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Malam Jabba Skiing Resort case: NAB after big gun to decide ownership of resort land

By Usman Manzoor
December 05, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) apparently is after a big gun to add another “feather” in its cap as it has stopped the provincial committee constituted by the chief secretary Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to determine the land ownership of 275-acre Malam Jabba Sking Resort from submitting its report, which has set tongues wagging.

NAB is probing the Malam Jabba Sking resort land lease to a private party by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government in 2014 and ex-chief minister KP Pervaiz Khattak, is facing the investigation in this regard. Other who are being probed also include senior bureaucrat Azam Khan and it is rumored that in order to balance the onslaught against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, a high profile indictment in the Malam Jabba case might bail out the corruption watchdog.

The spokesperson of NAB Peshawar when contacted said that normally NAB takes help from the relevant departments to ascertain the land ownership of disputed properties but NAB also stops departments in some cases from doing so as it apprehends that a wrongdoing might not be legalised retrospectively. When asked that the committee in the instant case was constituted to settle a decades old dispute of land of Malam Jabba Sking Resort, the spokesperson said that NAB fears backdated approvals that’s why it must have stopped the departments from proceeding further.

Details reveal that the land of Malam Jabba Ski Resort, Swat has remained controversial for decades as different government departments have been claiming its ownership especially the Pakistan Tourism Corporation Limited as Wali-e-Swat in 1969 had gifted this land for skiing resort but the land could not be transferred to PTDC.

In 2014, the KP government decided to revamp the skiing resort which had been destroyed due to terrorism and a Lahore based company Simson’s won the bid. When the company had constructed a 5 star hotel at the site and had contracted a renowned hotel chain for the business, erected a chairlift and zip liners for skiing and has organised two skiing competitions and has spent over a billion rupees on the project, NAB has started an inquiry against the award of contract to the company.

Documents reveal that the chief secretary KP had constituted a 10-member committee to look into all aspects of the difference of opinion on the land ownership rights issues between the tourism department and forest department regarding Malam Jabba Sking resort. The ToRs of committee read:

Was the land in question provincial government land immediately after merger of Swat state or was it given to the federal government prior to merger, and was federal government land. Which provincial department is the rightful custodian of the land in question. Whether the revenue entry pertaining to the land in question is correct or erroneous and reasons there for. Submit recommendations:

NAB’s letter dated 12th November 2018 addressed to the chief secretary KP states that it is to inform that this bureau has already conveyed to secretary tourism department KP to maintain position of the project as on 4th January 2018. But it has been reported that consciously deliberately and with malice the officer/officials concerned holding, the offices in the departments of the subject project are continuously trying to maneuver the evidence in order to defeat, compromise jeopardise and mislead the investigation on one pretext or another. Recently it has been reported that again under the garb of determination of land ownership rights of Malam Jabba Sking report, the same illegal efforts are being made, which is cognisable under the NAB law.

“You are therefore requested to please ensure/maintain the status of the project/case as earlier requested, halt the above mentioned illegal actions, proceedings and also requested to provide complete certified and legible copies of under mentioned record/information to Mr Rafi Jan investigation officer of NAB for examination”, the letter says.

The officials in KP say that the NAB has been provided all the relevant record, including advertisement issued in March 2014, where the KP government had asked the interested parties to express their interest in tourism development and the winning party will be given land measuring 275 acres (5 acres for Hotel and 270 acres for Ski/chairlift) initially for 33 years on lease extendable for 20 years.

The ToRs of the contract say that Malam Jabba Ski Resort was established by the government of Pakistan with the technical assistance of its Austrian Counterpart on approximately 275 acres land. It was suspended in 2007 due to unrest in the area. Area proposed for hotel was approximately 5 acres which is owned by the Tourism Corporation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was to be offered for lease whereas the resort area of approximately 270 acres is a protected forest which is the property of the environment department and the departments were to provide with access right to investors for the entire lease period for setting up of Skiing/ chairlift facilities.

The NAB has been provided a letter dated 13-01-1999 written by PTDC to Commissioner Malakand that the 275 acres land in Malam Jabba be transferred to PTDC instead of provincial government and protected forests in the revenue record.

Another letter dated 11-10-2004 written by Ministry of Tourism to Chief Secretary then North West Frontier Province now KP, states that the said 270 acres land was gracious gifted by Wali-e-Swat for establishment of ski-cum-summer resort at Malam Jabba in 1969. The letter says that the land issue became complicated with the passage of time and therefore the said land be transferred to Malam Jabba Resort Limited.

Similarly many letters from Sarhad Tourism Corporation and Ministry of Tourism were written to the KP government for transferring the land in the name of federal government so that a proper skiing resort be established at Malam Jabba.

When the PTI’s government came into power, they decided to develop the Malam Jabba Skiing resort site therefore they went for open bidding.

Importantly, a high level meeting chaired by chief minister KP in April 2016 decided that the company Samson’s will donate eco-friendly barbed wire to the environment and Forest Department for fencing of the entire area for the security of the visiting tourists.

In September 2016, Divisional Forest Officer Swat, wrote a letter to the private company stating that it was decided in a meeting with Deputy Commissioner Swat on 26-08-2016 that Samson’s Group of companies will provide building and erection material and technical hand beside barbed wire for fencing of protected forests in Malam Jabba as donation.

The forest department will erect the fencing in protected forests. The same officer then intimated his subordinates to initiate the erection process well in time. But when the process was ongoing, in March 2018, the same forest department of KP lodged a first information report against the company for encroaching the forest land. By then, the company had installed chairlift at the site which was inaugurated by PTI chief Imran Khan.