WASHINGTON DC, June 8, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Generals Defy, Degrade Parliament to Protect a Corrupt Colleague

By M T Butt

ISLAMABAD, June 8: Deeply engrossed in private businesses, Army Generals have officially refused to recognize the jurisdiction of Pakistan’s Parliament and a landmark battle has begun to determine who would have the upper hand.

“Under any democracy and constitutional rule, this would never be an issue, but Pakistan Army is bent upon breaking every rule and demolish or disfigure every institution to protect the Army's personal, political and corporate interests,” a senior politician said in Islamabad.

One of Musharraf’s top Generals, accused of corruption in Army’s biggest corporate entity, the Fauji Foundation, has turned his Rs300 million case of favoritism into this test case by challenging the authority of the Senate to look into his affairs.

“This case would determine whether elected representatives will ever be able to peek into the back stage money-making secrets of the Army,” an expert said.

The case involves Lt. General (Retd) Mohammed Amjad, (Top, Left) once the head of Musharraf's National Accountability Bureau (NAB). As NAB Chief General Amjad, and his successors, have been continuously using NAB, illegally and unconstitutionally, to investigate every private sector company or businessman the Generals want to target for their own personal, political or financial reasons.

After General Amjad left NAB he was appointed head of the Fauji Foundation which is, for all practical purposes, an extension of the Pakistan Army, as many sitting armed forces high ups are on its Board called the Committee of Administration.

The Committee of Administration of Fauji Foundation comprises Army's Chief of the General Staff, Quarter Master-General, Chief of Logistics Staff, Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (Training & Personnel) and Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Administration). According to Fauji Foundation, the Committee handles the administrative and management affairs of the Foundation.

The case against Gen. Amjad is that he sold one of the sugar mills of Fauji Foundation to a favorite for an amount much less than the highest bid and this information was confirmed by the Defence Ministry in the National Assembly. So it was official. The Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Tanvir Hussain, admitted in the Assembly that the “sugar mill had been sold at Rs300 million, against the highest bid of Rs387 million.”

There was an immediate uproar both inside and outside the Parliament. The Senate’s Defence Committee summoned the Fauji Foundation management to appear and explain why this corruption had been done. A spokesman of Senate said a meeting of the Defence Committee to discuss the working of the Fauji Foundation and the sale of Khoski Sugar Mills in particular was requisitioned by three Opposition members namely Senators Rukhsana Zuberi, Farhatullah Babar and Sardar Mahtab Ahmed Khan.

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. Even Government party member and Parliamentary Secretary, Major Tanvir, bemoaned that the Foundation had breached the privilege of Parliament.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, an activist on such issues, wrote in a newspaper column: “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"? Click to read full column

But instead of coming clean on the issue, General Amjad and the other top Generals sitting in the GHQ have decided to challenge the jurisdiction of the Parliament to look into the affairs of Army-run businesses. The Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production on June 4 received a communication from the Defence Ministry stating that the Committee had no jurisdiction to appear for or against Fauji Foundation at any forum.

A press release said the office of the Chairman, Standing Committee on Defence, received a communication from the Defence Minister intimating that after having a detailed briefing from the ministry's officials it was apparent that "Fauji Foundation is a private sector organization."

The Committee Chairman is an ardent Musharraf and Army loyalist. A hand-picked businessman, former IBM chief and Musharraf’s ex-Information Minister, Nisar Memon is now heading the Senate’s Defence Committee. Instantly he jumped to the General’s side and as Committee Chairman accepted, without a word, the Fauji Foundation’s contention that private businesses were outside the Senate’s purview. Memon accepted the explanation and declared that the meeting requisitioned by the Opposition senators will not be held, cutting his own legs and feet.

No one is allowing him to get away with this serious issue and even political allies of the Generals, now providing Musharraf and his men the façade of a democracy, are confused and issuing conflicting statements.

“This is how Musharraf undermines the constitution and rule of law as he has his own cronies installed in key places who do not care about any democratic tradition but serve the interests of their Army masters,” a senior politician commented as a chorus of credible political voices rejected Nisar Memon’s decision as totally uncalled for and without authority or legality.

