Avoidable penalties

In what can safely be described as one of the toughest times for the country, a huge chunk out of Pakistan’s national exchequer has gone to the Washington-based assets recovery firm Broadsheet LLC, which has won from a World Bank arbitration tribunal, the right to the cost – in millions of dollars – for a case filed during the Musharraf era with Broadsheet to recover millions of dollars from some 200 Pakistanis living in the US and UK. These persons included Asif Ali Zardari and members of the Sharif family. Not a penny was recovered and in 2003, NAB reneged on the entire contract, walking out of it. This resulted in various efforts at a settlement between the two parties. However, none could be reached – partly due to gross mismanagement on the part of NAB and the Pakistan government. Now, with the matter going before the arbitration panel of a London court, Pakistan has ordered United National Bank Limited to freeze the assets of $27 million that it currently holds belonging to the Pakistan government. From somewhere or the other, more will need to be added to this total.

This is obviously a huge cost on the Pakistan nation and its taxpayers. It is an amount they should never have needed to pay. It has arisen simply as a result of immense mismanagement of the entire matter. It is almost impossible to understand why the deal was reached with Broadsheet without careful thought and handling of the matter. This is not a small matter. As the government ponders over its ledgers and account books, it should also be thinking about how this has come about and what it can do in the future to avoid similar scenarios. We need to face the fact that these have arisen before. Pakistan was forced to pay $6 million for Reko Diq concerning a mining contract in Balochistan with a Chilean and Canadian company, which never moved and the company then sued for damages. Past mistakes are something to learn from. It is perhaps impossible in the task of governance to avoid all errors and all mistakes. But repeated acts of incompetence and duplicating the same mistakes over and over again must be avoided so that we can move forward without adding to our financial burden.

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