PAC detects disparity in Covid funds’ utilisation

Grills Finance Division officials as they fail to provide sources of PM’s stimulus package


Rizwan Shehzad/Saqib Virk July 27, 2021

ISLAMABAD:

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Rana Tanvir Ahmed on Monday conjectured that the money allocated for fighting the Covid-19 pandemic was “misused” as the government not only gave Rs70 billion tax refunds but also provided a subsidy of Rs150 billion to Panagahs, Rs100 billion to the Power Division, Rs50 billion to utility stores, among other things.

Throughout the meeting, the PAC chairman grilled the officials of the Finance Division after they failed to give sources of the Prime Minister’s Covid stimulus package and struggled to satisfy PAC about the mechanism that was adopted to utilise the funds.

“Whatever you have given to the departments other than the health ministry and NDMA is like throwing the money into a nullah,” the PAC chairman said, adding that it seems that different ministries took their share from Covid funds instead of them being utilised for purchasing vaccines.

“Tax refunds were peoples’ money returned to them but it has been shown in Covid funds,” Tanvir said, wondering how the government could spend the money allocated for Covid-19 on utility stores and give subsidy on power and gas as well as on petrol and diesel from the funds. He reiterated that such things are managed from budgets and supplementary grants.

Meanwhile, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed questioned the Finance Division’s officials how much out of the total Rs1240 billion stimulus package was spent on the procurement and dissemination of Covid vaccine.

An official of the finance ministry replied that $150 million has so far been given to the health ministry while $200 million to the NDMA. Secretary Finance Yousuf Khan while giving a presentation said that a balance of Rs358 billion out of the total amount would also be spent on vaccines.

Throughout the meeting, the secretary finance and additional secretary finance were asked if the money came from budget, donors, IMF, World Bank, or somewhere else. The finance ministry officials were clueless about the sources of funds and several other questions raised by PAC members.

The secretary finance said that the details about sources of money could be shared the next time because the current presentation was prepared in line with PAC’s letter which only sought details about funds.

The chair was flabbergasted by the reply, saying he used to ensure that all such things were mentioned in any presentation when he used to give such presentations in late 1980s and early 1990s.

“We want everything before PAC,” Tanvir said. “What is the purpose of discussing the issue without knowing the sources and if the money was spent in line with the donors’ instructions or not.

To a question, the Auditor General of Pakistan said that the report regarding Covid funds has already been submitted to the president, which will subsequently be presented in the National Assembly and then come to PAC.

Senator Sherry Rehman while emphasising that knowing the source of funds was crucial pointed out that no details of distribution of funds to provinces were given in the presentation.

The finance secretary said that the Finance Division only prepared broader-level presentation, saying more detailed presentation would be shared by the NDMA, health ministry and other departments.

“Aren’t you joking with this nation,” PTI MNA Noor Alam Khan said, questioning how were all these subsidies given to different departments connected with Covid funds.

In the presentation, the secretary finance stated that the PM announced an economic stimulus package of Rs1,240 billion on March 24, 2020. He said that it had three major components, emergency response (Rs190 billion), relief to citizens (Rs570 billion), and support to business and economy (Rs480 billion).

Out of the total, he said, Rs875 billion was cash assistance while Rs365 billion non-cash assistance, including tax exemptions and guarantees. Of the total, Rs693 billion was released in financial year 2019-20 while Rs188 billion in FY 2020-21, he revealed, adding that Rs358 billion is available in balance.

Though it wasn’t discussed but it turns out that Rs693 billion, Rs188 billion and Rs358 billion makes the total amount Rs1,239 billion; Rs1 billion short of the total amount.

Though the finance division’s officials struggled to give sources of money but at one point, they said that the whole Rs1240b was given from budget and the loans and grants from foreign donors were separate from it. In that case, the PAC chairman wondered, the whole amount should have been more than enough to meet vaccine challenges.

PAC didn’t take presentations from the health ministry and the NDMA officials after the Finance Division officials gave theirs.

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