Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said he appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) just to uphold the rule of law, however, he rejected all allegations against him.
Addressing a press conference on Monday after his appearance at the NAB Punjab headquarters in Lahore, the chief minister accused the authority of holding bias against him.
Sharif had been summoned over his alleged involvement in the cancellation of awarding Aashiana-i-Iqbal scheme’s contract to successful bidders M/S Ch Latif and Sons, leading to award of contract to M/S Lahore Casa Developers (JV) — a proxy group of M/S Paragon City (Pvt) Limited — causing a loss of millions of rupees to the public exchequer.
“I had the option, as well as various pretexts, to avoid appearing before the authority but I opted to appear just to maintain the rule of law,” he said.
Sharif said he was asked three questions regarding the violations of rules and regulations in Aashiana-i-Iqbal project.
“I am the custodian of the public money and their projects and programmes,” he said, adding that he did not violate any law and exercised the powers conferred upon him by the law, as mentioned in the rules of business of the Punjab government and the Punjab Land Development Company’s (PLDC) article of memorandum.
He said he was accused of abuse of powers and violation of rules and regulations in connection with the PLDC and the Aashiana scheme. “All the government departments and companies, either of the central or provincial government, are sole entities of the respective governments,” he said, adding that the PLDC was established to create low-cost housing societies in the province to benefit the poor and underprivileged.
He cited the example of Aashiana-i-Quaid-i-Azam project as an evidence of his affected intervention to save taxpayers’ money. He described that the government had received the highest bid of Rs1,700 per square feet and the lowest of Rs1,000 for the construction of the project.
Shahbaz said that it was him, the “Khadim-i-Aala” who beseeched the lowest bidder and finalised the deal for Rs900 per square feet, saving almost Rs1.5 billion.
“If saving the nation’s money and halting corruption is a crime and I have crossed a line to do so, then I will repeat it tens of millions of times.”
“I have crossed a line to protect the interests of my nation and people and I will do it a thousand times over,” Shahbaz Sharif said.
He said that he was accused of cancelling the contract of Chaudhry Latif for constructing Aashiana-i-Iqbal and granting the contract to another company.
Clarifying his position on the allegations, Shahbaz said he had ordered an inquiry after receiving information about discrepancies in the contract.
He said that he formed a committee headed by current State Bank Chairman Tariq Bajwa, who is considered an honest officer. He added that according to the findings of the committee, the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder, however, some rules of the bidding process were not followed.
After evaluating the four objections to the bidding procedure, the contract, which was about the construction of infrastructure in the project, had been cancelled, the minister said. Later, the contract for constructing the entire project was given to another company and subsequently was cancelled due to their incompetence.
“Had I not taken any action, you would have said that Shahbaz you did not take any action,” he said he told the NAB officials.
The CM rejected all the three charges projected against him by the NAB.
The chief minister also accused that those who plundered the public exchequer in past were not held accountable for their misdeeds. He said that the Aashina programme was launched to facilitate the poor and needy families.
Earlier, NAB had launched the investigation against management/officers/officials of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), management and owners of Lahore Casa Developers, officers and officials of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and others.
The accountability watchdog had received a number of complaints regarding the ‘illegal deal’ involving 3,000-kanal government land between the PLDC and M/s Anhui Construction Engineering Group, owned by Paragon Exchange Director Ali Sajjad, M/s Bismillah Engineering Company owner and Paragon City chief executive Nadeem Zia, and M/s Sparco Group for the construction of Aashiana-i-Iqbal Lahore housing project under the public-private partnership.
During the case investigation, NAB learnt that the Punjab chief minister had allegedly used his position and authority unlawfully, causing a huge loss to the public exchequer.