs4 billion were invested in Punjab Saaf Pani Company, but there is not even a single drop of water,” the CJ remarked.

“Why Captain Usman, its CEO, is being paid Rs1.4 million salary,” the CJ asked. The CM replied: “I saved Rs160 billion. You may order an investigation into it.” However, the CJP remarked: “You are responsible for all this loss. What you have delivered as you have been in power for the last 10 years?”

The CM replied that power projects were the result of his party’s efforts. The CJ further said: “You made these companies and outsourced them later. On what basis, the government officers were hired against salaries of Rs2.5 million each?

“An officer of 18 grade, who was getting Rs130,000 has been hired on hefty salaries of one million to 2.5 million rupees. This is taxpayers’ money. “Why Mujahid Sher Dil is being paid one million rupees salary and Capt (retd) Usman hired against hefty salary of Rs2.5 million,” the CJ asked.

Responding to the CJP remarks, Shahbaz Sharif said he himself pointed out corruption in the Saaf Pani project. “People advised me not to disclose it as it will show the government’s failure. But I did not pay heed to them and saved Rs70 billion,” Shahbaz said, requesting the CJ to summon the record and if he would be found guilty of even a single penny, he would be ready to face any punishment.

The chief minister said that before his tenure, the companies were made and billions of rupees were wasted, but no action was taken against them. He said that no money was wasted during his tenure.

The reply irked the chief justice, who posed him another question that what was transparency and why Mujahid Sher Dil was being paid Rs1 million? What quality he possessed? To it, the chief minister said that he did not make the appointments.

Justice Nisar said that all officers who enjoyed perks worth tens of thousands of rupees would have to pay back each and every penny, adding that Shahbaz Sharif would be responsible for ensuring this payback. “Mian Sahib, you will have to pay it back,” Justice Nisar addressed him.

He said that notices would be issued to the CM if the amount was not returned. The entire episode infuriated the chief minister. He asked the court whether he had saved billions of rupees of taxpayers’ money because "he had been bitten by a rabid dog".

The CJP responded by saying that he did not know what had bitten the chief minister, and that such language did not suit Shahbaz Sharif. Shahbaz then sought pardon for his language and agreed that the Punjab Saaf Pani Company had not provided water to the people.

He said that the government had rescued itself from Rs70 billion fraud in the water company, and that he had saved Rs160 billion in power projects. He pointed out that loadshedding had been minimised in the country due to energy projects, launched by the PML-N government. “If this courtroom is cooler, it has happened due to these power projects,” the CM said. He counted a number of projects including the Sahiwal Power Coal project, Safe City, etc.

China has invested in 1,260-megawatt project of Sahiwal Coal Power project while Punjab is getting 2% profit on it. Likewise, Safe City project has been established with more than half of the amount spent on the same project in Islamabad. No one has saved Rs160 billion in Pakistan’s 70 years history, adding that corruption had been committed in government departments even before the establishment of such companies.

“Decision to hire people on heavy salaries to the companies was taken in accordance with a notification of the Finance Department. Salaries are paid on the basis of financial rules and a board takes decision to this effect. I have no concern with it,” he added.

He requested the CJP that good work should be appreciated, adding that he persuaded the lowest bidder for further cut in the bidding money. Suppose, for example, if there is no company. Hundreds of billions of rupees of the public departments have gone waste before this. “Companies were also made before my tenure. But we have a mechanism of appointments and transparency,” said the chief minister.

“I travelled in the federal government’s plane instead of hiring a charted plane. Huge money of Rs500 billion had been spent on the Neelam-Jhelum project. I swear that Neelam-Jhelum project, Katchi Canal and Nandipur projects caused huge losses to the nation.

"You can give me whatever punishment you like if corruption of a single penny is proved against me," Shahbaz said. “I have given my blood to this province,” Shahbaz added. Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the other member of the bench, read out a list of companies made by the Punjab government and pointed out that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) found corruption in the companies.

On it, Shahbaz said there was not even a single penny of corruption on his part. “We have called you only for a specific question that why the heads of the companies getting salaries in millions?

“But you (chief minister), instead of giving answer, started claiming your own innocence, and that it was Neelam-Jhelum project and Nandipur project that made the country poor. “We’ll issue notice to whoever is responsible and get every single penny back to the national exchequer,” the CJ remarked.

However, the bench asked him again that why Rs1.4 million was being paid to Usman, to which the CM replied that there was a board of directors of the Finance Department which approved all the matters.

“I don’t get no file, Sir,” the chief minister said. At this, the CJP expressed wonder observing “What kind of chief minister you are that you get no file.” Earlier in the day, the CJP had ordered NAB to estimate the value of properties owned by the 56 chief executive officers under scrutiny.

During the hearing, the advocate general Punjab told the court that the chief minister had no direct connection with the companies. The chief justice, however, rejected the argument, saying that "not even a fly can move in the province without his order in the province.

“Please ask your chief minister where is he and when will he appear before the court,” the CJP observed. “Shahbaz Sharif should appear in person and explain how government officials were hired on such high salaries,” remarked the top judge.

The court was told that the chief minister would appear before the court at 2pm. The court further ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to estimate the wealth of the chief executive officers of six companies.

“Please investigate how much property these officials own, so that the nation’s money could be returned to it,” Chief Justice Nisar remarked. On April 28, the Supreme Court had ordered the heads of 56 public companies, which are being investigated for corruption, to draw salaries as per their pay scale.

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