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EDITORIAL: It’s more than a small embarrassment for the ruling party that the National Highway Authority (NHA), an arm of the ministry of communication, has officially refuted claims made by two federal ministers, one of them being the minister for communication itself, that the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) government made illegal money from roads contracts during its last tenure. In a pretty loaded press conference on 26 September 2021, Minister of Communication Murad Saeed, flanked by Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhary, alleged that the previous government made Rs100 billion on the side from the said contracts. But when Transparency International-Pakistan (TI-P) investigated the matter, NHA rubbished the allegation and clarified that all bids were and are evaluated and contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, as per rules, and the Authority is audited multiple times and no such red flags were ever raised, which rules out kickbacks and corruption.

TI-P has now reached the conclusion that the ministers’ statement about the missing Rs100 billion was wrong and requested Secretary Commerce to update the prime minister about his cabinet colleagues’ claim being false. Surely, all this, right from the allegation, is very irregular and raises some very important questions that the two ministers must answer. If the government was in possession of proof that another government made money from corruption, then why wasn’t this evidence presented at the appropriate forum, especially since the present government has made such a big deal about accountability of all those that ruled before it? And if all it took for the allegation to be tossed out the window was a plain denial from the NHA, after which the matter is not being pushed any further, then what possessed Murad Saeed and Fawad Chaudhary to make such outrageous claims from the platform of the government? Also, who is responsible now if the opposition beats this matter to death since it strengthens its own accusations of a witch hunt, etc.?

It is just such incidents that give the government’s narrative of accountability a very soft underbelly. Once again it will have to deploy its army of spokespersons to counter allegations that it chooses who to go after first and then bothers to look for evidence to back its claims. And it’s no surprise really that the opposition is taking this line because despite the large number of arrests of its leaders and workers on all sorts of corruption charges over the last three years, nobody has yet been proven guilty. So much for all the tweets that are fired at the time of the arrests and investigations.

This matter about the Rs100 billion allegation must not be allowed to fizzle out. It needs to be investigated; if for nothing else than just to make sure that such things are not allowed to happen again. Of course that is not to say that the corrupt should not be hunted. But there should be no leniency for anybody that makes, or even tries to make, a mockery of this sacred process. Now that the government has officially made this charge, and it has not exactly been proved right so far, it is now its own responsibility to carry out a thorough probe to find out just where there has been foul play and mischief in all this.

It’s also not a small thing that national politics has sunk to a vulgar low not seen before. And while neither government nor opposition can claim the higher moral ground, sitting governments are always more to blame in such things not just because they bear the burden of command, but also because it is their responsibility, at the end of the day, to minimize needless confrontation. Therefore, the sooner this matter reaches a proper end, and is then put behind us, the better.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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