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Dawn Editorial 17 January 2020

Real estate scams

OVER the years, Karachi’s precious real estate has become a happy hunting ground for unscrupulous builders, enabled by corrupt political bigwigs and a bureaucracy that acts as the latter’s handmaiden.
Two more land scams are now in the spotlight.
On Wednesday, NAB informed an accountability court about the fraudulent manner in which land was allegedly acquired in the name of “shuhada” by certain builders and PAF officials for the Fazaia Housing Scheme in Karachi. Further, it said, of 8,400 units, only 30 were allotted to families of martyred air force personnel. The accused are believed to have collected Rs18.2bn under the heads of various fees, surcharges, etc — no doubt to be shared amongst all the players, those on the front line as well as in the power centres that ensure impunity for such crimes.
NAB has also filed a reference against Malik Riaz, the owner of Bahria Town, and several others — including politicians and bureaucrats — for illegal allotment of an amenity plot in Karachi’s Clifton area on which a portion of the Icon Tower project is located.
It will be interesting to see how both cases unfold, given they involve individuals with connections in the ‘right’ places.
Bahria Town’s land acquisition and development practices in multiple projects were declared illegal by the Supreme Court in May 2018. In March last year, the apex court accepted its offer to pay Rs460bn over seven years in land settlement charges for its massive housing scheme in Karachi.
However, it ordered NAB to refrain from filing references against those involved in that scam of unprecedented proportions: the reference in the Icon Tower case — said to be a Rs100bn scam — is the first such action against Mr Riaz.
Among the flagrant illegalities in the free-for-all that characterises the dealing in Sindh government land is the handing over of amenity plots to private developers for commercial/residential use.
In other words, the people’s right to civic facilities has been sold down the river by officialdom for its own pecuniary benefit.
Certainly, there is a dire need for housing in the mega city of Karachi, but it can be met lawfully — except that would level the playing field, and cut into the eye-watering profits enjoyed by the land mafia.
Aside from the illegality itself, using the pretext of providing for the families of war heroes in order to amass personal fortunes is a cynical ploy that deserves to be roundly condemned, not least because it dishonours the sacrifice of those who have fallen in the line of duty. The individuals behind the Fazaia scheme are not the first to have taken this route.
At the losing end of these shenanigans is the unsuspecting public. Until exemplary punishment is meted out to those involved, the people in their legitimate quest for a long-term asset, and a house to call their own, will continue to suffer.


Admin-police tussle

IN what is becoming an ugly, recurring tug of war in Sindh’s administrative landscape, the provincial government has sent the Sindh police chief packing for his ‘failure’ to improve law and order. The provincial cabinet announced this on Wednesday, and a day later the Sindh administration wrote to the centre to repatriate Kaleem Imam as his services were no longer required. The Sindh government was of the view that Mr Imam had failed to perform and, therefore, he was being shipped out. However, there is more to this than meets the eye; in December, Kaleem Imam had written to the chief secretary, complaining that two officers had apparently been transferred without his approval, which was “affecting police working”. Those familiar with Sindh’s politics felt that it was only a matter of time before this confrontation came out into the open. Sure enough, the IGP’s marching orders now confirm the fact that the PPP-led Sindh government is no longer interested in Mr Imam’s services. The PTI, which sits on the opposition benches in the Sindh Assembly, says it will go to court over the move, with the prime minister reportedly calling the provincial governor over the matter.
The tussle between the administration and police officers is not just limited to Sindh. For example, Punjab has also seen police chiefs changed in quick succession over the past couple of years. Moreover, the resignation of former KP IG Nasir Durrani from the police reforms commission, reportedly over the removal of the then Punjab IG, was also reflective of a wide gulf of mistrust between the administration and senior officers. The fact is that if the centre and the provinces are serious about police reforms, political interference must be eliminated, and officers must be allowed to complete their tenure and have a free hand where running the force is concerned. While provincial governments are known for meddling in the affairs of the police, the centre must also refrain from issuing viceregal edicts — especially in the aftermath of devolution — when it comes to police matters. If there is solid evidence of misconduct against an officer, then a proper inquiry as per the SOPs must be initiated. Simply shipping out an unwanted officer indicates that the political bosses are not happy with said individual. Despite the politicians’ resolve to change the dreaded thana culture, there has been little improvement in the force’s performance, much of it due to political meddling.


Pemra’s foolish action

PEMRA’S knee-jerk reaction to ARY host Kashif Abbasi’s show on Wednesday night was yet another example of the electronic media regulator’s misplaced assertion of authority.
It had initially banned the show for 60 days but better sense seemed to have prevailed last night when Mr Abbasi was allowed to continue as usual. In an angry response to PTI minister Faisal Vawda, who had crossed all bounds of decency during Mr Abbasi’s show, Pemra declared that Mr Vawda, “performed [a] very unethical act” and his arguments were “not only extremely frivolous and derogatory but also an attempt to debase a state institution”.
On the other hand, the host of the show, the notice charged, “was quite unprofessional who actually did not intervene … rather took the entire incident casually and kept smiling/cherishing such occurrence”. Although the immediate danger may have passed, Pemra should refrain from endangering the constitutionally protected right of freedom of speech in future. It should not be allowed to ban journalists for “smiling/cherishing occurrence”.
Much worse has been aired on TV channels without Pemra batting an eyelid. People have been spewing hate speech laced with racism and misogyny and have resorted to rabid character assassination but that somehow escapes the watchful eye of Pemra’s content monitors.
A TV host was, however, summarily banned because he did not stop a minister from ridiculing institutions.
Something is clearly amiss.
This may have to do with the regulator failing to act independently, and not upholding the standards of professionalism or appreciating freedom of speech. This is why all too often Pemra wades into a controversy of its own making and then has to beat an embarrassing retreat.
Last year, it issued a notice banning anchors from going to other shows and then was forced to take it back when it was scolded by the Islamabad High Court. The authority would be well-advised to reconsider its ham-handed approach because it does not stand up to scrutiny.
The regulator should think twice before issuing such notices in the future.


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