Monday, May 05, 2008
By Rauf Klasra
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has cancelled with immediate effect 3,281 eligibility certificates issued by outgoing MQM housing minister Syed Safwanullah for government properties and accommodations in Karachi estimated to be worth Rs 450 billion.
Bulk of these properties was quietly sold in the private market by those who had received these illegal certificates. The prime minister who may face political pressure from his party’s new coalition partner in Sindh after this decision, has also ordered the immediate ejection of all those now illegally occupying these government properties and houses. The buyers of most of these government properties were given eligibility certificates by the housing minister during 2005-2008 but they sold them in the open market and disappeared.
While a total of 3,281 occupants of these government properties worth Rs450 billion in Karachi were shown occupying government houses, only 413 certificates were given to government employees. Rest were either retired or private individuals who were occupying these properties without any legal authority.
Before issuing these certificates, the former minister for housing Safwanullah had evolved a new method as he stopped the fresh allotment of the government houses in these areas to the civil servants. As such the accommodation vacated by retired officers in these three years, were also shown as occupied and later given to private parities who sold them in the open market to earn billions.
Even eight officers of estate office Karachi who had conducted a faulty survey of these houses were rewarded with eight certificates for their collaboration. These properties worth Rs450billion are located in Karachi's Martin Road, Clayton road, Jail Road, Jehangir Road, old Alkhhest, Patail Para, Jehangir Road West and Pakistan Quarters.
The letters were issued by MQM minister Safwanullah without getting the required approval from the cabinet of Shaukat Aziz or Housing Secretary Rauf Chaudhry. The certificates doled out by the MQM minister were being openly sold in the city markets in the range of Rs5 million to Rs15million and hundreds of people who have bought these certificates might see their billions going down the drain.
PM Gilani took action on a secret inquiry conducted by the estate officer of Pakistan, Sher Afzal Khan who despite serious threats to his life, visited Karachi with full protection from the law enforcement agencies to document what may be the biggest scam in the real estate history of Pakistan.
The PM is said to have appreciated the work of this intelligent, honest and bold officer who is said to have refused to yield before the threats and bribery offers from different quarters to stay away from the investigation.
The new housing minister Rehmatullah Kakar is said to have played an important role in getting the recommendations of the report implemented after he refused to come under pressure from the elements who wanted him to dump the report.
Earlier the explosive inquiry report was sent to the law division for its opinion which observed the certificate of eligibility did not have any legal authority or do not create any legal rights in favour of those who claimed to be deriving any benefit from those letters.
The state officer Sher Afzal Khan who had unearthed this scam confirmed to The News: "I have been conveyed the decision of the federal government regarding declaring eligibility certificate as fake and on behalf of federal government pronouncement that these certificates are immediately renunciated and revoked and cancelled with immediate effect. I have been further conveyed to intimate decision of federal government to all those concerned in whose favours these certificate were issued."
Sher Afzal said, "in consequence of this decision, the properties of the federal government remains exclusive ownership of the federal government and any instrument of sale or in transactions, struck regarding these properties, would have no effect whatsoever on the status of the ownership of the federal government."
He warned that the public at large was being advised in their own interests to refrain from entering into any kind of transaction in respect of the federal government property at all these locations. Any instrument of sales, or an instrument to alienate the properties or ownership rights upon an individual regarding these properties void and has no legal effect"
MQM minister Safwanullah had told The News that a cabinet committee under the then Prime Minister had recommended to re-develop the area. He was of the view that the recommendation was to give the present occupants shelter in the re-developed structures.
Safwanullah admitting that the said recommendation was never approved by the cabinet, said that he had issued the eligibility certificates to the residents of more than 3,000 government own houses/quarters in Karachi to ensure that the claimants of the ownership does not change once the government takes a decision on the cabinet committee's recommendation.
The former minister said that the title of the properties in question had not changed but only ownership eligibility certificates were issued.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has also directed the Estate officer of Pakistan to advertise his decision in the newspapers and tell the concerned that the properties worth Rs450billion which were sold during the period of housing mminister Safwanullah had been cancelled as these were sold without any authority and should be retrieved from those who were now occupying them after paying a massive money to the plunderers who had drafted fake allotment letters to sell those government houses in the open market.
Earlier, after coming to know that a high level inquiry report was ready, a high powered delegation of MQM is said to have met prime minister Gilani to remove the secretary housing Rauf Chudhry who was backing the estate officer Sher Afzal Khan to clean the department of corruption and corrupt practices.
However the MQM successfully got the secretary transferred the other day to block the action but prime minister also ordered the cancellation of sale. Efforts are, however, underway to target Sher Afzal Khan and get him removed from his present post to block the action.
The inquiry report said it was strange to note that the entire exercise of delivery of eligibility of ownership certificate which was aimed at transfer of valuable property of state worth billion of rupees was commenced on the desire of the then housing and works minister Safwanullah in the year 2005 without the approval of the federal cabinet.
No need was felt to cloth the exercise with proper legislation and even official instructions on the subject are conspicuous by their absence. In fact no policy decision was taken at the competent level and statements of inquiry witnesses confirmed that the matter remained confined to the state offices, Karachi.
The estate officer Karachi Ghulam Abbas Baluch was especially sent to Karachi on the personal instructions of the minister Safwanullah to accomplish the task. These eligibility letters were not even issued after consulting the law ministry as it is devoid of any legal wisdom and does not quote the authority or law as sanctioned behind it.
The report said, in most of the cases these certificates had nothing to do with the authorized occupants but only the names of persons were entered without any verification who were predetermined to be the beneficiaries. A further inquiry into the matter revealed that only a non verified claim of occupants was made a basis for declaring them eligible for certificate of eligibility of ownership.
The report said all the members of the survey teams were rewarded certificates of eligibility of ownership. Yasin Babar was the incharge of the survey team who admitted in cross examination that they conducted survey under the instructions of MQM people and had been directed by the minister of housing Safwanullah not to take any exercise had been directed to verify of occupancy.
The inquiry report said it is an admitted fact that these certificates in addition to the legal heirs of deceased allotees, widows and original allotees were also prepared, signed and issued to non entitled persons and even to private persons on the direction of the then minister.
In cases where certificates were issued to the government servants, no care was taken to certify whether those occupants had either been allotted any plots by federal employees housing foundation or they had their own residential accommodation at Karachi.