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One ship, three ministers, a dirty fight!

21 May, 2009

ISLAMABAD: A multi-million dollar impending purchase of an old ship purportedly at an “inflated price of millions” for the Ministry of Science and Technology created ugly scenes in the federal cabinet meeting on Wednesday when three ministers blamed one another for the scam.

High-profile sources confirmed to our sources that Minister for Science and Technology Azam Swati and Minister for Ports and Shipping Babar Ghauri accused Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali of pressurising them to buy an old ship at an inflated price of millions, which otherwise was available at a much cheaper price. Swati and Ghauri blasted Sardar Assef in his absence in the meeting. Prime Minister Gilani has now summoned the deputy chairman to explain his position about the alleged scam that jolted the cabinet.

Talking to our sources, Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali strongly rejected allegations levelled against him in the federal cabinet meeting. The details, which he shared with this correspondent, give a totally new picture to the subject. He lambasted Azam Swati for pointing finger at him, arguing how he could be singled out in the matter that had nothing to do with him or his Planning Division.

He said that a three-member technical committee of science and technology was scheduled to visit some foreign country to buy an old ship. This committee was constituted by the Ministry of Science and Technology itself. But all of sudden, Sardar Assef said, Swati cancelled the tour of the committee and instead he went to Dubai on a personal visit and inspected the ship along with his Egyptian technical friend.

Sardar Assef said he had nothing to do with the buying of this ship, which was a project of the Ministry of Science and Technology. But the Planning Division came into the picture when it came to the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) for approval. It was approved by the CDWP.

He said there was a task force on maritime affairs in the Planning Division that raised some objections after going through the whole process, which was violated by the minister himself by visiting Dubai to inspect the ship at night. The minister, the secretary and the Planning Division were not authorised to give approval to this purchase unless cleared by the technical committee.

Sardar Assef accused the JUI minister of trying to settle scores with him because of his ìfrequent criticism on JUI policiesî. The cabinet sources said when the meeting started, Azam Swati revealed that he was facing pressure from Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali to buy a specific ship meant for gathering scientific data.

He claimed that Assef was so keen to buy this old ship that he had even told him if the approval in this regard was not given in line with his personal wishes, neither would he approve any of their development projects which come to the Planning and Development Division nor would he let a single penny be released.

The sources said upon this, Babar Ghauri, too, shared the views of Azam Swati but did not name Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali. Ghauri told the meeting that he, too, was under pressure from the deputy chairman to let him buy a particular ship for the Institute of Oceanology. Sources said Swati went a step ahead and directly accused Assef of involvement in the scam.

He told the cabinet that this old ship was proposed to be purchased from Dubai at a price of Rs 500 million, which otherwise was available for a few million rupees. Source said upon hearing these serious allegations against Assef Ahmed Ali, Gilani asked the secretary cabinet to contact the deputy chairman and ask him to hold a meeting with him on this serious issue.

When asked why Babur Ghauri talked against him in the cabinet, Sardar Assef replied that actually he, too, wanted him to give approval of a project of $500 million at the Karachi port areas that was not feasible. He said he had raised objections over certain projects, which the Ministry of Ports and Shipping was planning to execute without consulting the concerned agencies.

He said even the naval chief who was adviser to the PM on such important issues was not consulted before undertaking some strategically important projects which in the long run might harm the citizens of Karachi. “My job is to raise objections over the faulty projects in the ministries as the Deputy Chairman Planning Division and would continue to do my duty irrespective of these laughable charges against me,” Sardar Assef said.

All efforts to contact Azam Swati and Babar Ghauri went futile as their cell phones were switched off. However, SMS were left for them. The telephones at their official residences went unanswered. These columns, however, would be available to present their version.


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