Mar 29, 2009

Cricket's saviour is back

Is it a bird? No. Is it a drone? No. Is it a flying mullah? No. Is it a UFO? No. It is Dr Nasim Ashraf. Yes, the dodgy doctor is back on a mission to save the world and, in the bargain, the World Cup for Pakistan. Allah be praised for his bounties. While we have the good fortune to have him in our midst, the president should send him to fix Swat, FATA, Balochistan and the war on terror. The good doctor can fix it all. There is nothing he can't fix. He doesn't come cheap, but then he plays in the super league. Unable any more to tell the difference between US dollars and the Pak Rupee, the good doctor freely mixes currencies. On arrival here, he has wasted no time to inform a stunned nation used to tall stories that he left $2.7 billion in PCB's bursting kitty when he was shown the gate after about 24 months of merrymaking. This is palpably false. In reality there was only Rs1.6 billion when Ejaz Butt took over in October 2008. Rupees, not dollars, please note. The good doctor, who inherited Rs3.6 billion when he manoeuvred Shehryar Khan's ouster, went on a wanton spending spree and blew away millions. He not only brought PCB to its knees in terms of finances but Pakistan's share of revenues from the Champions Trophy, the World Cup, the 20/20 and the West Indies and South African tours were also squandered. From about 304 people in Shehryar's time, he took this to 1,137 largely useless slobs. Included were 260 players on retainers for reasons that remain a mystery. When he resigned hours after Musharraf on Aug 18, 2008, because he too was an honourable man, he left behind a mess that is still being sorted out. Government auditors, who have the unenviable task of finding out where the doctor blew away huge sums of money, are holding their heads in disbelief and confusion. From whatever records that they have obtained – PCB insiders say that Mr Shafqat Hussain Naghmi, the doctor's blue-eyed terrier who recently appeared before the Senate Committee on Cricket dressed in the robes of a saint complete with a halo, burned or ordered files with incriminating evidence to be burned in the tandoors (bread ovens) at Gaddafi Stadium. Whether Saint Naghmi and his cohorts then danced around the pyre is not known. What is known, though, is that he was hired as COO with an annual remuneration of Rs5,400,000 (you figure out how much that is), as well as a "Consultant," and before being shoved out had pocketed Rs10.744 million, including a "bonus" of Rs2.3 million. His personal file has never been found or produced, in spite of the AG office's numerous requests. The Senate Committee on Cricket, for reasons that defy logic, thought it best to praise Mr Naghmi and rub the current PCB Chairman and CEO in the mud during many hearings. The same committee repeatedly called Dr Ashraf to appear before it, orders that the doctor treated with contempt. Dr Ashraf's recent claim that the Senate "endorsed" his policies is thus a terrible lie.As the AG's office has struggled to trace the missing funds, it has reportedly prepared an 87-point memo for the period 2003-2008, which is mind blowing. In Dr Ashraf's reign alone, losses to GOP ran into astronomical figures. Insurance premium for the Aussies series that never materialised cost PCB Rs43 million. Irregular expenditures without proper tenders and doubtful procurement cost Rs6.3m. Annual bonus, wholly unjustified, set PCB back by Rs87.23 million. Wasteful expenditure cost another Rs10.6 million, carrying extra persons to South Africa over the 20 allowed, cost $62,399 and unrecovered payments to various players, another $14 million. A useless VICON mechanical bowling system imported from overseas completely unauthorised cost over Rs100 million, the good doctor blew away another GBP 250,000 for a "Oval Cricket Relief Trust," and unauthorised loss to PCB of Rs11.56 million on purchasing gen sets, irregular payments to retired cricketers of Rs21.75 million, non-recovery of Rs20.5 million for legal expenses in the case of Muhammad Asif vs. Muhammad Yousaf (!), irregular contract appointments of GBP 282,000, purchase of Kookaburra balls for Rs9.3 million, non-recovery of Rs1.2 million discount from PCB's travel agents, further non-recovery of dues of Rs800,000 and $141,466, expenses of Rs168 million without any record of vouchers, etc., Rs65 million on "development" works in 33 sports grounds–and so on and so on. The above is just a quarter of the 87 points of irregularities. The losses, irregularities, violation of laid down procedures and mad decisions have cost PCB losses of millions of rupees, most of which happen in the 24 months he was the undisputed czar of cricket.There was widespread speculation that he would be charged and brought to book for these violations, as would his rogue team, but of course, this being Pakistan, no such thing happened. The system of greased corruption is so insidious and so difficult to unearth that any efforts are destined to fail, unless someone is determined to clean everything up. Those who play with public funds extend considerable favours and perks to many others around them, and in turn are supported and helped when the need arises. It is a wonderful system, and people like Dr Ashraf whose track record with PCB and earlier with the now-demised NCHD reads like Al Capone's memoirs, are past masters at this game. This is why, rather than hide his head in shame well away from Pakistan, the game's great saviour thinks nothing of heading home from the USA and announcing to us all his noble intentions of saving his beloved country. It is likely, given the way things are done here, that he may cook up a lucrative mission-of-mercy slot for himself and start a whirlwind international tour of all cricket-playing nations to persuade them to play here. Such a mission would be doomed to fail even before Dr Ashraf can board his favourite airline British Airways and repose in the luxury of the First Class he is so used to. But, seriously, we all know such capers have happened before and can happen again.Pakistani cricket is just about dead, gasping its last breath and anyone close by can hear the death rattle. Were the good doctor Nasim Ashraf allowed to give it a miracle mouth-to-mouth, one can predict without too much trouble that it would indeed be the kiss of death and hasten the end. One can only plead with Islamabad to put Dr Ashraf on the next flight out to wherever he does his medical mumbo jumbo. We could all use some good news. By Masood Hasan

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