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December 15, 2019

Who is NAB accused — Bilal Kidwai?


December 15, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court, while granting bail to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) accused Bilal Kidwai in the famous Ashiana Housing Scheme case, called his “prolonged and continued incarceration to be unconscionable” [shockingly unjust].

The judgement went unreported when it was delivered on Dec 3. A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and comprising Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Mazhar Alam Mianakhel observed that “after hearing the learned counsel and going through the record, we have observed that according to the prosecution the petitioner [Kidwai] had prepared some feasibility studies and had also prepared a bidding document which were prepared in violation of the Punjab Public Private Partnership Act, 2014.

After going through the relevant record, it has tentatively been found by us that the petitioner had prepared the relevant documents when he was directed to do so, and the documents prepared by him were merely proposals for consideration of the Board of Punjab Land Development Company. The petitioner was simply a project coordinator as far as the Ashiana-a-Iqbal project was concerned, and he was not concerned with any particular party being offered the said project for execution. Apparently, the petitioner was only involved in the conceptual stage of the project. Where after, he was to coordinate the execution of that project and he had not prepared any document which was actually used for the purpose of the said project.

The bench further held: “We have been informed that the petitioner had been arrested in connection with this case way back on 09.3.2018, ie about one year and three quarters ago and during the interregnum the investigation of the case has already been finalised and challan has been submitted before the trial court and some progress has already been made during the trial.

“However, the progress made in the trial has been found by us to be minimal as out of 86 prosecution witnesses to be produced before the trial court the statements of only nine prosecution witnesses have been recorded so far. The petitioner is not the principal accused person in this case and only allegation levelled against him is in respect of aiding and abetting his co-accused.”

The NAB has not accused Kidwai of any corruption or monetary or wrongful gain or malfeasance. The apex court ruled that “it is not denied that the petitioner had not received any financial advantage or gain from the act performed by him in making of the relevant proposals. Physical custody of the petitioner is no longer required at this stage for the purposes of investigation. For all these reasons, we find the prolonged and continued incarceration of the petitioner to be unconscionable. Resultantly Bilal Kidwai is admitted to bail.”

In June, 2018, Kidwai was refused bail by the Lahore High Court. He has won freedom after 20 months courtesy of the apex court judgement.

Kidwai, a Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) graduate and Masters in Economics from Chicago University (UChicago) is former consultant economist of Lahore Development Authority (LDA), who prepared feasibility and bidding documents for the private-public partnership (PPP) model of housing being applied to the Ashiana scheme.

Few people knew about the ordeal of Kidwai, who was behind bars for last 20 months, the suffering of his toddler son and wife only got highlighted when the apex court termed his imprisonment unconscionable.

After graduating from LUMS in 2004 and choosing to work in the public sector, Kidwai wanted to contribute to social good instead of working for simple profit-seeking motives of private corporations. He did Master’s in Public Policy on a Fulbright Scholarship from the UChicago, ranked 3rd highest in the United States in which only best and brightest get admitted. At UChicago, Kidwai had the honour to be student of two Nobel Laureates. Such graduates command top salaries in the US market. The Fulbright programme allowed him one year to seek professional placement in the US. His family is settled in the US, but he chose to return to Pakistan with an ambition to contribute to the society and help pay back the investment made by the country in him. Since returning from US in 2009, he worked with various government agencies. His only source of income was his salary. Like any salaried individual, he did not accumulate any wealth such as home, plots or cars, and lived in a rented premises in Lahore.

In 2014, Kidwai joined the LDA as an economic specialist in its Strategic Policy Unit, set up by then-director general Ahad Cheema. His primary task was to help develop the Ravi River Front Vision into a viable project. He was engaged in other tasks to bring into practical effect many ideas related to urban development being developed by Cheema.

One such stream of work was developing a model of using private finance to build public infrastructure through PPPs. The LDA chief also assigned him the task of finding a sustainable strategy for developing mass scale housing for low income families. The objective was to develop a housing unit that was affordable at a monthly instalment of under Rs10,000 per month.

Kidwai’s role as consultant was to prepare the project documents and feasibilities for approval by official government fora like, Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) board and PPP ministerial steering committee. The documents prepared by him were cleared and vetted by the top corporate legal firms.

A leading businessman, who is third generation scion of a most prominent business house in Punjab and had interacted professionally with Kidwai, when the former was working on RLNG power projects said about Kidwai’s work that he had the opportunity to work with him as the chief monitoring officer of a major infrastructure project.

“His responsibilities included project management but also working on innovative schemes that have established new benchmarks for low cost operations in the power sector. He has been the top performing officer in the company for three straight years. He displayed a penchant for working in the public sector and for the greater public good.”