The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is constantly avoiding approaching former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and former ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani to recover US $75,000 that were paid to an American lobbyist.
According to the Auditor General (AG) of Pakistan, the payment was made in June, 2008, in violation of prescribed rules and procedure, and should therefore be recovered from the ‘concerned quarters’. The AG argued that the amount was paid before any agreement had been signed between the Pakistani government and the lobbyist firm.
“Qureshi and Haqqani are the ‘concerned quarters’,” a senior foreign ministry official confirmed. Speaking to The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity, the official admitted that payment had been approved by then foreign minister based on recommendations made by then ambassador to the US.
Official ministry spokesperson Muzaam Ahmad Khan did not comment on the audit report despite repeated requests by The Express Tribune. A copy of the report had been submitted to his office.
According to the report, the ministry engaged the services of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP through the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington for lobbying and communication services. The firm was hired for at a monthly retainer fee of $75,000 for an initial period of one year, supposed to be in effect from the date of the signing of the agreement.
Later in June, 2008, then ambassador Haqqani sent the ministry a letter stating that the service contract signed with the firm was effective from May 29 that year. In the same letter, he further informed the ministry that a partner in the Washington-based lobbying firm Locke Lord Strategies, Mark Siegel, had submitted invoice claims of $75,000 and $77,908.55 as retainer fees for the months of April, 2008 and May, 2008 respectively. Siegel maintained that following a meeting with the Pakistani prime minister in March that year, he was under the impression that the firm had been selected as the country’s lobbyist and as such it had started services immediately.
Haqqani told the ministry that he had discussed the matter with Siegel and concluded to work a mutually agreeable solution to avoid any irritation at start of this relationship. He recommended that the ministry pay a month’s retainer fee to the firm to compensate their time and effort spent. The ministry accepted Haqqani’s recommendation and allowed a $75,000 payment to Siegel.
The audit observed that the payment before agreement was unauthorised and needs to be recovered. The observation was conveyed to the ministry in November, 2009, with no progress in the months since.
In his objection report, the AG cited Para 19 (iv) of the General Financial Rules which states that “no payment will be made to the contractor by way of compensations, or otherwise, outside the strict terms of the contract or in excess of the contract rates.” According to media reports, Mark Siegel launched an intense campaign at Capitol Hill in 2011 to counter accusations that Islamabad was giving refuge to Osama bin Laden.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2012.