The PTI government in KP has faced several high-profile corruption scandals in its nine-year rule in the province
he Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has faced several corruption scandals over the past nine years.
In 2013, it was KP where the PTI first came to power with the slogan of bringing a change in governance. In 2018, it made history when it became the first incumbent government to be reelected.
In its first tenure, Pervez Khattak, who had earlier served as a minister in the coalition government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP), was picked to run the province.
Ministries were also given to Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP).
Despite many corruption scandals, the mainstream media portrayed the PTI’s first five-year stint in KP as a resounding success. The narrative helped Imran Khan take over power in the rest of the country following the 2018 elections.
Several new faces were inducted in KP politics. This was then portrayed to the rest of the country as a ‘youth’ revolution.
One billion rupees was allocated for the PR campaign to celebrate this ‘soft’ revolution. However, several irregularities emerged in this project.
On coming into power, Khattak formed a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Accountability Commission in 2014 to hold members of the pervious ‘corrupt’ governments accountable.
Ziaullah Toru was sent on deputation from the NAB to serve as its director. That was when corruption scandals started surfacing. The commission even arrested the then KP minister for minerals, Ziaullah Afridi, on corruption charges.
In 2014, the KP government launched its Billion Trees Tsunami project. Rs 14.32 billion was spent on the project by the Forest Department. It was, to say the least, the PTI’s flagship project and received worldwide acclaim. However, the project also gave rise to widespread complaints of corruption.
At that time, Ziaullah Toru had told media persons in private meetings that this was an open and shut case. He had said it involved some high-placed bureaucrats. However, pressure was brought on Toru not to pursue the case. When he resisted pressure, he was sent back to the NAB.
By then, the NAB too had taken notice of reported irregularities and started an investigation. The Bureau detected a loss of Rs 462 million to the public exchequer in an initial inquiry. The NAB regional office then sent a recommendation to the headquarters for upgrading the inquiry and authorizing four separate investigations and six inquiries to expose what it said might amount to a mega corruption scam.
According to official documents provided to the media, the inquiry found an embezzlement of plants worth Rs 359.01 million in the free distribution component. Besides, embezzlement on account of sowing/dibbling of seeds and salaries paid to caretakers of enclosures in Dera Ismail Khan amounted to Rs 10.62 million. A watch tower was constructed in Dera Ismail Khan without a PC-1 resulting in irregularities involving Rs 10 million. There were allegations of ghost payments, nepotism, favouritism and of ghost plantation. According to NAB officials, they had checked only 10 percent to 20 percent of the accounts in one region out of three. Hazara region and Swat region were not covered during the initial investigation. In December 2021, NAB Chairman Justice Javed Iqbal (retired), while on a visit to Peshawar, said that the probe into the Billion Trees Tsunami project was continuing.
NAB had already started an inquiry into the Billion Tree Tsunami project. The authority detected a loss of Rs 462 million to the public exchequer in an initial inquiry. According to official documents provided to the media, a NAB inquiry found an embezzlement of plants worth Rs 359.01 million in the free distribution component.
Nevertheless, the PTI portrayed the project as a success story, not only in domestic media but also internationally.
At the same time, the Malam Jabba scandal came to light and caused a stir in media.
Encouraged by the cosmetic success of the Billion Trees project, the KP government had decided to work on its tourism sector. A project was planned by the Tourism Department to develop the concept of Malam Jabba Tourist Ski resort with the construction of a chairlift.
The NAB was once again informed about irregularities in the project. The investigation conducted at that time reported that 270 of the 275 acres the project was located on were protected property of the KP Forest Department. Leasing this land was a violation of Section 105 of the KP Forest Ordinance.
No contact was made with the Forest Department in this context. This was a violation of Rule 8 of the KP Rules of Business, 1985. Reports revealed that the government and Forest Department records confirmed that 55 kanals and 18 marlas was part of the Malam Jabba Resort, whereas 268 acres and 2 marlas was protected land of the Forest Department.
The Forest and Environment Departments opposed leasing out the protected land because it was not part of the Malam Jabba Hotel. The NAB chairman declared the irregularities a classic example of corruption and misuse of authority. The contractor filed a petition with the Peshawar High Court that ordered a committee to probe the matter in two months.
The report submitted in the court stated that no irregularities had been found and that according to historical records the land actually belonged to the Tourism Department. The statements of Pervez Khattak, Mehmood Khan, Atif Khan and several bureaucrats were recorded in this regard. The Accountability Court 3, Peshawar, then allowed the NAB to close the investigation.
Meanwhile, another issue started worrying the PTI. Imran Khan had announced a Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) project for Peshawar. It was similar to the Metro Bus project completed in Lahore by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government. Most of the PIT leadership had criticised and opposed the Lahore project.
Maulana Amanullah Haqqani, a Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader, was the first to point out irregularities in the BRT project. Haqqani claimed that the project had been ill-conceived.
Seeing the feasibility report at that time, the cabinet minister for local government, Inayatullah Khan of the JI, had opposed the BRT project. However, the then chief minister, Pervez Khattak, approached Imran Khan and got his approval for the scheme. In 2018, the JUI-F leader filed a writ petition in the Peshawar High Court alleging massive corruption in the project.
The court directed the NAB to investigate the project. The provincial government, however, approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which stopped the NAB from investigating the case.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mehmood Khan announced an inquiry into the delay in the completion of BRT project. Many of the officials associated with the project left it, complaining about the design of the project. The Provincial Inspection Team then submitted a 27-page report. The PIT noted that the traffic congestion problem the project was meant to address had been mostly resolved before the launch of the mass transit system by executing a project for widening of some roads, construction of dedicated U-turns and general development.
“Immediately after completion of the said [widening] project, the BRT project was launched for the same location/ corridor,” the report stated. “The widening/ beautification project and the BRT project overlapped and during the execution of the BRT project, the whole work done under the earlier project was uprooted.”
“Planning and approval of both the projects had been in process at the same time. Even the executing agency for both the projects was the same. The logic behind such actions causing blatant waste of public money needs accountability and responsibility fixation,” the report noted. The report objected to the basic concept of the project and mentioned opposition by the relevant minister at the early stage.
The report also revealed grave technical problems that resulted in the cost of the BRT project increasing from an initial estimate of Rs 41 billion to over Rs 70 billion. After the ouster of the PTI-led federal government, the ANP has decided to move court for the resumption of the NAB investigation in the BRT project.
In 2018, the PTI government abolished the KP Ehtisab Commission.
Irregularities have also been reported in Health, Education, Finance and Communications and Works Departments.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer on conflict and peace development. He can be reached at email@example.com