By Zia Ur Rehman
July 4, 2015
With three top officials of the Fishermen’s Cooperative Society behind bars over corruption charges and others gone underground, its employees as well as the fisherfolk community are left in the lurch.
The FCS’ troubles started when the provincial government appointed Dr Nisar Morai, close aide to a top Pakistan People’s Party leader, as its chairman in January 2014, replacing the previous one through illegal means. Sources in the fishing industry said a myriad of problems followed the controversial appointment including corruption, extortion and security.
Rangers arrested Sultan Qamar Siddiqui, the acting-chairman of the FCS, on June 17 and its two directors, Muhammad Khan Chachar and Rana Shahid, on June 19 over their alleged involvement in extortion, killing, corruption and funding Lyari’s criminal syndicates.
Morai has already left the country four months ago fearing arrest.
A law enforcement official told The News that a network of criminals involved in extorting traders and killing those who refused to pay them money operated within the FCS.
He added that during interrogation, Siddiqui and the two arrested directors made startling disclosures about Lyari-based gang leaders in foreign countries being funded through the ‘hawala’, an alternative remittance system running in parallel with the established regulated banking system.
After the FCS officials were arrested, many others went underground, creating an administrative crisis in the organisation.
Although FCS employees are satisfied over the law enforcement agencies’ crackdown against the criminals within the organisation, they are worried about its worsening affairs because of the absence of directors.
“We support the law enforcement agencies’ action against corrupt officers. But it has also affected the operations of the harbour and workers are facing many problems,” said an FCS employee. “Eid is approaching and we haven’t received our salaries and Eid bonus so far,” he added.
Besides, the season of fishing ban has started from July 1 and all boats are stationed at the harbour.
As the FCS officials are absent, the harbour is in a complete mess as the boats are docked in disorderly manner.
There are also rumours that there will be action against ghost employees, similar to the one taken in other departments including the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation.
Sohail Ansari, an FCS adviser who resigned in March, said the government should appoint new directors to fill the vacant seats so that the affairs of the FCS could be run smoothly.
“The chairman and the vice-chairman are the signing authorities and without them, there is an administrative crisis at the FCS,” he added.
FCS and its politics
The FCS was established in the 1945 in the Khadda area of Lyari, one of the oldest fisherfolk localities in Karachi, under the Cooperative Societies Act, 1925.
At that time, it functioned as a commercial entity aimed at importing fishing inputs including nets and nylon threads.
When the Karachi Fish Harbour was established in the late 1950s by field marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan, the FCS was given the responsibility to manage and operate it and also to work for fisherfolk’s welfare.
The FCS nominates its agents called mole-holders who provide facilities to fisherfolk in selling the catch and charge a 6.25 percent commission – half of which is kept by the mole-holders and the other half is given to the FCS to support its operations.
The FCS board of directors comprises eight government nominees and seven elected representatives of the fisherfolk community.
The chairman of the FCS used to be a government-nominated director, usually a public servant, while the vice-chairman was appointed from the elected directors representing the fisherfolk community.
However, political interference in the FCS increased since the 1990s, because of its lucrative income, mainly collected from fisherfolk in terms of commission and for their social welfare.
During Gen (retd) Pervez Musharaf’s regime, the then provincial fisheries minister inducted some private individuals in the FCS board. His successors belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party followed suit by inducting people affiliated with the party and their relatives.
In January 2014, Morai took over charge as the FCS’ ‘elected chairman’ in a controversial way.
Employees said Morai’s supporters forcibly ousted chairman Saeed Khan Baloch and a scuffle ensued when the former arrived at the office to assume charge.
The seven other board members, appointed by the cooperative department after the Chief Minister’s House’s approval, were private individuals associated with the PPP, though, according to the FCS by-laws, government officials relevant to the fisheries sector should have been appointed on the board.
Currently, Morai, Siddique, Shahid, Chahar, Amir Bhanbhro, Abu Zar Mariwala, Suleman Sindhi and Umar Jat are the government-nominated members of the FCS board. With the exception of Bhanbhro and Shahid, all six are leaders of the PPP.
Bhanbhro is the chief of the Sindh National Party, a nationalist party having close ties with the PPP leadership.
Shahid was a former chairman of the Punjabi Students Association and helped Morai in forcibly occupying the FCS chairman’s office.
Saleem Deedag, Asif Bhatti, Javed Younas, Ramzan Malah, Pir Muhammad Peeru, Khan Mir Niazi and Wadera Habibullah are the elected members of the FCS and belong to fisherfolk community. In the absence of the government-nominated directors, the seven directors representing the fisherfolk community have formed a three-member committee to resolve the organisation’s issues.
Bhatti, who is also part of the committee, said the body had been trying to pay salaries to the employees. “According to the FCS by-laws, the committee can pay salaries but can’t make other decisions,” he added.
“The current disorder can cause more problems for the fishermen as the FCS has been earning money from them in terms of commission under the garb of collecting it for their welfare.”
The PPP leadership is also finding suitable people to fill the vacant seats. A PPP provincial leader, requesting anonymity, told The News that in the past, the position of the chairman or the administrator of the FCS was given to an individual on the basis of a heavy monetary offer and recommendation of the ruling party. “However, after the recent arrests, many are reluctant to take charge of these posts,” he added.
The sources in the fishing industry said the provincial government was deliberately not appointing the directors to create an impression that the administrative crisis had been created because of the law enforcement agencies’ crackdown.