The Sindh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee expressed reservations over the health department officials’ failure to explain irregularities amounting to Rs698 million in its financial accounts on Tuesday.
The committee’s chairman, Jam Tamachi Unar, directed his staff to write a letter to President Asif Ali Zardari, Governor Ishratul Ebad Khan, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and the provincial health minister and complain about the “non-serious attitude of health department officials” with regards to the investigation.
“It seems that there is no need for this public watchdog. [Health department] officials are taking this forum lightly,” the committee warned the health secretary, Aftab Ahmed Khatri. Unar said that all 25 audit points had been deferred because of massive irregularities in accounts of the health department. “We cannot work in this situation, and will not give you more time.”
DG Audit Ghulam Akbar Soho informed the watchdog that the health department, in the last committee meeting in March, had assured everyone that it would unearth all evidence of the reported irregularities and present them to the committee. Soho alleged that millions of rupees had been misappropriated from the money meant for various hospitals, medical colleges and universities.
“Many hospitals did not award open tenders for the purchase of various items. There is also no proper record about [departmental] expenditures,” said Soho.
The committee warned health secretary to take action against officials involved in the misappropriation before it started balancing its accounts.
The meeting was informed that discrepancies worth Rs126 million were discovered, which were a result of poor bookkeeping practices at different government hospitals, as well as the office of the health secretary. Administrations of various public sector hospitals had also not invited tenders for the purchase of machineries worth Rs117 million, while irregular contracts worth Rs46 million were awarded to different contractors. There was no record of expenditure worth Rs74 million, while Rs77 million had been transferred in the form of unauthenticated grants to various employees.
The health secretary, Khatri, assured the committee that the department would produce all the relevant record by the next meeting, and also adjust the affected financial accounts. “I took charge only recently. Please give me more time [to respond],” Khatri requested the committee chairman. “We have left no other option but to lodge a complaint with higher authorities,” responded Unar.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement MPA Mohammad Amir Moin Pirzada asked Khatri during the meeting to take action against the culprits within one week.
Unar, however, acknowledged that the frequent bureaucratic shakeups in the government was affecting the performance of various departments. “Secretaries are posted for three to four months, and it looks they are here for just training,” observed Unar.
Lack of staff
While briefing media personnel after the meeting, the watchdog chairman Jam Tamachi Unar expressed his annoyance over the dearth of relevant staff members with the committee, and said that it was affecting their work. “We need a secretary and other necessary staff to run the affairs of the committee in an effective manner. We have written to relevant authorities, but so far in vain.”
Deaths at children’s hospital
The watchdog chairman also inquired about a children’s hospital in Larkana, where nearly 18 children had mysteriously died in recent days. Media reports have attributed the deaths due to the hospital administration’s mismanagement and a dearth of necessary facilities. The health secretary responded that he had ordered an investigation into the incident and that DG health would present a comprehensive report to him. “I will share the finding of the report with this committee,” promised Khatri.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.