An audit of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency, a recently built facility on Multan Road near Thokar Niaz Beg, for 2009-11 has found various irregularities in the hiring of a consultant and scientists for the project.
Dr Muhammad Ashraf Tahir, a director in the Cuyahoga Country Coroner’s Office (CCCO) in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, was the consultant for the project. The audit report, compiled by the Punjab audit director general, noted that degrees representing Dr Tahir’s educational qualification and experience certificates were not on the record.
The advertisement for the consultant position stated that the candidate would be required to stay in the Punjab during the consultancy period, but he did not do so and was paid Rs1,749,785 on account of air tickets. Dr Tahir had no previous experience in Pakistan and was not registered with the government of Punjab, as required.
The report said that the payment of consultancy claims was subject to the issuance of a satisfactory performance certificate by the project steering committee, but payments of Rs9,747,221 were made without obtaining that certificate. The report added that payments of Rs1,068,984, mostly for travel, were made totally unlawfully as there was no provision for them in the PC-1 for the project. The report also noted that while the government had made the agreement to hire the consultant with the CCCO, the payments of almost Rs10 million were made to Dr Tahir instead of the CCCO.
The auditors noted that the advertisement for the hiring of consultants was published in print media on August 1 and 2, 2008, with candidates invited to apply up till August 20. But Dr Tahir’s appointment as consultant was approved by the chief minister at a meeting on August 9, while the subcommittee set up to select the consultant continued its deliberations until September 3, 2008.
In response to the audit team’s questions about irregular payments to the consultant, the management of the PFSA said that Dr Tahir had not been fully paid and the Punjab government still owed him money. The audit team recommended recovery of the unlawful payments and regularisation of the irregularities committed during the hiring of the consultant.
The auditors also questioned the hiring of several scientists to work at the new facility. They said that the appointment of 28 of 32 scientists at Rs80,000 per month was irregular, as they were untrained or ineligible for the posts. They calculated that Rs53,349,835 had been spent on their wages in 2009-11.
The auditors stated that several scientists had been hired for jobs for which they did not meet the educational qualifications stated in the advertisements. The minimum qualification required for scientist recruited to the toxicology and narcotics section was a doctorate in pharmacy, a five-year degree, but two people they hired Muhammad Yousaf and Humera Shafi Makhdoom – had only a bachelors in pharmacy, a four-year degree. Thus, the auditors said, spending of Rs9,327,246 on these scientists’ training in the United States and subsequent wages from 2009 to 2011 was unlawful.
Similar discrepancies were found in the recruitment of Nauman Rasool and Muhammad Asif to the DNA serology section, Zeeshan Akram to the computer forensics section, Abdul Nasir to the forensic photography section, and of Ghulam Ali and Zeeshan Akram as audio visual analysts. The auditors said that since they were not qualified for the posts, their training and wages amounted to irregular expenditure of Rs28,699,904.
The agency’s management accepted that the appointments were not strictly regular, but stated that the candidates had related degrees or experience which made up for the deficiencies.
The personnel file on Nasir Siddique, who works in the DNA serology section, revealed that he had been enrolled in two universities at the same time, which was a violation of rules regarding registration of students. Siddique was doing a masters in botany from Government College University, Lahore while also doing a bachelors in law and legislation (LLB) at Punjab University in 2004. In 2007, he did the second part of his LLB from PU while also gaining admission to the MPhil in molecular biology programme at the same university.
The auditors recommended that his case be referred to the PU exam controller. They noted that Siddique had been paid Rs1,771,490 in wages from 2009 to 11. The PFSA management replied that the matter would be referred to the universities for clarification.
The audit report stated that 57 candidates were called for the first interview and 27 of them were found to be ineligible, but seven of these were called for the second interview and selected. One candidate who had scored high marks was neglected without justification.
In reply, the agency’s management submitted that the appointments were made by a selection committee headed by the home secretary and approved by the chief minister. The auditors recommended an inquiry into the selection of ineligible candidates and disciplinary action against the officials responsible.
The audit report stated that posts of daily wage employees had been filled against the law. These posts were not advertised, no merit list of candidates was drawn up, and no attendance register was shown to the audit team. The auditors found irregular spending of Rs1,755,250 on daily wage employees.
The auditors said that “exaggerated rates” were paid for the training of scientists abroad and they were given stipends in violation of the rules. The CCCO was paid $25,000 (Rs2.531 million) per trainee to train 32 scientists for six months in various forensic disciplines.
The auditors also noted that the government paid stipends of $1,500 (Rs141,196) per month to the trainees while they were abroad, but there were no counter-signed receipts of the payment.
According to the memorandum of understanding signed by the Punjab government and the CCCO, this training was to include advanced courses at Cleveland State University (CSU) as well as hands on training at the coroner’s office. The auditors assumed that half the cost and time was meant to be for classes at CSU and half for practical training. They said that there was no bidding process for this arrangement.
The auditors found that two computer forensics trainees Waqas Ahmed and Zeeshan Akram were only sent for basic training courses which, according to the CCCO website, cost $1,800 (Rs169,470) each. They did not receive any training at the CSU. Thus, the CCCO overcharged at $23,200 (Rs2.184m) each, which should be recovered from the coroner’s office. The two also collected stipends for three months that they should not have received since they did not attend classes at CSU, meaning $4,500 (Rs423,675) each was recoverable from them.
The auditors said that six scientists sent for DNA serology training were not given classes at CSU either. They said total training fees of $75,000 (Rs7.061m) was recoverable from the CCCO and stipend payments of $22,500 (Rs2.118m) were recoverable from the six scientists.
Another loss of $212,500 (Rs20.007m) was caused due to the lack of training at the CSU of a further 17 scientists in various disciplines, as well as a loss of $76,500 (Rs7.202m) on account of the stipend payments made to them.
Two scientists, Muhammad Babar Hussain and Memoona Chaudhry, were sacked for disciplinary reasons, but the agency failed to recover the Rs5,671,228 spent on their training.
The auditors said that the scientists should have been trained at the Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology at the Punjab University, which had the latest equipment available and would have been far cheaper.
The auditors said that the delay in the completion of the building for the agency resulted in a waste of Rs32,270,464 on account of scientists’ salaries. The project was to be completed on July 22, 2010, but the deadline was extended to October 31, 2010, March 31, 2011, August 14, 2011 and then September 30, 2011. The scientists had been recruited and trained by May 2010. Before they started meaningful work at the agency in October 2011, they had been paid salaries amounting to over Rs32 million, a loss which was down to the bad planning of the management, said the audit report.
The Audit Inspection Report was conducted by Punjab Audit Director General Abdul Hafeez, Assistant Audit Officer Muhammad Ishtiaq, and Audit Deputy Director Muhammad Yunas. It was signed by PFSA Project Director Muhammad Amir Jan, Deputy Director (finance) Shahid Latif and accountant Shaukat Abbas. Before Jan, Nayyar Mahmood served as project director of the FPSA from 2009 to February 13, 2012.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2012.