70-year-old ex-Secretary arrested by NAB on flimsy grounds

ISLAMABAD: Seventy-year-old retired secretary Suleman Ghani has been arrested a few days back by NAB for not raising any objection to a mining contract in a board meeting of PUNJMIN (Punjab Mineral Department) which he had never attended.

Ghani, who generally enjoys good reputation, became the victim of NAB’s unbridled powers to arrest. Many in bureaucracy fear that the arrest of a retired bureaucrat on flimsy grounds will further demoralise the civil service which is already reluctant to sign any file for fear of being arrested by the Bureau. The News has got copy of NAB’s “grounds for arrests” and Ghani’s response as shared with this correspondent by an official source.

According to the NAB’s “Ground for Arrest”, the inquiry conducted so far reveals prima facie involvement of Suleman Ghani, ex-chairman Planning and Development, Punjab in thecommission of offences as defined under Section 9(a) and Schedule of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999. According to the NAB document, following form basis for immediate arrest of the accused:

a. Accused Suleman Ghani was Punjab P&D Chairman and member of Board of PUNJMIN. He deliberately did not raise any objection to the decision made by the BoD of PUNJMIN in its 69th meeting to hold negotiation and draft MOU with M/s ERPL for joint venture agreement of iron ore deposits and Chiniot Rajoa to render favor to the company of accused Arshad Waheed.

b. Accused Suleman Ghani malafidely endorsed the proposed Summary of Joint Venture of M/s ERPL with PUNJMIN for the approval of CM Punjab despite the fact that PUNJMIN was not authorized to make agreement with private company as per ACT of PUNJMIN and terms of lease license and that too without any public auction, open tendering process or competitive bidding.

c. Accused Suleman Ghani deliberately portrayed the proposed joint venture agreement as a very good opportunity by commenting that the proposal of the department will bring value to the exploitation of minerals in the province without proper scrutiny and analysis of the proposals in the section.

d. Accused Suleman Ghani was given fair chance to explain the allegations leveled against him; however he failed to submit any plausible reply.

e. Arrest of accused is necessary for the collection of evidence and concluding the investigations in accordance with law.

In response to the above “Grounds for Arrest”, Ghani’s response as shared by a source with The News is:

“a) I (Suleman Ghani) was ex-officio member of the Board and I did not attend this meeting in my personal capacity. The P&D was represented by the official concerned and the matter was handled at that level. At no stage was the case put up to me.

b) The case was examined as per matters related to P&D. Codal formalities referred to were the domain of the Mines and Minerals Deptt under the Rules of Business and P&D had no right or business to interfere in these.

c) The summary was duly examined in the light of the Mineral Policy and the economic value of the project. The comment was totally in line with this. It was an institutional comment made and genuinely perceived to be the correct one.”

Official sources, who speak high about the repute of Ghani said the Bureau’s grounds for arrest are really weak. With such flimsy grounds and in the absence of any concrete ground it was wrong to arrest the officer, who otherwise could have been challaned to court of law as was done in case of Babar Awan, Nawaz Sharif and some retired generals.

In the same case, the NAB had earlier arrested former Punjab minister for forestry, wildlife and fisheries Mohammad Sibtain Khan, who was granted bail by the LHC last month while ruling that the NAB had reopened the case without following due process. Sibtain who was Punjab minister for mines and minerals was accused of illegally awarding a multi billion rupee contract for 500-metric tons of iron ore projects in Rajwah and Chiniot to M/s ERPL. During the hearing of the case by two member bench comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem, the prosecutor argued before the bench that rules were not followed while awarding the contract and the inquiry was reopened upon the recommendations of the NAB chairman. But the bench said the previous inquiry against the petitioner and others was dropped back in 2013 in the light of a report by NAB which stated that no loss had been caused to the public exchequer as the contract was cancelled by the Punjab government. The contract in question was cancelled by Shahbaz Sharif government in 2008 before mines could be handed over to the relevant company.

-Ansar Abbasi

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