In-Depth Arena

The sinned files: Corruption in Sindh

Published Dec 02, 2015 11:19am

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Dr Asim Hussain, chairman of the  Sindh Higher Education Commission, is taken into custody by the Sindh Rangers | White Star
Dr Asim Hussain, chairman of the Sindh Higher Education Commission, is taken into custody by the Sindh Rangers | White Star
At a meeting of the Sindh apex committee – a high-level official entity to monitor and maintain law and order in the province – held earlier this year, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif suddenly started talking about corruption. When he said the provincial government needed to take concrete steps to eradicate corrupt practices among its ranks, former President Asif Ali Zardari wrote something on a slip of paper and passed it on to Sharjeel Memon, then Sindh information minister, for further delivery to the provincial Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah, who then read out what was written on the slip: Sharif was deviating from the agenda of the meeting.

Sharif, however, kept talking about corruption, arguing that it was the root cause of deteriorating law and order in Sindh. He said corruption and crime were intimately linked and at least some of the money made through corrupt practices was being used to finance target killings and other acts of terrorism. The army chief also wanted the Sindh government departments to report directly to the Corps Commander Karachi, but the ruling party of the province did not agree to that, sources privy to the proceedings of the meeting claim.

When the apex committee met again, the army officers present handed Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah a list of ministers and heads of various provincial departments who were to be removed from their posts because of allegations of corruption against them. The provincial government paid no heed to the list, the sources say.

Later, when the army exerted more pressure on the chief minister for their removal, the Sindh government made nominal changes in the portfolios of ministers and undertook a minor shuffle among senior officials. Memon, who was on top of the army’s list as most unwanted minister, saw his portfolio change from information to works and services.

The army then asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to intervene and move the federal authorities against corruption in Sindh but he was not willing to exert direct pressure on the provincial government. He did not want to antagonise the province’s ruling party, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the sources reveal. This prompted the army to move on its own and mobilise intelligence agencies, the Sindh Rangers and federal investigating institutions to curb corruption in the province, the sources add.

The premier, however, was not pleased when he came to know that a team of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had completed inquiries in seven corruption cases against former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and was all set to submit a charge sheet against him in court. Sources within the FIA claim the team was expecting a thumbs-up from Islamabad on its accomplishment but instead it faced a blunt question — senior government officials in the federal capital asked who had ordered them to move against Gilani.


A screen grab from footage shot by Dawn News shows the FIA raid at the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation
A screen grab from footage shot by Dawn News shows the FIA raid at the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation
Sources believe that what appears as close coordination between the Sindh Rangers and the FIA in conducting raids and arresting allegedly corrupt officials, is more a matter of coincidence than of coordinated preparations. When an FIA team raided the land department of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) on July 24, 2015, its actions coincided with revelations reportedly made by Babar Chughtai, a former chairman of the Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD). The rangers had arrested him on April 13, 2015, on the allegations of land grabbing and funding target killers affiliated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and, sources say, he had named several KMC officials involved in illegal allotment and sale of government lands. Initially given in the custody of the rangers for 90 days by an anti-terrorism court, Babar has been released since then, though he is still facing inquiries being conducted by the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), Sindh.

An FIA officer, on the condition of anonymity, says the presence of personnel from the Sindh Rangers during a raid at the KMC offices located at the Civic Centre was just a chance happening. The story goes something like this: as a follow up to inquiries into allegations that corruption at the metropolitan corporation was linked to incidents of violence and money laundering, an FIA team got in touch with senior KMC officers and asked them to hand over official files carrying land records. When the KMC men showed reluctance to do so, the FIA team went to the Civic Centre on July 24, 2015, and broke open some locks there to take over the concerned files. All this activity attracted the attention of some rangers personnel posted close by and they, too, barged into the KMC offices. This created an impression that the rangers and the FIA had carried out a combined raid, says the FIA officer.

During the raid, however, the FIA took away 17,000 files, an action that immensely displeased the Sindh government. A letter that the Sindh local government department wrote to the FIA on July 29, 2015, said the raiding team had overstepped its authority. The raid was made after office hours and original files were confiscated without notifying the provincial authorities about the whole affair. They also failed to make an official inventory of the documents taken away, the letter noted.

