The Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) has decided to pursue some powerful people involved in a massive fraud case to grab Chiniot mineral resources amounting to a staggering $915 billion. The deal was negotiated between a fake company named Earth Resources Private Limited (ERPL) and the Punjab Mineral Development Corporation (Punjmin) during the PML-Q rule in Punjab in 2007. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the vast extent of corruption and mismanagement in the natural resource extraction sector.

The accused include influential figures like Sibtain Khan, PTI’s Deputy Parliamentary Leader in the Punjab Assembly, Arshad Waheed, owner of ERPL, former secretary Imtiaz Cheema and several ex-bureaucrats. While the government is droning in about “across the board accountability”, the truth is that there has been no accountability in the past and every project and venture seems to have some illegal or unethical deal at its core.

It is not that red flags were not raised. The then Punjmin MD opposed the agreement at many stages and made repeated requests for due examination by the provincial finance and law departments, but they were ignored. It is not just the shell company and Punjmin that need to be brought to justice, but heads must roll in government agencies that neglected their duty.

The plunder of iron and copper reserves in Rajoa in Chinot began in 2007, almost as soon as the reserves were discovered. Similarly, the Reko Diq mine was expected to yield 10 billion kilograms of copper and 368 million grams of gold over the 50-60 year lifespan of the project, but under the Musharraf government 75 percent of the profit was promised to a foreign firm. The case going through the process of international arbitration and the Pakistani people have not benefitted an iota from the massive resources. These resources are crucial for their regions and their development as well as for the nation, and case after case comes up of how they are being squandered. While we lament shell companies owned by Pakistani’s in Panama, lets not forget that what goes on at home is no different.