LAHORE - The Punjab Irrigation Department, instead of issuing a notification for the appointment of Asian Development Bank-funded Lower Bari Duab Canal (LBDC) project director, has initiated inquiries against the selected officer, The Nation has learnt.

Sources told this paper that on the directions of Punjab Irrigation Minister Mian Yawer Zaman, the department has opened old files against the officers, including Sajid Rizvi selected by a high-level search committee comprising the P&D chairman and others. The department has also forwarded a summary to the S&GAD Regulation Wing for further opinion the wing has already given on the matter.

CM Shahbaz Sharif had also approved the name of Sajid Rizvi as the LBDC project director and ordered the department concerned to issue the notification. The department, however, failed to do so and started inquiries into corruption charges both at departmental level and the Anti-Corruption Establishment.

The irrigation minister was not available for comments on the issue, however, Irrigation Secretary Saif Anjum said it was a routine matter and directions of the CM office would be followed for the appointment of LBDC Project Director. The Regulation Wing of the S&GAD has returned the summary to the committee concerned after comments.

It is to be recalled that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif some weeks ago approved the Irrigation Department’s summary for the appointment of Sajid Rizvi as LBDC director. The delay in issuance of a notification on the part of the department might annoy the funding agency, ADB.

Sources said the department stopped the issuance of the notification in favour of the new director on the directions of Irrigation Minister Mian Yawar Zaman because the Services & General Administration Department had rejected the name of Riaz Rasheed, recommended by the minister, on the ground of being a junior in the merit list, and forwarded Sajid Rizvi’s name for the slot of the LBDC director. The CM Secretariat had approved the same accordingly.

Currently, Riaz Rasheed has been holding the additional charge of the project. The S&GAD had stated in writing that a junior officer who was also facing major penalties could not be posted against a significant slot meant for ensuring transparency. The sources said the minister wanted the same exercise for the selection of the project director to be repeated.

The Asian Development Bank-funded rehabilitation project is to be completed by September 30, 2015. Further delay in the appointment of its director might annoy the funding agency, they feared. The job of the project director is to supervise the LBDC and other ADB-funded rehabilitation mega projects of canals and barrages in the Punjab to the tune of billions of rupees, the officials said.

A Chief Minister’s Secretariat senior officer said Shahbaz Sharif wanted a senior person as the project director to ensure transparency in the ADB-funded programmes, including LBDC.

To pursue the merit policy, the CM approved the name forwarded by the Regulation Wing and rejected the name of a person recommended by the Irrigation Department as he did not deserve the coveted slot.

It merits mentioning here that a special high-level committee, headed by Planning & Development (P&D) Chairman Irfan Elahi and comprising the administrative secretaries of the finance, irrigation and regulation departments, was formed to select a suitable officer for the slot, which shortlisted candidates.

The committee further shortlisted names of Barrages Director Procurement Ejaz-ul-Hassan Kashif, Head Balloki XEN Sajid Rizvi and Upper Chenab Canal Circle Superintending Engineer Riaz Rasheed. The committee finally recommended the name of Rizvi suitable for the slot.

However, the Punjab Irrigation Department, ignoring the committee recommendations, had forwarded the name of an officer who was on third position. As per the interview results, Riaz Rasheed who enjoyed support of the minister could not satisfactorily answer the questions asked by the committee on financial matters, the sources revealed. The department, however, recommended Riaz Rasheed as the LBDC director.

A senior officer of the P&D, conditioning anonymity, confirmed Ejaz-ul-Hassan was involved in the Taunsa Barrage inquiry while Riaz Rasheed punished in a departmental inquiry.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) has funded the LBDC project worth Rs 21.78 billion.

The Lower Bari Canal irrigates 1.7 million acres of land in districts Okara, Sahiwal, Kasur and Khanewal. The same bank has been funding the rehabilitation of Balloki Barrage, BS Link and other canals.