The two most prominent instances of this collaboration are the actions taken against Dr Asim Hussain, former federal petroleum minister, and Sultan Qamar Siddiqui, the vice president of the Fishermen Co-operative Society.

It also warned the FIA to return the files in three days or face legal action against its raiding party. The FIA, on the other hand, responded by saying the files were needed to find out if criminal activities in Karachi had their origin in the illegal sale and purchase of land. The agency also declined to return the files.

The case and the files have been transferred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) now, which is conducting its own inquires.

In some cases the federal authorities – the rangers, the NAB and the FIA – are indeed closely collaborating. The two most prominent instances of this collaboration are the actions taken against Dr Asim Hussain, former federal petroleum minister, and Sultan Qamar Siddiqui, the vice president of the Fishermen Co-operative Society. Both belong to the PPP; the former is a close confidant of Zardari and is still officially the chairman of Sindh’s Higher Education Commission; the latter is considered close to some senior PPP figures in the provincial government. The terrorism allegations against them, however, link Husain with MQM’s target killers and Siddiqui with religious militants who allegedly killed more than 40 Ismaili Shias in Karachi’s Safoora Goth earlier this year. While Hussain, arrested on August 26, 2015, was handed over to the rangers by an anti-terrorism court for 90 days, Siddiqui’s trial has already formally started over charges of terror financing.


A screen grab from Dawn News footage taken at the time of the arrest of Shoaib Warsi, deputy managing director at the Sui Southern Gas Company
A screen grab from Dawn News footage taken at the time of the arrest of Shoaib Warsi, deputy managing director at the Sui Southern Gas Company
In an attempt to convince the army and other federal agencies that the provincial government, too, is serious about eradicating corruption, the ACE in Sindh has been awoken from its deep slumber. On July 11, 2015, the chief minister ordered the ACE to work on all the pending cases of corruption and complete inquiries against all government officers allegedly involved in corruption. The provincial government has also provided 50 million rupees to the ACE – as a special grant – so that it can carry out its job in a proper manner.

This is a much needed financial injection for a department that has been trying to survive on an annual budget of just two million rupees to meet the current expenses other than staff salaries at its Karachi directorate. This was not enough even for local travel in Karachi on official assignments, says a source within the ACE.

Officers at the ACE say 1,500 corruption cases have been pending at the department since 2013. Yet the provincial government committees that approved the initiation of inquiries into corruption cases did not even meet once in the last two years. Faced with external pressure to put the ACE back on track, the Sindh government held the meeting of its highest powered committee on corruption, on August 19. The two lower level committees also met subsequently, completing the officially required meeting process by October 24, 2015. Since then, the ACE has arrested 97 provincial government officials on corruption charges and submitted 78 charge sheets in courts for trial.

“During the last three months, raids have been carried out and discreet inquiries have been initiated in major departments and many absconders, officers and citizens have been apprehended across the province,” Nazar Muhammad Bozdar, director at the ACE, tells the Herald.

In order to improve the ACE’s image, the government has transferred all circle officers who are known to have secured lucrative postings through connections, says a senior officer in the establishment.

All this increased activity may end up achieving little results since the ACE is suffering from a severe crisis of confidence. Its human resources are not trained to tackle corruption and many of its staff members are themselves tainted by corruption charges. Out of the establishment’s 733 staffers, 40 per cent have been borrowed from the police department and 80 of its employees – working on low and medium level posts -- have faced disciplinary action in recent months after they were found involved in corrupt practices. Two of its deputy directors and eight of its assistant directors – and six other senior officials – have been sent back to their original departments over allegations of corruption.

In order to improve the ACE’s image, the government has transferred all circle officers who are known to have secured lucrative postings through connections, says a senior officer in the establishment. Many lower-level officials have also been shuffled around after reports that they have been working as frontmen for their superiors. Disciplinary action has been initiated against them as well, the officer adds.

If the Sindh government had always shown the level of interest in corruption eradication as it is doing now, it would have been saved from the embarrassment it is facing because of the anti-corruption measures being taken by the federal authorities in Karachi and elsewhere in the province. Or, perhaps, that would have happened in any case, given the fractured relations between the army high command and the PPP leadership.