Shaheen Sehbai appears to be challenging for ‘Best Drama Screenplay’ with his column for The News, “$260 billion gold mines going for a song, behind closed doors“. Sehabi’s front page article is filled with back-stabbing, conspiracies, and corporate intrigue. Unfortunately, it is lacking in any real investigative reporting.
From the beginning, Shaheen Sehbai takes such a sensational tone that he threatens to discredit any legitimate argument about oversight of discussions on the mine. For example, he writes:
Before these highly enticing visits of the mining tycoons to clinch the deals, which followed intense behind-the-scene negotiations and bargaining through middle men, some highly bizarre developments have been taking place, leaving experts and the rest of the mining world stunned, amazed and confused.
These companies want that the mining licences should be issued by Pakistan immediately after their exploration licences expire soon. But there are legal hitches and pressure is now being put through the backdoor to get the target.
In recent years, so many games have been played to keep Pakistan’s share in the enormous treasure to a bare minimum, thanks to some greedy politicians and bureaucrats who sold their country’s natural wealth.
This sounds like the plot of some film, not a piece of serious investigative journalism. Why not simply provide the evidence without all the spices also?
Actually, this may be the problem – all spices and no meats. Sehbai claims to have conducted a “deep study” of documents and interviews to back his claim, but he can name none of these documents.
Reading the piles of documents, statements, interviews and legal papers available with The News, the picture that emerges is one of a grand deception, loot and plunder that never happened before on such a scale and the facts, untruths, half-truths, attempts to sabotage, frauds and backdoor bribes, are all documented.
Considering Shaheen Sehbai’s own record of “untruths, half-truths, attempts to sabotage and frauds”, perhaps he will not be so offended if readers would like a little bit more explanation of these documents. In fact, if he is correct and he has evidence of “a grand deception”, why not publish this evidence like the New York Times published The Pentagon Papers? Or, if Mr Sehbai is concerned about his confidentiality, he could send them to the Wikileaks website.
Instead, he chooses to shroud his claims in a mystery. Only he can see the evidence, and we are expected to trust him.
But there is other evidence that counters Sehbai’s claims. Only last week, APP reported that the PM was holding public talks with a delegation from Chile – public and open talks – during which time he stated that Pakistan is conducting talks to ensure the best deal is reached for the Pakistanti people.
The Prime Minister said that Pakistan really wants foreign investment and intends to encourage the best firms and companies which can give the best results. It is with the same intention that the government has prepared investor friendly policies and opened up various sectors for the interested investors, he added.
The Prime Minister said that it was an encouraging sign that the foreign companies wanted to avail the investment opportunities in the mineral sector in Pakistan for their mutual advantage.
Pakistan has a vibrant private sector best suited for public-private partnership for the good of the people of both countries, he added.
The Prime Minister assured full support and fair deal in handling the Reko-Diq project and would provide all possible cooperation for early launching of this mega project.
Shaheen Sehbai also tries to claim that there is some trick being played by the mining company named ‘Tethyan’.
An Australian mineral exploration firm originally started the exploration and invested some $30 million but in 2006 sold the company to a Canadian and Chilean joint venture for $230 million. The old company was an Australian public company Tethyan Copper Prosperity Limited and the new company was named Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) of Pakistan. A trick game is being played in these cosmetic changes. The Canadians and Chileans, according to publicly declared information to their shareholders and regulators, took 37.5 per cent share each, while Pakistan only had the remaining 25 per cent.
But this is no trick. Actually, it is public knowledge that has been reported in the press.
Tethyan Copper – jointly owned by Canada’s Barrick and Chile’s Antofagasta – holds 75% of the project and the Balochistan provincial government owns the remaining 25%.
Sehabi next tries another sleight of hand trick by quoting stories about an Afghani mining corruption which has nothing to do with the Reko Diq mine.
According to a Washington Post report on Nov 18, 2009: “The Afghan minister of mines accepted a roughly $30 million bribe to award the country’s largest development project to a Chinese mining firm.”
Quoting a US official, the Washington Post said: “The alleged payment to Mohammad Ibrahim Adel was made in Dubai within a month of December 2007, when a big Chinese metallurgical group received the contract for a $2.9 billion project to extract copper from the Aynak deposit in Logar province. Aynak is considered one of the largest unexploited copper deposits in the world.”
What does this have to do with the story of Reko Diq? Nothing. Sehbai seems only concerned with making readers angry about mining and corruption so that they will assume that any Reko Diq agreement is also tainted with corruption, even if there is no evidence of such.
Sehbai pulls another sleight of hand later by saying that a company that owns some shares of Tethyan is “being accused on the web of some strange activities”.
The Canadian company, Barrick Gold, with 29 mines all over the world, is already being accused on the web of some strange activities. These include spills of cyanide, mercury and other heavy metals, police and legalistic repression of critics, threats to water resources on four continents and even food poisoning, as well as rape.
And this should tell the reader everything he needs to know about Shaheen Sehbai’s journalistic ethics. How can someone who claims to be a professional journalist write such slander? Surely Sehbai is aware that any living person can write anything on the web with no oversight and virtually no consequences. That he would include such as his evidence shows that he is willing to stoop to any lows to write a sensational tabloid article, not serious investigative news.
Sehbai even says that CM Balochistan was asked if he is being pressurized by Zardari, only to have the CM reply that the answer is no! Why does Sehbai report the CM’s reply “as an after thought”? Is it because he is trying to influence readers not to believe the CM’s own word?
Shaheen Sehbai may not believe the word of the CM Balochistan, but he is certainly willing to believe the word of his fellow “reporter” of The News, Ahmad Noorani even though this very site has proven before that Mr Noorani includes incorrect statements in his articles.
The Reko Diq mine is a project worth billions in investment for Pakistan. Certainly such an important venture must be taken with public discussion and transparent process so that we can be sure that Pakistan gets the best possible result and the most benefit for the people of this country. But public discussion and transparent process does not include sensationalism and fictions. The people deserve the facts, not Shaheen Sehbai’s drama screenplays.