LAHORE: In a major development in the Rawalpindi Ring Road (RRR) scam, the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) Punjab has arrested former Rawalpindi commissioner/project director Muhammad Mehmood along with former deputy director Muhammad Abdullah and Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) ex-land acquisition collector Waseem Ali Tabish.
Addressing a press conference at the ACE Headquarters here on Wednesday, ACE Director General Gohar Nafees said that the anti-corruption watchdog after conducting a thorough probe into the scam registered first information reports (FIRs) against the aforementioned persons and arrested them.
He said the suspects were booked on the charges of illegal alignments, compensation and awards, conflict of interest and seeking rent by “misusing” their authority.
He added the role of other suspects who remained posted as DG RDA, Deputy Commissioners Attock and Rawalpindi, Assistant Commissioners Saddar Rawalpindi and Fateh-Jang, Member PPP Cell of the Planning and Development (P&) Board and companies/consultants involved will be determined during course of investigation.
Sharing findings of the investigation, the DG claimed that the statement of Muhammad Mehmood, ex-project director (PD), was contradictory to the summary approved by the CM Punjab in March 2018 initiated by the Communications and Works (C&W) department. He said that Mehmood further stated that major decisions were taken in the Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting held on 31.01.2020. However, as per verification by the P&D, the said meeting was never held, he added.
“It shows that the concept paper for phase-II extension of RRR-3 was never discussed in the PSC or any other forum. Therefore, the claim of PD (Mehmood) and DPD (Muhammad Abdullah) is misleading against the facts and tantamount to transgress from authority,” the DG said, adding that Mehmood and Abdullah unilaterally decided to execute the project in Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode in the 9th meeting held on 15.02.2020. He said that both the suspects misquoted that all the top management was on board on this issue. However, the documentary proof does not support the PD’s claim.
He said it is evident from the record that the PD was taking decisions on his own and tried to get the nod of the higher fora by concealing the facts. He further said that a company, M/s Zeeruk, completed field survey of Attock loop/Paswal Zigzag portion by installing ROW centerline markers on 12-03-20 when the alignment of the project was neither discussed nor approved by any forum.
“Taking such a major action at this stage was an attempt by the PD to illegally extend the ring road when the same was not even under any consideration by any competent forum,” he said, adding that the final decision on inclusion of Attock Loop/Paswal Zigzag and issuance of variation order was subject to submission of holistic comparative analysis containing cost benefit analysis to the PSC.
“This was not done by the PD and the DPD.”
The DG claimed that on the orders of PD, a variation order was issued by Abdullah to M/s Zeeruk on 20.03.2020 in which the scope of work was enhanced from Radio Pakistan to N-5 Sangjani.
“Taking such decisions regarding extension was the mandate of the PSC headed by chairman P&D which had to consider all relevant facts regarding scope, time and cost variations before making any such decision,” he added.
He disclosed that no separate meeting with the CM Punjab was held for finalization of route alignment for R-3 project as decided in the 3rd PSC and the 3rd PPP P&M Board meetings held on 24.06.2020 and 03.07.2020, respectively. The PSC had directed in clear terms to initiate a case for briefing the chief minister about the project as well as its alignment options supported by appropriate data.
Similarly, it was decided in the PPP P&M Board meeting that the route alignment for RRR shall be finalized in a separate meeting to be chaired by the chief minister. He said the P&D board vide its letter (dated 08.10.2020) had clarified that approval of the PC-I does not constitute approval of alignment.
The incumbent P&D Chairman Abdullah Sumbal and ex-chairman, Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh, confirmed that approval of the PC-I does not constitute approval of the alignment. Hence, the alignment was not approved and ex-PD was bent upon extending the ring road in Attock against the advice and directions of all relevant forums, he added.
He further said that the PD and the DPD directed NESPAK to review the design and provided local access at three interchanges for the benefit of upcoming housing societies.
“They also added “Nekrali Interchange” in the design despite the fact that it was nine kilometers away from the populated area. These changes were got incorporated in the design by the PD to seek undue benefits from the housing societies.”
Gohar further said that satellite image interpretation shows that the PD and the DPD also approved service roads in areas which have less population/built-up areas. He alleged that the service roads were proposed to facilitate housing societies.
The ACE DG further said that both the suspects also issued night rendering maps on the RDA website in September 2020 containing logos of RDA without obtaining alignment approval from the competent authority to create hype in the property market when the project was still under consideration.
He said as per decisions of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), the case to seek approval of the federal cabinet to align the ring road with the sectoral limits of ICT in relaxation of approved master-plan of Islamabad by the RDA was never processed to the HUD and PHE Department. In addition, NOC from NHA for use of CPEC route was also not secured which was pre-requisite, he said.
“The directions of the competent authority regarding acquisition of the land and construction of ring road in ICT by CDA were also neglected by the PD and the DPD and they included the ICT area. The revival of NESPAK JV by RDA was illegal as on 10.09.2020 NESPAK JV was offered revival when JV stood dissolved,” he said, adding that with the dissolution of the JV, contract was null and void and could not be revived.
The DG said the bidding process was to be initiated by the Lahore Ring Road Authority (LRRA), not RDA. As per directions of the PPP P&M Board, floating of RFP was responsibility of LRRA after extension of its jurisdiction and conversion into the Punjab Ring Road Authority (PRRA). However, the ex-PD manipulated the situation and used RDA for floating of RFP to create irreversibility for the project, he added
About the RDA ex-land acquisition collector, Waseem Ali Tabish, the DG said that he was granted powers to work in district Attock by the PD illegally. He said no formal notification was issued in this respect making all proceedings void. Therefore, the acquisition proceedings by Tabish outside the RDA controlled area are illegal, he added.
According to Gohar Nafees, the acquisition proceedings were started without basic approvals of the project.
“Section 4 notification was issued in January, 2020, while the first formal communication to LAC by DG RDA was made in Feb 2020. Serious violation in preparation and issuance of Section 4 for Murat Mauza of District Attock even before the approval from the commissioner assigning powers for Attock District.”
He said the award was prepared for Rawalpindi on 19.01.2021 and for Attock on 05-03-2021, respectively, by Waseem.
“The so-called approval of the project was granted by PRC of the PPP P&M Board on 19.02.2021. The LAC acted in violation of the rules and procedures for ulterior motives,” he added.
The ACE DG claimed that Tabish was aware that the alignment for Attock loop was not approved which he mentioned in the 17th and 41st PRM meetings, respectively. However, he added, Tabish disbursed compensation to the owners to give credence to this alignment and create hype in the property market.
“The original PC-I titled “Land Acquisition, Property Compensation, Afforestation and Shifting of Utilities for Rawalpindi Ring Road Project” for 51.7 kilometers (up to CPEC route) was of Rs 6.247 billion while the revised PC-I for 66.3 kilometers (up to Sangjani) was of Rs 16.3 billion. The addition of 14.6 km distance cost Rs 10 billion. Out of this, an amount of Rs 2.06 billion has been paid for acquisition of land on unapproved alignment which is loss to the national exchequer,” he said, adding that the ex-PD, DPD and the LAC willfully caused loss amounting to Rs 2.06 billion.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021