ISLAMABAD: In the case of Ahsan Iqbal, the latest political detainee of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the accountability watchdog alleges that the PML-N leader has misused his authority on Narowal Sports City project but the former insists that nothing in the project was linked with his power as MNA or minister.
Iqbal has been arrested by NAB at the inquiry stage of the case without having being told what wrong he had done and how did he misuse the authority. Replying to NAB questionnaire before his arrest, Ahsan evensought from the Bureau contents of the specific complaint against him but it was not done too.
Before answering NAB questions, Iqbal even had explained that the Bureau’s questions relate to government decisions taken by various ministries and forums over a period of several years of which he even didn’t have exact memory or maintain any personal record. He had also requested facilitation in consulting relevant government record to refresh his memory but he was not provided any such facilitation. Therefore, he explained that his replies to NAB queries were based upon his memory.
The following are the relevant NAB questions and Ahsan Iqbal’s answers (Note: answers are edited/ summarized for lack of space in the newspaper):
Q. Did you initiate the Narowal Sports City (NSC) project?
Ans. The current NSC project was initiated by the Ministry of Sports, Government of Pakistan, in 2009, for consideration of Central Development Working Party (CDWP) and was approved by the CDWP in the same year as a national project to serve people from all regions of the country. As an opposition MNA, during that period, I did not hold any executive position in the government to approve the initiation or execution of the NSC project, which I did propose to the federal government in 2009 as a model project for the engagement of youth in healthy/ peaceful activities, development of quality sports infrastructure in the country.
Q. Was it in your knowledge that such like project ever existed on district level? If yes, then provide details?
Ans. The NSC project should not be seen as a district-level project. From its inception, it has been envisaged as a national and regional level integrated residential sports facility with multiple policy objectives which includes training world-class sportspersons by providing them international standards facilities, encourage youth to participate in healthy/ peaceful activities, develop sports tourism in the country through hosting sports competitions and events, promote development in under-privileged areas and develop a model integrated and residential sports city as a national asset, to be replicated in other parts of the country.
The NSC project is the first state-of-the-art residential and integrated sports training facility in Pakistan, developed in last forty years, from which sportsmen from all over the country will greatly benefit to attain international quality fitness and skill.
Q. Did you change/ alter the scope of work being deputy chairman, CDWP, because the first PC-1 of the NSC was approved on 20-05-1999 by the CDWP at a cost of Rs35.40 million including the cost of land?
Ans. The PC-1 for the sports project was initially approved in 1999 by the CDWP with direction to include cost of land. However, it was never acted upon. The first practical and major revision in the scope and costs of the NSC project was carried out in 2009 whereby Rs32.7 million cost was determined and approved by the CDWP. At that time, I was just an opposition MNA and didn’t hold any executive office.
Q. Why did you increase the amount of PC-1 from Rs35.40 million to Rs97.52 million?
Ans. All changes are authorised only as per CDWP decisions. As far as I remember, the PC-1 for the sports project in 1999 was approved/ authorised in principle by the CDWP. The increase in the cost of the project was due to the compliance of CDWP decision to include the cost of the land in the project. However, it was never acted upon as its administrative approval was never issued by the respective ministry. In 2009, when I was not in government, a major revision in the scope of the project took place which increased the scope of the project from Rs97.52m to Rs732.7 million making earlier revision from Rs35.4 million to Rs97.52 million inconsequential.
Q. Did you consider yourself the competent authority to change the scope of work? If in the affirmative, then state the relevant provisions of law under which you authorised the alterations of the project?
Ans. No. I did not consider myself acting as federal minister for Planning, Development and Reforms and deputy chairman, Planning Commission, the competent authority to change the scope of NSC project; such change is authorised or approved by relevant forums including the CDWP. However, as a federal minister and chairperson of the CDWP, it was my duty to share my views in relation to development projects including NSC project with the CDWP and to follow-up any decisions made by the CDWP.
Q. Did you know that NSC project was taken over by the federal government in 2013 though it was devolved to provincial government in 2010?
Ans. The NSC project was initiated by the federal government in 2009 before devolution. By the year 2011, an amount of Rs30.5 million was already spent on this project by the federal government, and the provincial government of Punjab had also contributed Rs35.6 million to acquire approximately 357 Kanals of land for the project on Main Muridkay-Narowal Road, Narowal, as per CDWP decision. As far as I remember, after devolution, the provincial government of Punjab was not keen to fund the NSC project. It would have been unreasonable to simply abandon the project as that would have caused loss to national exchequer. Besides, development of quality sports infrastructure in the country was very much needed and a high priority for the Federal Government.
