The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday ordered an inquiry into the unauthorised purchase of mobile handsets worth Rs90 million by the Ministry of Religious Affairs four years ago.
The phones were purchased for pilgrims in 2012 when Syed Khursheed Shah was the minister.
The transaction was reportedly carried out with undue haste while disregarding PPRA rules. Currently, at least 8,900 phones worth Rs8.9 million from that lot are currently lying in a store at the Haji Camp in Islamabad.
The issue had first surfaced during a discussion on the Audit Report of Ministry of Religious Affairs for 2013-14. Auditors had pointed out that expenditure for purchasing phones for pilgrims was not covered under the Pilgrim Welfare Fund Rules 1990 nor was concurrence of Ministry of Finance sought for the order. Further, the sets were purchased without open competition.
Such was the haphazardness of the purchase that the process was initiated once Hajj flights had commenced, which meant that by the time stock was available, those who had departed for the pilgrimage before September 26, 2012, were not provided a phone, hence the excess unused stock lying in an Islamabad store.
“Audit is of the view the procurement of mobile phone sets was irregular and unauthorised and undue favour was extended to the supplier (Ufone),” observed the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP).
As if to emphasise on the wastefulness of the measure, Awami Muslim League (AML) Chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed pointed out that every pilgrim usually owns and carries their personal phones during the pilgrimage and hence there was no need for such initiative. He proposed the committee to refer the matter to either NAB or FIA.
Shah, who is currently representing the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and is also the PAC chairman, did not attend Thursday’s meeting. Instead, it was chaired by his PPP colleague Syed Naveed Qamar.
Qamar directed Ministry of Religious Affairs and Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) to jointly investigate the matter and submit a report on the matter in one month.
However, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho opposed the move suggesting that a departmental inquiry should be conducted instead.
Meanwhile, the committee looked into accounts of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to review delayed procurement of tents and a loss of Rs11.85 million suffered due to non-imposition of penalty for late delivery of ration packs and tents.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2016.