Even the Parliamentary Affairs Minister in the Shaukat Aziz cabinet, a PPP turncoat and often a Musharraf loyalist, Dr Sher Afgan Niazi, did not agree with Nisar Memon.

He told newspaper Dawn on June 5 every organization within the limits of Pakistan, whether public or private, can be summoned before the parliament. "No private organization operating within the country has an exemption from being summoned before the parliament. The principle of sovereignty and supremacy of parliament is applicable in the case.”

Another leading constitutional expert, Choudhry Aitzaz Ahsan of PPP went a step further. He said: “The Defence Ministry's refusal to bring the Fauji Foundation under scrutiny in the committee is a sheer disobedience and disrespect to the parliament. Any entity that is "controlled" or "owned" by the government can be summoned by a committee of the parliament, including the Senate and the National Assembly.”

Ahsan said Fauji Foundation was like other organizations which operated as private entities but were "controlled" or "owned" by the government. He said if the PTV managing director and PIA Chairman could be summoned before a committee, nothing barred the management of Fauji Foundation from being summoned. He said the presence of the Defence Secretary and other senior serving officials of the armed forces on the committee of administration of Fauji Foundation made it subject to appear before the committee and the parliament.

A former secretary of the National Assembly, Khan Ahmed Goraya, said the National Assembly committees had the powers of the civil court and could summon any person or entity within the precincts of the country. Similar rules were applicable to the Senate committees, he said.

The influential Editor of Lahore’s Daily Times, Najam Sethi, weighed in with a strong editorial note on the issue titled: “Fauji Foundation must explain its conduct to the Senate Standing Committee.”

His editorial said: “These are important questions, not only in relation to the issue at hand — namely the dubious sale of the sugar mills — but also vis à vis the larger questions of the military in business and civil-military relations. It is clear to us that the Foundation’s Committee of Administration is loath to appear before a committee of parliamentarians because of military’s traditional disregard of the parliament. Under the rules it is the Standing Committee’s prerogative “to take a decision and express an opinion on the new position taken by the defence ministry”. And as Senator Babar has contended, “The Rules have no provision for the Chairman of the Committee [in this case, Senator Memon] to give a personal verdict and cancel a requisitioned meeting.”

”General Pervez Musharraf continues to talk about a new Pakistan built around respect for institutions. We expect that the process of institutionalization will subsume the military and not bestow on it the status of a holy cow. At the end of the day, Parliament is the highest body in the realm and its members have every right — within prescribed law — to oversee the functioning of various departments, including the military,” the newspaper said.

“It is also important to determine, once and for all, the sex of entities run by, and under, the military. Are they in the private sector or in the public domain?”

Given all these arguments, the attempt by the Generals to bulldoze and over-run the Parliament are blatant, mean and self-serving. They want immunity from accountability for their misdeeds in all Government-run, funded and controlled organizations which they have grabbed. The next step would be to demand that all lands, properties and houses owned by the Generals would be exempt from any law, tax or regulation. This can go on and on.

Because if the Generals claim that they are running a private business, which cannot be questioned by the Parliament, then the question that needs an immediate answer is why and how are these officers allowed to run a private business as Government Service rules prohibit any employee to run his own business. And why is tax-payers money being pumped into their private business.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2004-05, released by the Ministry of Finance on June 4, reveals that the Government had explicit contingent liability of Rs1.02 billion on account of Fauji Fertilizer Company Jordan. The government's guarantee of for FFC increased from Rs0.70 billion in 2002-03 to Rs1.02 billion in 2004-05, revealed the Survey, an authentic official document released every year before the budget.

According to the company profile, FFC Jordan is a Joint Venture of Fauji Foundation and Fauji Fertilizer Company Limited. The Chairman of Fauji Foundation, Lt Gen (retd) Syed Muhammad Amjad, is shown as the chairman of the FFC in its recent annual report.

This battle between the Generals and the Parliament is another manifestation of the crumbling state of affairs in General Musharraf's Pakistan.

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