ISLAMABAD - The Federal Secretary Communications Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui has surprisingly ordered an inquiry against the ‘opening of bids’ to construct and operate filling stations at Sahinwala service area on M-4 that was already declared as an ‘achievement’ by Federal Communications Minister Murad Saeed in his press conference.

The National Highway Authority (NHA) had opened the mentioned bids on Wednesday last and received the highest bid amounting Rs6.5 million per month which is 2,830 percent higher than previous rent of Rs160 thousand per month.

The said lease for construction, operation and management of filling stations including allied facilities at Sahinwala service area was given to M/s Parco Pakistan Ltd. on a monthly rent of Rs160,000 for 15 years during the regime of Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf in a tainted manner without going through a competitive process.

Out of total 17 kanals and 3 marla land of service area on both sides of the Motorway, the mentioned firm was given 4 kanals and 3 marla land on both sides, where the M/s Parco Pakistan Ltd built 2 petrol pumps along with some allied facilities.

This said agreement was set to expire in December 2018. However, before the expiry of the contract, the owners had started lobbying to get further extension for 15 years but on same rates or with nominal increase.

Sources revealed that the previous leaseholder had used a top most political office bearer of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government during their last few months in power to get extension of his lease on existing rates.

However, besides giving an extension, the NHA’s management decided to use delaying tactics to avoid political pressure and flouted a formal tender to invite fresh bids after formation of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in 2018.

In response, the NHA had received the highest bid of Rs6.5 million per month from M/s Taj Corporation, which is 2,830 percent higher than the previous rent while this rent would also be increased 10 percent annually.

Furthermore, all the costs for construction and establishment of filling stations and allied facilities would be borne by the successful bidder while it will hand over the whole structure after expiry of its contract.

The final approval to handover this piece of land to successful bidder would be given by NHA executive board.

But the Federal Minister for Communications Murad Saeed at a press conference at the NHA on Friday had already claimed credit of this achievement on part of the NHA and declared the same as a result of the PTI’s transparent policies.

However, on the other side, the secretary communications in a surprising move locked his horns with the Federal Minister and ordered NHA to launch an inquiry into this matter.

According to a letter written to the Chairman NHA, it was conveyed that the federal secretary has taken serious notice of ignoring his written orders on an application filed by M/s Parco Pakistan Ltd. (previous leaseholder) and directed to initiate an inquiry against the officials involved in this ‘negligence’.

Reliable sources revealed that the secretary communications desired to give extension of said contract to previous party without going into a fresh bidding process and he personally pressurised some of the NHA officials in the matter.

“We need to abide by agreement and adopt legal course. Please get a report from NHA for the perusal of president NHC. Unilateral adverse action may not be taken,” the federal secretary wrote on the application earlier.

However, when contacted, the Federal Secretary Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui backed out from his written directions and said: “I did not ask to initiate any inquiry but I asked to provide some details only.”

However, the letter available with The Nation reads as: “The competent authority (Secretary Communication) has taken serious notice of this negligence and has directed Chairman NHA to initiate disciplinary action against the officers who failed to comply with the orders.”

A senior officer of NHA while responding on the issue demanded that Prime Minister Imran Khan should personally intervene in this matter and probe that why the secretary communications was pressurising subordinate officers when they were striving hard to increase the revenue.