LAHORE - Strict anti-corruption legislation is needed to curb this menace as, currently, there is no concrete method to check whether an officer is involved in corrupt practices or not, let alone to curb his financial mismanagement.

Traditionally, there are methods to check officials’ conduct, but since the officers involved in corruption are well-connected, politically affiliated and powerful, they easily manage the accountability procedure.

When this correspondent talked to senior officers to discuss the issue, they said there is no effective way to eradicate corruption from government departments. There are officers living beyond means and bigwigs know about them, but they can neither be transferred nor dismissed.

A senior official said every officer has to declare his/her assets at the time of joining service. “But no department cares to check whether the assets submitted by his/her are true or not,” he lamented.

Moreover, there is another constitutional requirement to have an annual confidential report (ACR) duly signed/countersigned by senior officers. The procedure of the ACR is too open to be called it secret at all. The officers themselves approach their officers to get the ACR written for promotion to next grades. The reports of the Intelligence Bureau and the Special Branch are also a formality. The officers just sit at the selection board meetings, but don’t play the role they are assigned. However, the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) comes hard to the lower graders. “Promotion of the officers involved in malpractices becomes limited owing to the cases registered against them,” the officer held.

It is also a common practice that the ACE channel is used against some officers to minimise their promotion prospects. The ACE keeps inquiries pending for years to the loss of the officers facing corruption charges and falling in the promotion zone.

Moreover, it is also learnt that the officers involved in corrupt practices have links with other corrupt officers. The officers like Lahore Development Authority DG Ahad Khan Cheema and former principal secretary to PM Fawad Hasan Fawad could not be detected while they were serving on lucrative positions. A lot of officers talked on this particular case, saying both the officers were blue-eyed and had direct links to the ruling elite.

“Moreover, some officers not only manage kickbacks in the projects but also urge their fellows to do the same,” the officers alleged. No anti-graft body, including the ACE and NAB, could even show the courage to summon them let alone arrest them. Thanks to the judicial activism and change of command in the NAB headquarters, the officers could be put behind bars.

It has been a common practice that corrupt officers not only manage to have lucrative positions but also get rapid promotions. Both Cheema and Fawad along with many others who managed top positions could be quoted. Cheema, a grade-18 officer, was not only posted as a secretary but also DCO Lahore, another grade-20 seat. He also managed to have an appointment as LDA DG and Quaid-e-Azam Thermal Power Company CEO against Rs 1.5m package. Likewise, Fawad, despite his involvement in cases, was not only posted as principal secretary to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but also got grade-22, a rank of the chief secretary or a federal secretary.

An officer said on the arrest episode of Ahad Cheema that other institutions, instead of going against the corrupt officer, are supporting him. Not only the Punjab cabinet but also the chief executive supported him. On the other side, officers locked offices and staged a protest against his arrest.

It was also learnt that in the past when the ACE tried to arrest a former senior officer of the DGPR on corruption charges, the ACE DG had to send a summary to the chief minister seeking his approval to register a case. Likewise, many other senior officers of the Punjab government escaped ACE handcuffs only because they had political links like former PU VC Dr Kamran in a fake degree case and former Faisalabad Wasa MD Dr Rashid Mehmood in another case.

The law gives protection to the senior officers and they are saved from the ACE clutches. Moreover, the ACE is not a complete department; rather it is an establishment under the administrative control of the additional chief secretary. The need is to establish it as an independent body.

A sub registrar, a grade-17 officer, disclosed he gets Rs 200 against signing a registry and deals with 50 to 100 such cases daily. He said the staff collects Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 minimum bribes against each case. He stated his share is so small as compared to the junior officials who collect bribes in millions of rupees in the name of senior officers.

However, there are examples when the chief executive was not happy with the conduct of officers, he directed the ACE DG to arrest former Livestock and Dairy Development DG Dr Irfan Zahid along with other senior directors. Those who were real culprits in the project and looted millions from the kitty escaped and got promotions later.

Moreover, the officials facing corruption succeed in getting posting in the anti-graft bodies. The DMG, PCS and PSP are posted in these bodies where they easily manage issues. The government departments and district administrations are empowered with anti-corruption muscles to control corrupt practices, but to no avail.

There is a constitutional department of the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) to have an eye on the financial misdeeds. There is no concrete mechanism as most of the issues are settled by the audit teams out of the ring. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is another forum to dump the issues. The committee proceedings are said to be done only as a legal formality. In the committee only such embezzlement cases are taken up as are too old to be a matter. Usually, the PAC chairman who happens to be the opposition leader chairs the committee proceedings. He, as it has been a tradition, is to deal with the audit paras when his party was in power. Moreover, companies, authorities and project management units are established to avoid such auditory mechanisms.

A former Anti-Corruption Establishment DG said whenever his organisation arrested and punished an official involved in big scams, the courts granted stay orders. Citing one example of the Irrigation Department, he stated when the departmental probe punished officers involved in small dams’ scam, they got stay orders from the high court in 2008. He said after serving 10 years in the department, the guilty officers retire prestigiously as their matters are still pending in the courts. He urged the new PTI government to introduce strict anti-graft laws to curb corruption from government departments.