Making merry at Pakistan cricket's cost

*The sorry tale of former PCB chief Ashraf's profligacy

ISLAMABAD: The general perception about the Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) upper tier management in the media that frequents the Gaddafi Stadium is that it is extravagant. This perception has persisted, and not without reason. An internal audit report on the goings-on around the last two chairmen over the last five years only goes on to magnify why the perception is correct. If the figures doing the rounds are true, Ijaz Butt's tenure can be considered frugal, even austere, compared to the manner Chaudhary Zaka Ashraf sloshed around like a Mughal prince at the PCB's expense. 
Both Ijaz and Ashraf were political appointees, beneficiaries of the Asif Zardari dispensation, but considering the audit report Ashraf really went overboard. And this at a time when, with no international team willing to visit Pakistan, the PCB should have husbanded its resources like a miser instead of frittering these away as if the revenue streams were overflowing into the coffers. But there is nothing strange here, for it reflects a feudal mindset that pays no heed to propriety and grace in its ill-advised and unseemly devouring of the public wealth.
Ashraf may be a tycoon, and quite used to living in the lap of luxury, but hiring a luxury jeep at an overall cost of Rs4.27 million over and over again, in all for 14 times, displays the kind of cavalier attitude towards public funds that one associates with our feudal political class. Unfortunately that has become the benchmark that everyone with whatever little scrap of power he can wield takes as his birthright - with least fear of accountability. Since the story was broken Tuesday on these pages, some more specific information has been eked out from reluctant sources. And it further reaffirms the view that the PCB under Ashraf was run more like a fief than a respectable modern cricketing entity.

nWith its job description doing public relations and arranging protocol for the chairman a brand-new department was minted at the PCB with a seven-member staff at a cumulative pay package of around Rs.700,000 per month. This does not include perks and privileges and other allied expenses. Throw them in and the price tag jumps up by another 50 percent - all to promote the persona of Ashraf. No other head honcho of the board had ever gone so overboard with personal projection.
nEvery PCB Board of Governors meeting, the audit report reveals, cost almost three times under Ashraf compared to his immediate predecessor. One meeting, the most expensive costing nearly three quarters of a million, was held in Naudero Sugar Mills. What was the PCB's Board of Governors doing in a privately-owned sugar mills premises in the heartland of Sindh. No prizes for guessing who owned the mills.
nOn four additional regions - Bahawalpur, Larkana, FATA and Dera Murad Jamali - inducted in June 2012, an additional cost of Rs.29 million was incurred. These expenses were "exclusive of expenditures incurred during various domestic tournaments", notes the audit report. But why were these regions created? To create a pliable electoral college to facilitate Ashraf's election as chairman in 2013 ahead of the new political government's swearing in -an election that was declared as sham by the Islamabad High Court, causing Ashraf's first unceremonious ouster from the office. 
nThere was loss of revenue, some of it quite significant, in sponsorship revenue when "agreements were not renewed at all". The number of such agreements was nine, and their cumulative value Rs.229 million. These agreements were executed during Ijaz's tenure but on expiry no effort was made to seek their renewal.
nThis is separate from one agreement with the lead sponsor, Pepsi Cola, which was renewed with "considerable delay". Such was the governance under Ashraf that the delay was extended to a mindboggling 301 days, thus resulting to a loss of Rs.20 million to the PCB.
nThen there are multiple cases of doubtful recoveries and late payment penalties not executed, formal agreements not signed that accrued tens of millions in lost revenue.

This is not a mere tale of being casual with public money, but also not guarding the best interests of Pakistan cricket in various spheres. No wonder Pakistan cricket had become so isolated it was virtually a pariah in the ICC when it was resurrected by the Prime Minister's intervention, with the incumbent Najam Sethi reviving relations with some deft diplomacy.

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