WASHINGTON DC, May 24, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf's 'Honest' General, Rattled by Exposure of His Corruption

By Senator Farhatullah Babar

ISLAMABAD, 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"?

According 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."

Why 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?

The 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.

It 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 ads.

Apart 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.

The writer, a PPP Senator, is a member of the Senate Committee on Defence. This article was written for "The News"

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