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October 29, 2020

An elite club that pays Rs3 rent per acre

Top Story

October 29, 2020

ISLAMABAD: In the heart of the federal capital is situated a vast tract of land measuring 352 acres which were granted on lease for 53 years. Located there is the Islamabad Club where the entry of common citizens is prohibited. Other than social activities, it is a centre of commercial activities. Any guess of the rent it pays to the public exchequer? Rs 3 per acre per month.

This free use of the state resources notwithstanding, the elite club said it was not answerable to public when a citizen using the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 filed an information request demanding financial audit reports of the past five years, list of its properties along with the revenue generated from them, number of registered members and the game played there.

Nadeem Umer, the applicant, filed an information request after a report of the auditor general of Pakistan found the club violating its rules. Even the audit team was denied information by the club management. “Despite repeated verbal and written requests, the management of the Islamabad Club did not provide the requisite record … Due to non-provision of required documents, an independent evaluation of the criteria for granting membership cannot be made by audit,” said the report published last year.

The club isn’t subject to either SECP rules nor it is accountable to its members, noted the audit report which was for the financial year 2018-19. “Accountability and oversight mechanisms that apply to regular government departments, such as oversight by the Public AccountsCommittee and Principal Accounting Officer, are non-existent and have not been implemented,” according to the report which recommended that a proper oversight mechanism be devised for the club.

The audit report, however, didn’t have information about the rental details. It came to spotlight when Nadeem moved the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) against the club for refusing him the requested details. As the club management was summoned by the PIC for describing the reason behind its refusal, the reply was submitted on behalf of its administrator, Sardar Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera who is also the cabinet secretary. While it was admitted that the administrator and the management committee are appointed by the federal government, it said the funds are generated from membership, thus public money isn’t involved. Moreover, the applicant being non-member of the club didn’t have a locus standi to ask for information, the reply said.

When the PIC inquired about the details of funds it received from the government, the club said the land of the club was leased out by the CDA and that regular payment on lease rental was made on a yearly basis. How much? Rs 14,700 on account of lease rent of the Islamabad Club and Rs 12,300 of the Polo Ground. By that description, the club and ground appear to be two separate entities. According to the club’s website, it is situated on an area of “approximately 352 acres” which means Rs 3 rent per acre per month. How much space is occupied by the Polo Ground has not been mentioned. In 1967, over 244 acres of land was leased out to the club by the CDA at a concessional rate of Rs 1 per acre for the first 10 years only. The rent was to be revised a decade after the agreement, but it was not. Instead, another 108 acres were acquired making it a total of 352 acres.

Taking into account the above-mentioned details that administrator as well as the management committee are appointed by the government and that the land has been leased by the government, the PIC ruled after going through Article 19-A of the Constitution, the Right of Access to Information Act 2017, ruled that the Islamabad Club is a “public body” within the meanings of the Act. It also dismissed the argument that the appellant didn’t have a locus standi because he wasn't a member, saying the argument didn’t carry the weight in the light of the definition of “applicant” mentioned in Section 2 (ii) of the Act. Consequently, the club was directed to provide information within seven working days. The order was issued on August 18 this year, but the club has not yet complied with the order despite the fact that two show-cause notices have been issued. The PIC has been vested with the judicial power to enforce its orders which is likely to be the next step.

In the audit report, it was declared that the club was undertaking commercial activities which are unauthorized as the land for commercial purposes can only be leased through an open auction and charged accordingly. There is no transparency in evaluation criteria for granting membership. The club which was set up for federal government officers and diplomats has now divided the criteria for granting membership into seven categories which the audit report has declared unauthorized. There is no transparency on other matters as auditors were denied information related to the appointment and employment of the club’s administrator, managing committee and executive officers; the policy and procedure for provision of subsidized food and beverages to members; and the policy regarding the sale of birds and eggs by the Islamabad Golf Club, which is part of the Islamabad Club.