KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is supposed to work as a provincial watchdog, keeping an eye on corrupt bureaucrats and grilling officials for financial anomalies and misappropriation of funds, but the committee is dysfunctional.
Not only has it failed to recover huge sums misappropriated by officials, it has also failed to publish a yearly report in the past three-and-a-half-years. The report shows the committee’s progress. “No one takes us into confidence in convening the meeting. All paras [objections] involving millions of rupees corruption are settled by the chairperson and other treasury members, who give clean chits to bureaucrats. I staged protests during the meetings but no one listens to me,” lamented Pakistan Muslim League (PML)-Functional MPA Nand Kumar. He said that the members and chairperson only get travel allowances, but the performance is mediocre.
“Most of the scheduled meetings are cancelled following understandings between the PAC chairperson and government officials. We go to attend the scheduled meetings and return without initiating proceedings,” said Kumar.
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The PAC comprises a chairperson and six other members (MPAs) belonging to the treasury and opposition parties. According to the rules, it should convene meetings summoning various departments, institutions and universities to present proper records about allocation of funds and their utilisation. The finance officials and auditor general’s office representatives, along with PAC members, are supposed to grill government departments on utilisation of funds, asking for permission and other records for spending money and carrying out development works in their areas. But this exercise is rarely done.
Saleem Raza Jalbani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is the chairperson of the PAC, while Khairunisa Mughal, Lal Chand Ukrani and Sardar Shah of the PPP, Sorath Thebo of PML-Nawaz and Kumar are members. However, the government has not yet appointed the replacement of Poonjo Mal of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, who resigned from the party a year ago.
“How can the PAC perform when its chairperson belongs to the ruling party?” asked Thebo. She referred to Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and said, “As per the CoD, the opposition leader of the national and provincial assemblies must be appointed as chairpersons of PACs”. She added that the federal government has done this by giving the post to Khursheed Shah in the National Assembly but it never happens in Sindh. The MPA added that government officials who mint money know very well that nothing will happen to them as long as the PAC chairperson belongs to the government.
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“How can a PAC chairperson take action against a deputy commissioner or SSP of Benazirabad who has been appointed by PPP leadership?” she questioned.
Official sources in the assembly said that instead of resolving the billions of rupees corruption in various departments, the committee has only formed sub-committees to investigate the matter. “Ideally, the PAC should refer corruption matters to the chief minister, chief secretary and relevant authorities, requesting action against those bureaucrats and officials who are found misappropriating government funds, but this doesn’t happen,” disclosed official sources. They said committees are being formed for last three years but not a single case has been resolved.
“The last PAC, which continued from 2008 to 2013, recovered billions of rupees and every year it used to publish a performance report and placed the report in the assembly, but the incumbent chairperson has done nothing,” said the official.
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However, Ukrani lauded the efforts of the chairperson and PAC and said, “We have recovered misappropriated amounts and a report will be published soon”. The PPP MPA said during the meetings they have written dozens of letters to the chief minister and other authorities following the failure of bureaucrats or other officials to produce records of their expenditure. “The chief minister has also taken action on our recommendations,” he claimed, without referencing any particular case.
Jalbani refuted allegations of whether he or other members of the government have an understanding with bureaucrats and said that they have limited powers and resources. “We have no power to take action against officials. We either recommend to the chief minister or chief secretary action if any irregularities are found,” he said, adding that the progress report is in process of being compiled and very soon it will be published and presented in the assembly.
“We have also recovered huge amounts as corrupt officials have returned the money they misappropriated. We will soon share the details with the media,” he said.
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