Monday, May 12, 2008

Minister confirms removal of housing scam traces

Thursday, May 08, 2008

By Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD: The mysterious disappearance of the official master file of the biggest real estate scam of Rs450 billion from the record of the Housing Ministry shocked the senators on Wednesday, amid another stunning disclosure by Minister Rehmatullah Kakar that not only the master file, but 300 pages of the file containing evidences collected by the estate officer Sher Afzal Khan into the scam during his visit to Karachi were also stolen.

The disclosure of the minister confirmed the fears already being aired in the capital that the Ministry of Housing and Works did not give due importance to such an important file and because of this traditional official lethargy, the file was stolen. A joint secretary of the Ministry of Housing who retired only last month is now being suspected of involvement in stealing the master file.

The admission of the minister made it clear that now the Housing Ministry has no official record of the master file and that of inquiry report files on the basis of which the whole scam was built and action was being planned. However the minister claimed that still the ministry was in possession of some official record.

Earlier, the Housing Minister Kakar pointed the finger at the former minister Safwanullah and his private secretary who, according to him, had evolved the whole plan of issuance of eligibility certificates to 3,128 persons in Karachi without any legal authority. The minister told the house that cancellation of these certificates was also under consideration but he did not give any reason as to what was stopping him from proceeding further in this regard when the law division had already approved the recommendations of the Housing Ministry including cancellation of eligibility certificates.

Earlier, Senator Babar Awan stood up on a point of order to blast the Ministry of Housing in the light of a report in The News that how a master file containing the details of Rs450 billion scam was stolen from the ministry. Babar Awan referred to a relevant law under which the ministry and its officials were supposed to protect the national record, official secret and government documents. But, he regretted that the report had established the fact that the ministry had failed to protect the official national record pertaining to such an important issue. He said this was very serious issue and demanded that the minister should explain the whole situation.

Rehmatullah Kakar stood up only to confirm the report of The News that the file was stolen from the ministry and the investigations were underway to determine the facts. He said that two officials had already been suspended.

Kakar told Chairman Senate Moahmmadmian Soormo who was presiding over the session that when he was the caretaker prime minister of Pakistan, an inquiry into the scam was conducted and completed before he took over charge of the ministry. The minister said during the investigations, it turned out that the then housing minister Safwanullah along with his private secretary had sat down behind closed doors to issue these eligibility certificates to people in Karachi occupying the governments houses. The minister said that his predecessor had done this without the approval of the competent authority. Neither the secretary of the ministry Rauf Chaudhry was involved in the process nor the competent authority was asked to stamp its approval. He said now the same file was missing and investigation was underway.

Senator Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli stood up and asked the minister whether the official file of inquiry report compiled by Sher Afzal Khan was also missing in addition to the master file. Kakar said unfortunately this file containing evidences compiled by estate officer was also missing. So, now two important files of the scam were missing from the official record of the Housing Ministry. He denied that Maulana Fazalur Rehman had made him a telephone call to show flexibility on the issue of Rs450 billion scam.

MQM Senator Mohammad Ali Brohi also tried to persuade the chairman Senate to refer the matter to the Senate Standing Committee on Housing. But the chairman understood his smart move as he knew that Brohi is the chairman of the committee.

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