PTI Minister’s faux pas

Now that China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited (CSCEC) has issued a detailed press release refuting the allegations made by Minister of Communications Murad Saeed on Friday, the minister must come forward and explain his statements.

Saeed had accused the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government of increasing the project cost of the Multan Sukkur Motorway – a 400 kilometre component of the CPEC highway network that would connect Lahore and Karachi on completion – and awarding contracts of the project to companies of its own choice. He claimed that this had allowed PML-N officials to embezzle billions of rupees and that Ahsan Iqbal, Javed Sadiq, the Sharif brothers, and Pakistan’s CSCEC director were directly involved in the corruption.

In its press release, the CSCEC explained that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the government regarding the project was a non-binding document that expired before the bidding process for the project began. This would mean that those accused of skimming project funds wouldn’t have the power to engineer the kind of scam Saeed seems to have been talking about.

It goes without saying that this is a very embarrassing situation for Pakistan when an international firm doing business in the country lawfully, is on the receiving end of false allegations by government officials looking for easy political mileage. Such behaviour hurts Pakistan’s chances of drawing maximum benefit from CPEC and attracting more foreign investment. It also makes the incumbent government look highly unprofessional.

Such tactics are particularly harmful in the modern “fake news” era, where tid bids of such accusations can quickly travel through social media accounts and Whatsapp messages masquerading as facts.

But this is to be expected when a significant amount of a party’s political strategy seems to revolve around painting their political opponents as criminals sucking the country dry. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has a long history of making such accusations without substantial proof behind them. Such tactics are always condemnable but are particularly bad when a major project like CPEC is involved. Not only is there Beijing to consider, CPEC belongs to the Pakistani people and must not be endangered for the sake of political point scoring.

The senior PTI leadership must take note of the incident and reprimand the persons responsible. While doing so, they would also do well to reflect on their own conduct in the past. *

Published in Daily Times, February 22nd 2019.