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Cricket: Pakistan's senators call for board to be sacked

Pakistan's senators call for board to be sackedA grilling was expected and a grilling was what the PCB got at the hands of the senate's standing committee on sports. A tense, fractious, near-six-hour session in the senate in Islamabad saw the board being taken to task on matters ranging from Javed Miandad's resignation, the team's performances, and above all, their supposed incompetence on a number of financial, administrative and development issues.

Senators Tahir Mashadi, Enver Baig and Haroon Khan - impassioned, articulate and well-informed all - led what seemed more like an interrogation of the board chairman Ijaz Butt and chief operating officer Saleem Altaf. A succession of ill-informed and often evasive answers, though bluntly delivered, culminated with the three senators requesting the patron of the board, Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari, dissolve the PCB because it was "incapable" of running cricket.

The senate committee can only make these recommendations - and has been doing so for nearly six years - but they are rarely acted upon. That will not deter, however, from the worrying administrative lapses they brought to light during the session. The Miandad tiff and Shoaib Malik assessments drew the headlines, but the real nuggets came out during discussions into the financial health of the board, the contentious renovation of Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium and a five-year audit of the board, to be conducted by the government's auditor-general.

The problems emerged after Miandad's resignation had been dissected. A budget of the board's finances had been prepared, though the man responsible for it wasn't at the meet. Thus, to the senators' consternation, nobody was able to answer their queries: at one stage, the ex-chief financial officer tried to, followed by the board's current financial advisor (but not strangely the acting chief financial officer).

The main point of contention was over the board's bank balance. Last month, Butt described the financial position to senators as "terrible" and claimed the PCB's reserves had been halved over the last two years, in thinly-veiled digs at the administration of Nasim Ashraf, from whom he took over in October last year. He had claimed then that the board was facing bankruptcy.

At first, nobody in the board could tell the committee what their level of reserves were currently. One senator called the state of affairs "absolutely pathetic", another accused the board of mismanagement. After much delay, a figure of Rs 2.7 billion ( approximately US$34.15 million) was given: senator Haroon Khan concluded that talk of the PCB going bankrupt was "false."

Similarly, the PCB's recent claims that a renovation project at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore had been stopped because its costs had spiralled was ripped apart by senators, an architect, constructors and Shafqat Naghmi, the board's ex-chief operating officer who was handling the project. The board claimed in a press release the estimated cost of the project had gone up from Rs 180 million to Rs 471 million.

But starting with the architect in charge, Nespak (the construction firm) and Naghmi, the revised cost of the project was repeatedly shown to be no more than Rs 312 million. The subsequent question, also put repeatedly to the board, was how they had arrived at the figure of Rs 471 million. No convincing explanation was provided and the matter, as others, was deferred to a next hearing.

It was also revealed thereafter that the board had provided a legal observation to the government's auditor-general that suggested there might be issues of jurisdiction in carrying out an audit, since the PCB was not dependent on government funding. Though the board claimed in the letter they welcomed a five-year audit, the legal observation from their lawyer suggested it wasn't entirely legal.

The implication, believed the senators, was the board did not welcome the audit as much as they said they did. If it seems a suspicious initial stance, it shouldn't be a surprise: the whole issue was sparked off at the behest of Enver Baig, who asked the chairman whether he knew of such a letter sent from the board. Butt said he didn't, upon which Baig produced the very letter.

Unsurprisingly, Baig concluded to reporters later, "Financial mismanagement has been there for a long time now but the current set-up of the PCB is incapable and, if they remain in charge, cricket will be completely destroyed. I request the president to reconsider the appointment of Ijaz Butt as chairman. Good cricketers cannot be good administrators and so it's proved."

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