The NFML scam


According to a Business Recorder exclusive, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has given safe passage to the influential officials of National Fertiliser Marketing Limited (NFML) allegedly involved in the 1.6 billion rupee urea scam and instead booked low level employees.

It is extremely unfortunate that in this country the rich and influential rarely, if ever, are apprehended and the low level abettors are forced to pay the price of corruption. This approach strengthens the allegations by PTI chairman Imran Khan that the two main status quo parties, PML(N) and PPP, have agreed not to proactively pursue cases of corruption against each other and, in the event that public pressure builds up demanding accountability and transparency, to hold low level functionaries responsible for the entire scam.

What is also significant in the case of NFML is the clarification sought by the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) with respect to a decline in NFML profits on bank deposits (short-term investments) in spite of the fact that the total amount under this head rose by approximately 0.5 billion rupees.

In addition, a fact-finding inquiry last year led by Senior Joint Secretary, Ministry of Production, NFML identified several officials allegedly involved in the sale of 405,160 bags amounting to 649 million rupees at 1600 rupees per bag – a quantum of fertiliser that the inquiry maintained was not possible in a single day from NFML godowns. And significantly the dealers expressed surprise at the arrests of low level functionaries and pointed out that this was in spite of the fact that the inquiry had identified the names of senior officials.

In recent months, the PPP leadership has come out strongly against what it perceives as selective accountability against its leadership, particularly in Sindh. The federal government is clearly being seen as playing a more passive role in Sindh compared to the rangers in decisions relating to corruption with alleged links to terrorism. Subsequent to statements by the PPP leadership, including the co-chairman of the party, Asif Ali Zardari, the pace of investigation against two former prime ministers, who are not from Sindh namely Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, has visibly slowed and is being perceived as back tracking by the government.

The PPP did take up the case of Qasim Zia as one of political victimisation, however his plea bargain leaves little doubt that he admitted his guilt and agreed to repay a percentage of the amount scammed. Furthermore, in the absence of any drive to nab the corrupt in other provinces, particularly Punjab, with similar zeal as exhibited in Sindh, has cast a long shadow over this much-needed process to weed out and prosecute/punish the corrupt. This perception has the potential to taint this whole exercise unless it is corrected on priority.

This go-slow approach of NAB with respect to cases against the corrupt shows that the government does not have its hand on the pulse of the general public that is no longer as passive about such massive corruption as in the past. The reason is simple. It is the common man who pays the cost of corruption, a perception fuelled by a more proactive media correctly contending that corruption is the major reason for a rising budget deficit, as large sums are released from the treasury to make up the losses through corruption, thereby leading to inflation as well as the imposition of higher taxes.

Pakistan’s ranking in the corruption perception index has improved since the advent of the PML-N government – from 139 in 2012 to 126 in 2014 – however this is perceived to be with respect to ongoing corruption rather than to proactively investigate past corruption.

It is also relevant to note that controversy against some key ministers of the PML-N government has surfaced in the current year while in 2014 there were allegations of incompetence and flawed expenditure priorities rather than outright corruption. One would hope that the federal government would take appropriate measures to dispel the perception that it is undertaking accountability selectively and that NAB is being used as a political tool, like in the past, rather than as an entity engaged in unearthing corruption.

Source: Business Recorder