EDITORIAL: The Rawalpindi Ring Road project has fallen prey to charges of its alignment having been changed to benefit private parties and interests. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Zulfi Bukhari has resigned on the issue until his name is cleared. Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar held a press conference to deny any link with or role in the affair, which earned him Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ire for having jumped the gun. While the usual and expected war of words between the government and opposition has broken out on this issue too, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has been at pains to deny the involvement in the scandal of any cabinet member. The opposition on the other hand, in the person of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, claims the government is protecting the guilty as they are connected to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf in one way or the other. When the issue came to light that the length of the Rawalpindi Ring Road, intended to relieve the city of traffic congestion, had been increased to 23 kilometres to benefit a housing society and other potential estate developers in the area for which the government had to shell out Rs 20 billion to buy additional land, the government set up a three-member committee to hold an inquiry. Strangely, the committee submitted two reports, one by its head, Commissioner Rawalpindi Gulzar Shah, which laid most of the blame on bureaucrats who allegedly favoured some housing societies, and the other by the two other committee members, which claimed the changes were approved by higher-ups. Now we hear the Rawalpindi Ring Road alignment is being carried out afresh, while the scandal has been referred to the Anti-Corruption Department by the government. The National Accountability Bureau too is gearing up to conduct its own inquiry. The issue has got clouded in recriminations and allegations, making arriving at the truth that much harder, a task not helped by the contradictory findings of the two (rather than one) inquiry reports submitted so far to the government.
The Rawalpindi Ring Road was conceived during the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government and revised by the current Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf government. One of the lingering questions is, given transparency was not clear and adequate, why did Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar approve the summary? Why did a federal government meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan approve funds for the tainted project? Zulfi Bukhari’s resignation to clear his name has set a good example, but what about others allegedly involved and in high positions? The opposition of course has pounced on the scandal to demand nothing less than the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar. That may be a premature call, but the whole affair stinks, requiring a credible inquiry that would be free of partisanship and whose findings would prove acceptable to all sides. Given the tense relations between the government and the opposition, the latter is unlikely to give much credence to inquiries by bureaucrats, the Anti-Corruption Department, or the National Accountability Bureau. It would therefore seem inescapable that in the interests of credibility, acceptability, and the quest for the objective and untrammeled truth, a judicial inquiry should be ordered. The conclusions of such an inquiry should then form the foundation for appropriate punishment of all those involved in this second ring road scandal (the first occurred earlier in Lahore, but not much of it has been heard for some time).
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021