RPPs follow up

National Accountability Bureau

Following the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) verdict of March 30 declaring all the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) unlawful and ordering action against all government functionaries during whose tenure the RPPs were approved/set up, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has swung into action.

The names of 19 officials were recommended by NAB to be put on the Exit Control List (ECL) and the district coordination officers asked to take action if the owners of 12 RPPs tried to transfer the property of these companies. The ministry of interior is believed to have responded positively to the NAB recommendation and it can now be assumed that the 19 names already are or soon will be on the ECL. The ECL list of former officials held responsible includes four ministers, four secretaries, two NEPRA chairmen, one GENCO CEO, three Private Power Infrastructure Board (PPIB) MDs, two PEPCO MDs and three PEPCO CEOs: a veritable who’s who of the top political and bureaucratic echelons in the period in question, 2006-08. The ministers are Raja Pervez Ashraf, Liaquat Jatoi, Tariq Hamid (all held the water and power portfolio) and Shaukat Tarin

The secretaries named are three water and power secretaries, Shahid Rafi, Muhammad Ismail Qureshi and Ishfaq Mehmood, and one finance secretary, Salman Siddique. The NEPRA chairmen are Khalid Saeed and Lt. General (retd) Saeeduz Zafar, while the GENCO CEO is Yousaf Ali, the PPIB MDs are Khalid Irfan Rahman, Fayyaz Elahi and Yousaf Memon, and the PEPCO MDS are Tahir Basharat Cheema and Munawar Baseer Ahmad. Last but not least, the PEPCO CEOs listed are Muhammad Arif Saleem, Fazal Ahmad Khan and Chaudhry Muhammad Anwar.

What the list indicates is that the whole RPPs episode overlaps the tenures of two successive governments, that of Musharraf and the current PPP-led coalition. The RPPs were conceived in Musharraf’s tenure as a short term emergency solution to the growing energy deficit, but continued with after the PPP-led coalition came to power. On the basis of the hype surrounding their induction, Raja Pervez Ashraf boasted that load shedding would end within months.

When it did not, he had to eat his words and in the opinion of some observers, the debacle cost him his portfolio. The SC has also pointed the finger of accusation at those in power at the time (which includes then finance minister Shaukat Tarin) of having awarded the contracts in a non-transparent manner, and raised the advance payments to the RPPs from the initial seven percent to 14 percent, a development the SC said was suspicious and because of which corrupt practices could not be ruled out.

NAB was ordered by the SC to proceed against all those considered responsible for the fiasco according to the law. To the extent that NAB has taken the initiative, its steps are within the letter of the law. One of the first moves by NAB is meant to ensure both the personnel involved and the properties of the companies under a cloud of suspicion are secured.

Lest we jump the gun, however, this does not in itself establish the guilt of anyone. Each of the 19 officials and the 12 RPPs must be presumed innocent until and unless proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. That is according to the letter and spirit of the law. In a sense, the opprobrium that has attached itself to the persons and companies named is punishment already, in terms of a sullying of reputation.

However, painful as that may be, it is in the interests of justice that they are provided full opportunity and due process to defend themselves and if possible, clear their name. Of course those found guilty of corruption must be dealt with to the full extent of the law. But a fair investigation must establish, if there is any, the distinction between mala fide purpose and bad judgement. The latter should not be confused with the former. – Dailytimes