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Saaf Pani project has not begun despite Rs4bn being already spent, Punjab chief secy tells SC

    Despite Rs4 billion being spent on the Punjab government’s Saaf Pani project, not a single drop of clean water has been made available to the citizens, Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Saeed informed the Supreme Court on Sunday.

    A two-member bench of the SC, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, was hearing the suo motu case regarding alleged irregularities in appointments in the Punjab Saaf Pani Company (PSPC) at its Lahore Registry.

    A day earlier, the company’s CEO had told the court that Rs300 million had been spent on the services of foreign consultants so far, an estimated amount of Rs150 billion had been allocated for the whole project while 116 plants of clean water installed at a cost of Rs4 billion.

    The CJP on Sunday pondered the possibility of sending the case to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with a 15-day deadline for the bureau to investigate it. He then summoned the NAB prosecutor general on April 14.

    Justice Nisar rejected a report on the project submitted by PSPC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Nabeel Javed. The chief justice had directed the CEO to furnish a complete record, including the salaries, perks and privileges of entire staff and the vehicles provided to them to perform their official duties.

    “Everyone will be held accountable; I will ensure that every penny of the nation is returned,” he remarked. He also said that those who appointed people in the project would also be held accountable and be asked to return the spent money.

    Justice Nisar said that all the CEOs of companies [associated with the government] would be given salaries equal to those of government servants. “A government servant is being favoured [by being appointed as a CEO] with a Rs1.4 million salary so that he may be used to get work done at any point.”

    “So much money was spent on advertising but the project was not completed,” Justice Nisar observed.

    Read: Why a clean drinking water project in Punjab is going nowhere

    He also vowed that undue favours or bribe would not work until the current judiciary is in place.

    The CJP questioned the eligibility of Special Assistant to Punjab Chief Minister Zaeem Qadri’s brother, Asim Qadri, and wife, Uzma Qadri, for being a part of the board of directors of the PSPC.

    The provincial chief secretary conceded that things were going down rather than looking up for the company while a former CEO of the PSPC, Waseem Ajmal, said that the chief minister gave orders regarding the company although he had no authority. “Local experts were replaced by foreign experts on orders of the chief minister,” he said.

    Ajmal, along with two other officers, was removed on the orders of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in 2016 after an inquiry team probe into a Rs80bn increase in cost estimation of the project.

    During Saturday’s hearing, Justice Nisar had expressed displeasure at the hefty amount being paid to foreign consultants engaged for PSPC and huge salaries paid to its officials.

    “Who are these consultants and for what purpose they have been hired,” the chief justice had asked company CEO retired Capt Muhammad Usman.

    “Don’t we have any local talent to perform this simple work?” the chief justice had asked, observing that students of chemistry could do such analysis [of the water].

    The project has faced multiple hurdles since its inception as there are multiple cases against it in the courts. NAB is also currently investigating the irregularities in the project.

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