Monday, May 12, 2008

No inquiry into missing file of housing ministry

By Ahmed Hassan

ISLAMABAD, May 10: Neither any inquiry has been ordered as yet nor is any explanation forthcoming about the mysterious disappearance from the housing ministry of the master file of Rs450 billion federal government property in different parts of Karachi.

The master file, according to ministry sources, was last seen in possession of Abrar Alam, a senior joint secretary of the ministry on February 15, who retired the next day but did not return the file.

Federal Minister for Housing, while confirming the biggest property scam in the country’s history in Senate recently, admitted that his ministry had not only lost record of the master file but also of inquiry reports submitted on the basis of which any action would have been taken against the culprits.

The minister also admitted that his ministry had also failed to implement his orders of suspension of a former Estate Officer, Ghulam Abbas, who is suspected to be involved in issuing fake Eligibility Certificates of 3282 houses to the people now occupying the property.

Estate Officer Sher Afzal Khan, who not only investigated and reported the scam to the government in black and white, also made videos of the federal government properties under illegal occupation of the people in Karachi.

The inquiry report submitted to the government reportedly advised the former caretaker government to take immediate steps for revoking fake eligibility certificates and take back the government property by force from ‘illegal’ occupants.

The issue was reportedly referred to the law ministry which had approved the recommendations and the estate officer was in process of seeking federal security forces’ help to take back the property upon which commercial plazas and shopping malls had been built.

Talking to Dawn on Saturday, ministry of housing secretary Samiul Haq Khilji said that facts were being collected about the missing files and an inquiry officer would be appointed according to law if efforts failed to bear fruit.

The minister for housing has blamed the former minister and three officials of the housing ministry -- Ghulam Abbas Baloch, former estate officer; Sohail Sarwar Jaura, joint estate officer in Karachi; and Abdul Hafeez Murry, joint estate officer in Quetta – for the scam.

While the last two officials have been suspended, the former is still in his office, defying the suspension order and threatening to disclose many hidden names in the scam, sources said.

As the estate scam came to surface, some senators mounted pressure on inquiry officer Sher Afzal Marwat on basis of some petty allegations.

Besides raising various questions about his honesty, Dr Muhammad Ali Barohi, chairman of Senate standing committee on housing, wrote a letter to the ministry that all 11 members of the Senate committee investigating the matter, desired estate officer Sher Afzal Khan, who was instrumental in highlighting the scam, to be changed or transferred to some other place. Nine of the 11 members of the committee have, however, distanced themselves in writing from Dr Barohi’s letter.

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