for South Asia Tribune Story on this issue
Musharraf's 'Honest' General,
Rattled by Exposure of His Corruption
Senator Farhatullah Babar
May 24: Lately the Fauji Foundation, a trust for the welfare of
ex-servicemen, has been in the news. The Foundation's response
to the strident criticism of its performance in Parliament and
in the media, however, has been at best deafening silence and
at worst jeering at the protesting MPs by rejecting through newspaper
ads the information about it placed on the floor of the house
by the government itself.
During question hour in the National
Assembly last month, a member belonging to the ruling coalition,
Mrs Shamim Akhtar, had asked the defence minister as to why the
Khoski Sugar Mill belonging to the Foundation had been sold. The
written reply was a masterpiece of contradiction.
In his written reply the defence
minister stated that the Sugar Mill was incurring heavy losses
and therefore sold for Rs300 million to the highest bidder in
a transparent manner after completion of all formalities.
The matter would have ended but,
intriguingly, it also stated, "It has been sold at the low
price in any case." (Whatever that means.)
The claim of selling the mill
to the highest bidder on the one hand and the admission that it
had been sold at a low price was offensive to the meanest intelligence.
There was uproar. In unison with the MPs' demanded truth and nothing
but the truth.
The Parliamentary Secretary for
Defence Tanvir Hussain then admitted to what came like a bombshell:
the sugar mill had been sold at Rs300 million, against the highest
bid of 387 million.
Some intrepid press reporters
then chased the parliamentary secretary to his chamber. A number
of facts were revealed: the transaction had taken place during
the tenure of the present boss of the Foundation, who was previously
chairman of the National Accountability Bureau. A high-level inquiry
had already been ordered by the Defence Ministry. The entity to
which it was sold had not even participated in the bidding process.
Initially the Foundation did not
respond but after two weeks rejected the information given to
the MPs through quarter-page advertisements in national dailies.
The ads titled "Fauji Foundation Rejects" not only dismissed
allegations but also claimed that the Khoski Sugar Mill was sold
"in the best interest of the Foundation" and in keeping
with the "established corporate norms and business practices."
"We have received no government
assistance in cash or kind," the ads announced, and vowed
to "jealously guard its reputation for impeccable conduct."
The MPs took the Foundation's
ads, which rejected the official information placed before them
a few days before, as an affront and breach of their privilege.
Parliamentary Secretary Major Tanvir also bemoaned that the Foundation
had breached the privilege of Parliament.
One is indeed puzzled by the Foundation's
claim that it had not received government assistance in cash or
in kind. Under SRO No 395, issued in March 1972, all the properties
of the Post War Services Reconstruction Funds of the former West
Pakistan were vested in the federal government, which in turn
transferred these properties to the Fauji Foundation under the
Charitable Endowments Act. With such a kick start from day one,
how can the management today claim that it has not received from
the government "any assistance in cash or in kind"?
to the Scheme of Administration under the SRO, the Fauji Foundation
is also authorized"to receive from government or other bodies
or person any contribution to the Foundation."
would the SRO authorize the Foundation to receive contributions
if it was not intended that it actually received contributions?
When the opposition demanded that
the sale of the sugar mill be investigated by the NAB, apologists
for the Foundation claimed that its income wasn't covered under
the definition of "public fund," and therefore the NAB
had no jurisdiction to probe, much the same way as it cannot probe
the financial decisions of any other private undertaking.
Several hundred private housing
societies functioning in the country operate private and not public
funds. If the NAB has been probing the housing societies, why
can't it probe the Foundation's dealings, particularly when as
a charitable trust, the Foundation, is supposed to serve the welfare
of ex-servicemen? The Taj Company also did not operate public
funds but was not spared by the NAB.
According to the Scheme of Administration
of the Foundation, its administration is in the hands of a committee
whose chairman is the defence secretary and its members include
four principal staff officers of the GHQ and two senior officers
of the Pakistan Navy and the Air Force, all paid out of the public
funds. The assertion defies logic that the Foundation's funds
should not only be treated as private but also kept beyond the
purview of the NAB.
It has also been asserted that
no government tribunal has legal authority to probe the affairs
of the Foundation and that the administrative committee alone
is competent to initiate proceedings against any wrongdoing in
a manner it deems appropriate. It amounts to saying that the committee
shall sit in judgment on the propriety of its own financial and
administrative decisions. Heads I win, tails you lose. Isn't it?
claim by the Foundation's management through press ads paid out
of funds meant for the welfare of servicemen, instead of categorically
stating its position on allegations of underbidding, is a most
cavalier attitude, to say the least. The issue will not die down
by weaving around it a complex web of legal terminologies. When
foundations are shaken it beckons men of courage to save the structures
from collapsing. Individuals and institutions which have great
strengths approach their criticism and weaknesses with a sense
of confidence and condor.
will do the Fauji Foundation and its boss (Lt. General Syed Mohammed
Amjad, Pix Top, Left), who is known for personal integrity, enormous
good if it volunteered to dispel the misgivings about the sale
of the sugar mill before the appropriate Parliamentary Committee,
admitted that it erred in placing the costly ads to rebut parliamentary
criticism, and returned to the Foundation's account the money
meant to be spent on the welfare of ex-servicemen misspent on
from his reputation of integrity, the present head of the Foundation
has spent a lifetime in a profession which must have taught him
what collateral damage is. One hopes that he will demonstrate
courage and condor. and save the institution he served so ably
for several decades from colossal collateral damage.
writer, a PPP Senator, is a member of the Senate Committee on
Defence. This article was written for "The News"