Sunday November 28, 2021

Starting with rumour, ending up in special audit

June 20, 2021
Starting with rumour, ending up in special audit

ISLAMABAD: The issue remained in headlines for weeks. Many heads rolled. Anchors and analysts termed it a tip of the iceberg.

Rumour mills ran high projecting it as a tussle between the power centres. The government was projected as an administration with zero tolerance towards corruption. But as the time passes and details have started unfolding, Rawalpindi’s ring road scandal has turned out a storm in a teacup.

It all started from a rumour fed by some vested interests that were unhappy with changes in the ring road alignment, according to a background discussion with officials who are privy to the situation. The alignment was termed the result of an unholy nexus of some developers backed by political individuals. “Do you know who made billions of rupees through these changes,” a powerful person was asked, and this was a trigger defining the ensuing events.

Then Commissioner of Rawalpindi Capt (R) Mohammed Mehmood was summoned to Islamabad. By virtue of his designation, he also happened to be the head of the ring road project. He was asked to explain on whose influence he had changed the alignment. Mehmood plainly refused having done anything under anyone’s influence. He was not wrong in his assertion because whatever changes occurred were in line with the recommendations of the consultant and approved by the highest forums of Punjab — Planning and Development Department and the cabinet. Likewise, the decisions related to the ring road project falling in Islamabad jurisdiction were taken on the recommendation of the Capital Development Authority.

However, the words of the commissioner were misconstrued as if no change had occurred whereas he had said that he did not make any change under anybody’s influence. An investigation was ordered to determine the veracity of his claim. It was done by a powerful troika of three officials close to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The conclusion drawn by them suggested that the changes had occurred — a fact the commissioner had never disputed. However, he was declared a liar on the basis of a claim which he had not made.

The commissioner was finally removed and replaced with Syed Gulzar Hussain — earlier transferred from Gujranwala on the directions of Election Commission of Pakistan, indicting him for involvement in the rigging of Daska by-election. A fact-finding committee was formed under his leadership. Jehangir Ahmed (then additional commissioner coordination) and Capt. (R) Anwar-ul-Haq (then deputy commissioner) were also made part of it. These two-members were not in agreement with what Gulzar concluded, which was a minority report. Finally, both members in disagreement were also transferred together with four other officers including Attock deputy commissioner.

Meanwhile, PM’s Special Assistant Zulfi Bukhari tried to clarify the situation as he was also named in Gulzar’s report. He brought Mehmood for the audience in Islamabad, and what followed turned out to be a blunder. A dossier was presented against Barrister Shehzad Akbar, PM’s trusted advisor on accountability. The information shared against him was not fully correct. Among other things, Mehmood tried to establish his relation with Arif Raheem, Shehzad’s confidante who has previously served in Rawalpindi and wanted to be posted again. The dossier suggested that the closeness between Shehzad and Arif, among other reasons, is that they are close relatives which was false and the dossier was thus rejected.

Since Zulfi had brought Mehmood for the audience, this dossier had ramifications for him as well. More so because his growing relationship with other power centres were also a source of discomfort for Islamabad. He was asked to take responsibility for this baseless dossier and step down which he eventually did.

Coming back to the ring road scandal, no smoking gun has been found so far. Those transferred after Gulzar report have not been officially charged on the grounds of allegations levelled against them through creating a media hype. The only way forward left in this situation is to conduct a special audit of all the housing societies in Rawalpindi and this task has been assigned to DG Anti-Corruption Establishment Punjab. Incidentally, none of the societies was approved under Mehmood's watch.

“In bureaucracy, we say when nothing is found about what was earlier perceived, just order a special audit,” commented a bureaucrat. This is the outcome of the scandal which started from changes in the alignment of the ring road scandal and ended at the special audit of the societies.