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August 14, 2020

Liquor licencing issue: Buzdar did nothing fishy as per govt paperwork

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August 14, 2020

ISLAMABAD: There is nothing in black and white demonstrating involvement of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in the issuance of liquor licence to a private hotel of Lahore for which he has been quizzed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Official documents, copies of which are available with The News, make it clear that Excise & Taxation (E&T) Punjab Director General Akram Ashraf Gondal, who has become a NAB approver against the chief minister, kept involving Buzdar through his principal secretary and Punjab chief secretary by sending summaries for approval/information of the chief minister. These senior officials dubbed this act as “absolutely uncalled for” and “highly regrettable” and asked him to avoid doing so.

While as is clear from official papers that the chief minister kept distancing himself from the summaries by not bringing anything in writing, the approver has told the NAB that he was called for half a dozen times by Buzdar’s office and asked to issue the licence.

The chief minister did not respond to the two summaries in black and white sent by Gondal. However, the then Principal Secretary Dr Raheel Siddiqui and the chief secretary (who act on his behalf) returned both the summaries with the direction to the E&T “to deal with the matter of issuance of licence at an appropriate forum in accordance with the law/policy in vogue.”

One Gur Bachan Singh, who is not a director/official of the Unicorn Prestige Hotel that was issued the licence, was also one of the two applicants. All the five closely related directors of the concern incorporated in Britain, belong to one family of Mandibahauddin, known as Pir Boghey Shah, which also has the contracts of parking lots of different airports of Pakistan, record shows. Some of its directors have Mandibahauddin address while others have Britain address.

One “summary for the chief minister” dated Dec 20, 2018 with the subject ‘request for grant of liquor licence by M/s Unicorn Prestige Limited’ was signed by E&T Secretary Capt. (Retd) Sher Alam Mahsud and endorsed by the concerned minister. It said: “It is submitted that M/s Gur Bachan Singh and Syed Jamil Abbasi Naqvi, Director, Unicorn Prestige Hotel situated at Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore has applied for grant of licence in Form L-2.

Such licences are meant for retail sale of liquor (Pakistan made foreign liquor and beer) to the non-Muslims Pakistani and foreigners against permits issued by the excise authorities and are granted and governed under the relevant provisions of Hadd Order 1979, and Excise Act 1914 and rules made thereunder. After the promulgation of Hadd Order 1979, the government has been following a very restrictive policy for grant of such licences due to its sensitivity and our cultural background. Currently, nine licences are functioning in the province.”

It was after 22 years that the Punjab government issued a liquor licence. The last such permit it had given to a new hotel of Lahore was in 1997. However, another five-star hotel in the Punjab capital has not got any such licence.

An official told The News that the NAB has pinpointed five lacunae in the award of licence: no NOC was got from the concerned local government; public comments were not sought through newspaper advertisements and only a notice was pasted at the hotel gate for the purpose; ranking of the hotel that was to be established only after its completion was not awaited; and financial health of company was not ascertained.