Memo From The US…Wasting A Crisis

The Nawaz government had a rare opportunity to fix the financial crisis bedevilling state-owned entities (SOEs). Did he not promise to appoint people of merit to head these SOEs?
With each passing day, the chances of the prime minister appointing deserving 100-plus chief executives get dim. Instead his intentions to stick to his old ways of favouring party loyalists and shunning talent become more transparent.
To be fair to the prime minister, perhaps he is not getting any help in weaning out the bad eggs. If that is the case, he need not look any further. Right under his nose, lies vital information, free of cost, courtesy in-house whistleblowers waiting to reveal a seamier side of the same story. As we well know, investigative reporting is kick-started with a smoking gun.
Trailing the smoke is the whistleblower, the linchpin lurking in the shadowy mists around the corridors of power. The Nawaz government, if sincere in its promise to end corruption (a promise that now sounds false), can connect the dots and expose the naked truth that may rock the whole corporate edifice and fill up our jails with white-collared criminals.
But it could well rock Nawaz’s business-friendly government too!
Still, the Supreme Court must now become proactive. It has to halt the faulty, opaque, impenetrable screening process currently underway for appointing heads of the SOEs. Thieves have ripped public sector enterprises and left them bankrupt. Their names and loot is writ large in newspapers and pinned on the walls of shame at the Supreme Court. Why won’t their Lordships order the government to stop their appointments?
Nawaz has already begun putting old wine in new bottles. He’s confirming the same faces to carry on as chairmen/managing directors of these public sector enterprises. The latest, according to someone in the know, is Riaz Khan, executive director OGDCL (Oil & Gas Development Company Limited). Many are of the opinion that he is not a ‘good choice’ for an acting head. One whistleblower claiming to know Mr Khan “inside out” alleges that “suppliers/vendors mafia who have over invoiced and cartelised the corporation for ages” have a connection with him.
“Shehzad Int, owned by Zaheeruddin along with Iqbal Z Ahmed, (LPG cartel leader) and Rental Power Projects player and Akbar Associates formed a troika that can be named. In one case culprits allegedly bought “used ‘Christmas trees’ (wellhead equipment) from Akbar Associates in new packing while paying full price for second-hand equipment. Dizzying…isn’t it!”
Iqbal Z Ahmed, was given LPG quota from many oil fields as is by now public knowledge. What we don’t know are their links and linkages, even relationships that work for them to their advantage.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, CEO and founder of Airblue is currently the minister for petroleum and natural resources. He is reported to have sent three names to head OGDCL. All three were top managers at the corporation. According to my whistleblower, Nawaz rejected all three. The first two were excluded due to “corruption charges”, while the third person was dropped because he had the “habit of coming to work at noon.” According to the whistleblower, “The PM sent his own two names to Minister Abbasi who did not accept them and instead picked the one he had nominated as his first preference.”
The OGDC, the largest oil and gas exploration company, has become a hothouse of corruption by its top management. “It is a free for all out there… employees arrive at 10am and leave at 1pm.” In oil and gas exploration a day lost is a day lost unlike a steel re-rolling factory where one can run double shifts to compensate for the time lost.
Aslam Khaliq was appointed acting chairman PIA. He had to resign on orders of the apex bench. Now Khaliq along with his fellow directors have resigned from PIA’s board after the Supreme Court removed/censured Shujaat Azim, a PM appointee. “I know Aslam Khaliq as a man of integrity”, says someone who knows him well. “Khaliq took on this position to help a national cause. He is and continues to be involved with two NGOs doing very good work.
But he had to be sacrificed because his sponsor Shujaat Azeem had several conflicts of interests as Nawaz Sharif’s aviation adviser.”
Why appoint people like Shujaat Azim who are not fit to hold high positions? Nawaz knows Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is allergic to having dual nationals hold sensitive posts. Recall how he dismissed Tahirul Qadri’s petition to postpone the polls on the ground that a Canadian citizen (Qadri) had no right to go knocking at the apex court’s door. Surely the attention span of the prime minister and his coterie of advisers is not that short that they have forgotten the recent ruling against Qadri by the Chaudhry Court?
PIA at the moment is without a chairman or a board. “It continues to bleed about Rs3 billion per month”, an insider tells me. Another whistleblower informs me that the “managing director of PIA investments, who runs the Roosevelt Hotel in New York and Hotel Scribe in Paris along with managing many other Arab investments is a Canadian citizen.”
Don’t stop reading…there’s another name on our whistleblower’s list: “Najib Sami, PIA’s director of customer service too is a dual national. It’s all documented and confirmed that he has a blue passport (US citizenship). The Supreme Court has already taken up the matter.”
As for the role of the chairman PIA, according to a “special act of the parliament,” the chairman is the chief executive of the airline. “This runs against the current norm of good corporate governance which requires the chairman and CEO to be two separate persons – the parliament needs to legislate to correct this”, my source tells me.
Here’s one more blatant example of corruption, cronyism and favouritism. According to yet another whistleblower, in a marketing promotion board headed by Mr Irshad Ghani, the PPP high ups had called the shots. “At the last minute, the merit list was changed removing 41 names of people already selected for promotion. I was one of them. We all went to court and filed a case against the PIA management. The Honourable Court has ordered PIA to promote all 41 of us, but Director Marketing Khurram Mushtaq is dragging his feet to carry out the court’s orders.”
My whistleblower is so disgusted that he has decided to throw in the towel. He tells me that despite his sincere and dedicated work for the organisation, he has not received his due. “I have decided to chuck my career and open a mobile (cell) shop or Dollar store in Texas, where my family is settled.” He says he has during his 20 years of service experienced first hand “some of the worst practices by the top management.”
A retired judge writes to ask “What about the brain drain and what about the qualified professionals that we have present in Pakistan? Is nobody prepared to give the country a chance? Nepotism and contacts are the rave here.”
Here’s a short answer from someone who worked in the corporate sector for 18 years. “I can confirm that the top management is only interested in financial gain for themselves while ignoring the interests of middle and lower level employees and the institution itself. When I started work in 1994, 70 percent of the workforce in a company was employed on merit while the remaining 30 percent were ‘sifarshis’. When I left in 2011, I can safely say that the ratio was the reverse.”