Heed the signs: Irrigation dept comes under fire at PAC meeting

Officials appear helpless at being unable to control rampant water theft.

Hafeez Tunio August 02, 2012

KARACHI: After the health department, it was the irrigation department’s turn to be grilled by the Sindh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. The department’s secretary, Babar Effendi, was bombarded on Wednesday with questions about water theft by landlords in rural Sindh as well as financial irregularities totalling billions of rupees from funds allocated by the department.

In a rather startling move, Effendi acknowledged that managing irrigation water in the province had become a “law and order issue,” and the irrigation department could not address the situation on its own.

“Irrigation officials are involved in water theft, while police cannot take action against influential people. I cannot even transfer or suspend lower ranked employees, not even the baildar,” said Effendi. He added that he had requested Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to deploy Rangers personnel to deal with people involved in stealing water, as the “police are either involved in the activity, or are under the influence of landlords”.

Other irrigation department officials, including multiple chief engineers, also expounded their helplessness in dealing with the practice. “Changing the system is not possible until we are given a free hand to work. Let us work independently, and we’ll get the required results.”

State of the irrigation system

The committee’s chairman, Jam Tamachi Unar, claimed that the irrigation system in the province was on the path of destruction, just like the one followed by the Water and Power Development Authority, “which is at the verge of collapse because of the role nepotism in the appointment of senior officials”. He said that there was a need to hire competent people for specified times.

Unar added that during the floods of 2010 and 2011, influential landlords had their labourers divert the flow of floodwater away from their own lands and also weakened storm water drains.

The irrigation secretary, meanwhile, lamented that funds from the department’s budget were not released on time, which delayed work on various development schemes.

Bachal Shah, another member of the committee, drew Effendi’s attention towards 50 illegal water connections set up by influential landlords in Gambat, Khairpur Mirs.

Financial irregularities

The committee members expressed their reservations over the documents presented by the irrigation department to the government’s audit department, which put its expenditures between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 fiscal years at Rs4.236 billion. The amount reportedly pertains to excessive expenses, irregular payments, non-recovery of water charges and non-crediting of revenue into government accounts.

The watchdog formed a subcommittee comprising Ghulam Mujadid Isran and Amir Moin Pirzada to look into the authenticity of the documents, and directed it to submit its report within one month.

The audit department also received some flak over its naiveté in accepting the documents presented to it by the irrigation department at face value. Unar asked Audit Director General Ghulam Akbar Soho whether he had documentary evidence of all the financial anomalies, which his team had apparently verified. Soho assured the chairman that he would soon present the necessary papers before the committee.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2012.


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