Shahbaz Orders Auction of Ministers’
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered that the Rs800 million Ministers’ Block behind Punjab Civil Secretariat should be publicly auctioned.
Bureaucrats in Punjab are blocking the auction of unnecessary assets as they feel their palatial living in Government Officers Residences (GOR-1) and even surplus land of Governor’s House will be the next in line for auction.
The chief minister gave a senior officer a ‘big no’ when a committee of bureaucrats headed by him came up with a lame excuse that the posh building, which is in its final stages of completion, would be a hard sell, CM Secretariat sources told The News.
Built over nearly 18 kanals of prime land, the building adjacent to People’s House is decorated with imported stones – a combination of Raw Silk, Red Ruby, Tan Brown and Emerald Pearl and teak wood doors and windows, the scribe found during on a visit to the building.
Its plan had been approved by former Chief Minister, Punjab Ch Pervaiz Elahi in 2005. The former chief minister had ordered an extravaganza of buildings including CM Secretariat at 8 Club Road and Conference Halls at 90 Shahra-e-Quaid-e-Azam, spending public money.
Shahbaz Sharif, while rejecting the plea for the allocation of suites, comprising kitchen, bath, main office room, a retiring room – is learnt to have said, “There has to be a difference in the lifestyle of democratic government of the present and past rulers. At least I can’t see wastage of huge public money in this way. If I have not shifted to the grand CM Secretariat at 8-Club Road, how can I let ministers enjoy such a luxury when people are starving to death?”
In his view there was absolutely no need for such a building, which originally had an underpass connecting to Civil Secretariat, Punjab where top bureaucrats and many of the ministers have their offices at present.
The CM looked firm to sell the unnecessary asset and recover the public money to spend it back on people, a source close to the CM said.
The CM is learnt to have quoted the examples of the present-day British rulers and caliphs of early days of Islam for their austerity and simple ways.
The land of the Ministers’ Block was originally the old Labour Department office. A budget of Rs 416.8 million was approved by the then chief minister in March, 2005. It was raised to Rs 524.99 million in July, 2005 and further revised to Rs 730 million in May, 2007.
About 90 per cent of the civil and other works have been completed, an official present at the site told The News. The constructed area includes 48 ministers’ suites, each covering an area of 1437 foot besides two conference halls, two meeting rooms, one prayer hall, four lifts for hauling up 13 persons each, two basements with a capacity to park 96 vehicles. The building is equipped with fire detectors, CCTV system, PA system, 11 kv electricity lines, huge gas-fired Japanese chillers and cooling towers for central air-conditioning and other state-of-the-art devices.
Shahbaz Sharif had earlier ordered auction of the building but only after detailed evaluation by reputed organizations. The PPB got a detailed estimate made by Nespak and another private company in October, 2008. But the CM faced a veiled resistance from a group of bureaucrats led by a senior revenue official.
The modus operandi to block auctions is “setting evaluation of assets by District Price Assessment Committees (DPAC) and Provincial Price Assessment Committee (PPAC) at such an escalated rate so that nobody would buy the properties enlisted for auction,” said a BOR official who is directly involved in the auctions. So far, they are successful. The PPAC has assessed land price of Ministers’ Block at Rs 2.5 million per marla, sky-rocketing the land price to 970 million whereas the Nespak has assessed it at Rs 700,000 per marla after a survey of land prices in the areas.
The Nespak has submitted a detailed study of prevalent land rates in localities behind Lower Mall, giving a total estimate of the land of Ministers’ Block at Rs 250 million, which is only one-fourth of PPAC’s fabulous estimate.
On the building structure and other works, the C&W Department has spent Rs 430 million up till now. The PPB is now going to rely on its own by-laws approved in the Punjab Privatization Act, 2010 by the Punjab Assembly which authorize it to have realistic evaluation made by reputed private firms as a minimum bar to auction government buildings and lands. But only the chief minister himself can throw away the yoke of bureaucracy once he sees through the game and snatches the PPB from the clutches of Board of Revenue, known as the mother of all lands (read ills) in Punjab.
Talking to the News the other day, PPB Chairman Nazar M Chohan said that the wrong assessment of values of properties is one of the major hurdles in the auction process.