Snail-paced enquiry by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) into alleged mismanagement in the import of olive plants from Spain has put the Rs 2.5 billion project in jeopardy.
The Ministry of National Food Security and Research had assigned the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) the task of investigation into the scam, but it appears that the persons involved are yet to be penalised after the irregularities unearthed earlier this year.
A senior official in the ministry told Pakistan Today that after reports surfaced in media of corruption and irregularities in the project, the issue was investigated, but no one was punished. “The matter was later referred to the FIA, but even after the lapse of several months, there’s still no headway,” he said.
The official claimed that actually no corruption had been made in the project, as not a single penny had been paid to the company responsible for importing olive trees from Spain. “So, having the case investigated by the FIA is an exercise in futility,” he added.
The official said that Rs 240 million had already been approved in the ongoing fiscal year for olive tree plantation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Potohar region, but no one was ready to take the responsibility because of the ongoing inquiry.
It may be mentioned here that the olive tree plantation project, part of the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), is aimed at promoting olive cultivation across the country to reduce hefty edible oil import bill, since it is believed that cultivation of olive could potentially end Pakistan’s dependence on edible oil.
The National Agriculture Research Council (NARC) had in November last year awarded a tender to a company RSS for provision of 400,000 imported olive plants. Upon arrival, the Department of Plant Protection (DPP) gave a go-ahead for distribution of the plants despite the fact that most of them were infected and undersized.
Initially, when the issue surfaced, the Ministry of National Food Security constituted a six-member inquiry committee to ascertain the reasons for the losses. The committee unearthed mismanagement and lapses in the procurement process handled by the NARC and the olive project management.
The committee also listed other factors that contributed to poor communication with the supplier such as mistakes in the supply order, poor supply terms and conditions, less-than-efficient inspection procedure, negligence on the part of management and poor coordination.
It noted that the importing company had mishandled imports and ignored the quality standards, especially the size and health of plants. It concluded that the onus was on both sides – the importing company and the project management.
The report also held the DPP responsible for the lack of observation and quality control despite the presence of fungus.
The committee observed that against the agreed terms and conditions, supplies did not start within the stipulated period of 45 days.
On March 9 this year, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research, while showing its dissatisfaction over the inquiry into the olive project, constituted another committee to further probe the issue.
The standing committee expressed its dissatisfaction over the inquiry and constituted a sub-committee under MNA Rao Muhammad Ajmal Khan to probe the issue and present a report within 30 days to the main committee.
However, the committee only suspended Nasir Mahmood Cheema, the project director and his assistant Saqib Salim and gave a clean chit to others named in the alleged scam.