Thursday December 02, 2021

R3 fact-finding inquiry: Two of three members did not sign report

May 12, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The fact-finding inquiry report on the Rawalpindi Ring Road (R3) project, which has led to a reshuffle in the administrations of the Rawalpindi and Attock districts, was not signed by two of its three members.

Ex-Rawalpindi commissioner Muhammad Mahmood, who has been strongly criticised and held responsible for the ‘fraud’, was not available to give his side of the story. However, a source close to him told The News that Muhammad Mahmood had been condemned unheard.

He was not even asked to submit his written reply to the inquiry committee, the source said. The source said the ex-commissioner has questioned why three officers junior to him were asked to hold the fact-finding inquiry.

The composition of the inquiry committee formed by the Punjab government consisted of the new Rawalpindi Commissioner Gulzar Hussain Shah and the deputy commissioner and additional commissioner (coordination) of Rawalpindi. The source said that the deputy commissioner and additional commissioner (both since transferred) had not signed the report.

The source said through his repeatedly expressed vision, Prime Minister Imran Khan has for the first time in Pakistan mainstreamed concerns about the destruction of ecosystems and the wilderness.

Gulzar Hussain Shah said in his fact-finding report, a copy of which is available with The News, that the premier’s sincerity with the cause of ecosystem restoration may have a lot to do with the way he got suspicious and noticed the ‘lies of ex-commissioner Muhammad Mahmood.’

“It is nothing less than a miracle that this scam was busted just two days before the bid opening. Such miracles happen when Allah Subhanahu Tala blesses sincere people with the purity of soul; blessed with this purity, they are able to listen to the wails of the hapless; and most hapless in our midst is the fast-depleting wildernesses and habitats of the bezaban makhlooq [speechless beings]. Central figures of this rent seeking syndicate showed callous disregard for fast depleting wildernesses and their rent-seeking design could just put a lasting end to the remaining wildernesses astride M2,” the report said, adding that “Allah Almighty definitely heard the wails of the ‘bezaban’ wilderness and punished these greedy, callous minds.”

The report recommends the suspension of Muhammad Mahmood and the initiation of action under the efficiency and disciplinary (E&D) rules and/or directory retirement proceedings. It states it was found that the 65km-long alignment advertised for bidding was illegally crafted by the ex-commissioner and his accomplices with the unlawful help of consultants.

It alleges that Muhammad Mahmood, former land acquisition collector (LAC) Waseem Ali Tabish, ex-deputy director, Project Management Unit (PMU), Abdullah committed a large number of “ illegalities, and through deceit and deception, issued orders without having due authority and committed abuse of public funds to benefit the rent-seeking syndicate including themselves.” The matter is being referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and E&D proceedings, including their suspension, are being initiated.

The report says that NAB is being asked to inquire about the Rs2.3 billion allegedly spent unlawfully by Muhammad Mahmood on “illegal land acquisition for building a R3-centric hype for boosting sales of real estate connected with him and with powerful public office-holders of the past and present. Some housing societies are being investigated for being benami fronts of powerful people. Muhammad Mahmood and his accomplices are being suspended forthwith.”

The report alleged that the former commissioner conducted himself recklessly in sheer violation of laws and rules to create “rent-seeking benefit for himself as well as for eight private housing towns [names withheld]. It has been established that the additions of the Moorat-Attock loop and Paswaal zigzag were made to purely benefit private interests with the backing of powerful public office holders, past and present, and influential bureaucrats.”

It claimed that through lies, deceit and deception, this private rent-seeking was being portrayed as a public necessity. The federal and Punjab governments were kept in total darkness about the necessary facts and “every pointation made by the highest forum for presenting the alignment to the chief minister was willfully and repeatedly ignored; helped by unethical conduct of the member of the public private partnership (PPP) Punjab, the project was unlawfully advertised on March 1, 2021.”

The report says the forensic audit of these housing societies by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is being ordered for the sales beyond approved lands as well as online sales without approval.

It further alleges that Muhammad Mahmood ensured reckless speed on this illegal alignment despite “there being clear illegalities’; he did this to create “irreversibility of the process and to create dust storm of made-progress so that illegalities and his personal conflict of interest remains hidden from the public eye and the momentum built by construction activity overshadows any attempt at digging the facts.”

The report said some of the engineering firms which prepared the RFP (request for proposal) heavily invested in the properties astride the R3’s illegally emerged part. It declared that the bidding process now stands cancelled. Since the alignment emerged illegally, no one can ever lawfully regularize it. So this alignment will “never be taken up again for the incurable illegalities underpinning its emergence.”

The report says the “build-up of a massive scam driven by the greed of a powerful rent-seeking syndicate has been busted because of the notice taken by the prime minister himself of the scandalous shenanigans of this group reported along the Attock loop of the R3.”

It says this “rent-seeking build-up may have sucked up tens of billions of rupees towards speculative real estate depriving resource-hungry productive sectors and job creating sectors of the Rawalpindi and Islamabad economy. This syndicate planned to thwart Imran Khan’s vision of vertical development of cities and emergence of high-rise business districts within existing urban centers. Economic resources which were being diverted to this rent-seeking black hole could significantly improve livability of small cities like Fateh Jang, Attock, Taxila, Gujjar Khan, Kotli Sattian and also could lead to urban re-generation of Rawalpindi city and the emergence of central business district in the Rawalpindi city area.”

The report says Dr. Farrukh Naveed, Member PPP, Planning and Development, Punjab has been recommended for E&D proceedings and his removal from his post for his unethical conduct.

A list of housing societies has also been identified by the fact-finding inquiry to investigate them for being benami fronts of past and/or present public office-holders, public servants and civil servants.

“Over Rs2.3 billion were illegally spent by the ex-LAC at the behest of Muhammad Mahmood on land acquisition at a very fast speed even after notice was taken by the highest office about the suspiciousness of the alignment. For this reckless disregard of law and the rules, the matter is being referred to the NAB.”

Investigations by NAB, the FIA, Federal Board of Revenue, and E&D proceedings by the establishment division and Punjab government will ensue from the fact-finding inquiry report. The prime minister has also directed fast track progress on the most suitable, merit-based, free of rent-seeking alignment for the R3.