There is no bar on federal government to fund projects in areas that have been devolved. Even today PSDP includes many projects which are funded in the provinces in devolved functions. Therefore, the federal government restarted the project in 2013. This was also in line with the policy of the federal government to ensure that work on all development
projects which were stuck without funds/ progress should be completed in order to clear the development projects portfolio of sick projects.
Many such sick projects were completed during 2013-18. For example: Lowari Tunnel, Katchi Canal, Neelum Jhelum Hydel Project, New Islamabad Air Port, Lyarri express way, Gwadar-Quetta and Gwadar-Khuzdar Highways etc etc. The Federal Government also revived sports projects like “Improvement of Nulter Ski Slope at Nultur Gilgit -Baltistan” which is quite remote area. Similarly, project “Laying of Synthetic Hockey Turf at Swat” was revived. Likewise, a project was approved for replacement of synthetic hockey turfs in different cities including Faisalabad, Wah Cantt, Quetta, Abbottabad and funds were allocated for Construction of 100 Stadiums in the country in partnership with provincial governments in PSDP. Such stadiums were to be constructed at district level. The CDWP also approved in 2017, Construction of foot ball ground at Chaman, Balochistan. National games were also organised and sponsored by the federal government after lapse of many years, despite devolution. The HEC was given funds to start University Olympics. This shows that federal government gave high priority to sports, despite devolution of sports, as a national goal.
Q. Did you know that the Ministry of Planning and Development allocated Rs200 million for Narowal Sports City project on the advice of advisor, Planning Commission, during PSDP 2013-2014 without any demand from the Ministry of Sports? Had you directed to do the same?
Ans. Given that NSC project was under active consideration for revival, it was necessary to make a provision for funds in the PSDP for it so that work on the project could start without any further delay. Hence an allocation of Rs200 million was made in PSDP 2013-14 for the NSC in consultation with Ministry of IPC. Even today, there are number of projects listed in PSDP 2019-20 with allocations while they are yet to be approved by the CDWP.
All proposals for allocations in PSDP are submitted to the relevant forums for approval including National Economic Council (NEC), which is a constitutional forum. All allocations in PSDP are also cleared by the cabinet before its final approval is accorded by the National Assembly of Pakistan as part of finance bill/ annual budget. The allocation of Rs200 million for the NSC project was authorised and approved by all relevant forums after deliberations on the PSDP.
Q. Did you participate/ involve in identification of site for NSC at any stage since its inception? If in the affirmative, then explain on what criteria the land was selected?
Ans. The land site where NSC project is constructed was selected by the provincial government in 2008 through district administration. The entire land acquisition process was completed by the district administration. I did not make any decision about allocation of land.
Q. Did you point out any Khasra Numbers regarding site of Narowal Sports City? If the affirmative, then provide details?
Ans. No. I did not provide any Khasra numbers of the land on which NSC project is established. Before 1999, I may have shared Khasra nos of land identified by consultants with government agencies to fast track the process of land acquisition but as far as I recall neither that land was acquired by the government nor the project got started.
Q. What was the rationale for initiating a billion worth project at district level? Why was district Narowal given preference by you?
Ans. This is not a district level project but national and international level integrated residential sports facilities with multiple policy objectives to give a boost to national level sports infrastructure.
Q. Did you give any direction to change the allocated amount for Narowal Sports City project from Rs35.450 million to Rs2.994 billion in various tenures?
Ans. No project is considered by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform unless it is duly owned, signed and approved by the secretary of the concerned ministry/ division. No other ministry is obliged to accept any unlawful direction from my side, as other ministries report to their respective ministers. Any communication from my side to other ministry is at best of advisory nature, which is not binding on them. Each ministry is mandated by Rules of Business to discharge its functions strictly in accordance with the law and proper procedures. The different changes proposed in scope of NSC project to my understanding were made in the interest of the project to improve its utility/ functionality, value and impact as Pakistan’s first model sports city. However, all proposals about the change/ increase in the allocations/ costs of the NSC project were duly examined/ approved/ authorised by competent departments and forums including the CDWP, NEC, cabinet and National Assembly, after due diligence and deliberations.
Q. Did you impart any instruction to the consultants regarding design of NSC project?
Ans. No I don’t impart any instruction to the consultants. Consultants work under supervision of the client ministry. The Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms is entrusted with a duty to approve and monitor design and execution of major development projects, and such projects are discussed and approved by different forums including the CDWP and NEC established for the same by law.