Who to blame for Lowari tunnel fund diversion?

ISLAMABAD, Dec 5: While the founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is credited with initiating work on the Lowari Tunnel in the early 1970s, his party while in power caused inordinate delay in the completion of the mega project after it was re-launched by former dictator Pervez Musharraf. rajaOn Thursday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered registration of a case against former prime minister PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf from Gujar Khan for diverting Rs25 billion from the Lowari tunnel, Diamer-Bashah dam and different HEC projects to his hometown during his nine-month tenure as the prime minister from June 22, 2012 to March 16, 2013. To accomplish these illegal fund diversions, Mr Ashraf removed the then finance minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh when the latter refused to order the illegal diversion. The court ruled that the prime minister had no powers to lavishly utilize funds allocated to development projects on his own sweet whim. Work on the Lowari tunnel was started in 2005 and the project was to be completed in five years. However, soon after coming to power, the PPP government led by Yousuf Raza Gilani stopped funds for the project and it was alleged that Mr Gilani also diverted the funds to his own hometown of Multan. Had the pace of work continued on the Lowari tunnel as planned, today the tunnel would have long been completed and the people of Chitral would not have been facing blockade. It was also the criminal negligence of the elected representatives of Chitral, especially former provincial minister Saleem Khan of the PPP, that they could not raise a voice for the people of Chitral when the then prime minister was diverting the funds from the tunnel project. They continued rejecting the public rumours about the diversion of the funds and claimed that funds were in the pipeline. The Supreme Court declared illegal Rs52 billion development funds Pervez Ashraf had allocated during his nine-month tenure and ordered action against him and all others responsible for it. In its verdict, the court said that Rs47bn, out of the total allocation of Rs52bn, was utilised illegally in Raja Ashraf’s native town of Gujar Khan. The funds were also spent illegally in constituencies of some prominent leaders of the previous ruling coalition, including former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Ali Musa Gilani, Abdul Qadir Gilani, Moonis Elahi, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Wajahat Hussain, Sheikh Waqas Akram and the Sherazi family of Sindh. The judgment said that Rs22bn had been allocated for Raja Ashraf’s constituency under the People’s Work Programme-II for MNAs, MPAs and notables and another Rs25bn under the prime minister’s ‘discretion’. “The constitution does not permit the use/allocation of funds to MNAs/MPAs/notables at the sole discretion of the prime minister or the chief minister. If there is any practice of allocation of funds to the MNAs/MPAs/notables at the sole discretion of the prime minister/chief minister, the same is illegal and unconstitutional. The government is bound to establish procedure/criteria for governing allocation of such funds for this purpose,” the verdict said. Raja Ashraf is already facing two separate charges in the Supreme Court relating to rental power projects scam and illegal appointment of former Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority chairman Tauqeer Sadiq in 2009 when he was chairman of the appointment committee.]]>

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