HYDERABAD: A formal inquiry into Rs4.5 billion misappropriation in Right Bank Outfall Drain-II (RBOD) project has been launched by the anti-corruption establishment (ACE) department last month after a departmental inquiry by the Sindh irrigation department detected financial irregularities in July.
An inquiry by four member committee led by Chief Engineer Zahid Shaikh was conducted which as per terms of references (ToRs) was ‘to scrutinize disbursement against Rs9.5bn releases after July 2017 for proper utilization’ and ‘to check whether disbursement against works was made as per authentication by consultants duly vetted by the project support monitoring team (PSMT)’.
The departmental inquiry finalised in mid July noted that “payments made against flood emergent/flood protection works’ amounting to Rs4.482bn cannot be justified as works under such flood damages were already awarded through tendering process and are going on. None of these payments were certificated by consultants nor vetted by the PSMT. Therefore, payments made on account of flood emergency from the RBOD project are duplication of already awarded work and seem to be bogus”. The Sindh government then handed over inquiry to the ACE for a formal probe.
The RBOD-II has three divisions (in terms of bifurcation of project works in districts). The inquiry also found that unlike division I & II, division-III management did not provide original record pertaining to estimates based on which works were awarded on emergent basis for flood damages. “However, most of the copies of estimates provided by RBOD Division-III seem to be dubious with bogus signatures as the payment vouchers referring to approved estimates do not tally with date and number issued. Similarly, signature of AENs on payment vouchers produced by XEN Division-III seems to be scanned or bogus”.
The inquiry team also found that Rs4.482bn were made towards flood damages although there was no provision regarding flood damages in PC-I of the project. “These payments [towards flood damages] were made in 2018 in February and March when there was no flood,” said an official privy to the inquiry report.
He said that flood damages of 2015 were already covered under a separate PC-I approved by the Sindh government for the entire province. “There was no flood like situation in rivers during period in question [year 2018], therefore the payments made for flood damages or flood protection in all three divisions is unjustified,” said an excerpt from the inquiry report.
The report also noted that no tender proceedings were followed as per the Sindh Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (SPPRA) rules. Even relevant SPPRA rule for emergency award of contracts was not invoked using proper procedure. The approved contingency for project is 3pc, thus such hefty payments could not be treated/classified under contingency payments.
The inquiry suggested that all officers involved in making bogus payments may be removed from the RBOD project and action against them under Efficiency and Disciplinary (E&D) rules may be initiated. “Recovery of embezzled amount of Rs4.482bn may be made from the officers and contractors involved,” the report recommended. It also said that signatures of some of the assistant executive engineers in payment vouchers are doubtful, therefore its forensic verification should be carried out.
The inquiry pertained to the period from July 2017 to March 2019 when Munawar Bozdar was the project director (PD) and Waqar Qadri was superintending engineer of the RBOD. Both have been removed from their posts. Sardar Ali Shah is the new PD. He is meeting consultants of RBOD-II where work remained suspended. An amount of Rs9.424bn was paid during this period towards resettlement (Rs3m), Pakistan Railways (Rs550m), land acquisition (Rs35m) etc.
RBOD-II project is one of the three RBOD series project from Sehwan to Gharo creek. It has been witnessing cost revision/escalation with latest cost standing at Rs62bn.
The project was initially launched at a cost of Rs14bn in 2001 during the Pervez Musharraf regime. It, however, remains incomplete to date.
After inquiry team concluded department probe, the same was forwarded to the ACE officials in late July and the ACE started inquiry last month.
The ACE inquiry officer is said to have obtained the record of the project involving expenditures Rs4.482bn.