PAC chief summons heads of audit-dodging departments

There are roughly two dozen organisations that accept funds from the treasury but resist an audit.


Shahbaz Rana September 28, 2012

ISLAMABAD:


The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has summoned all state departments, including key defence and financial organisations, that have refused to provide access to their accounts in violation of the constitution.


The decision comes at a critical juncture when the accountability body is faced with several problems, such as increasing scepticism about the audit department’s ability to deliver, and the bureaucracy’s and members’ lack of interest in the business of the committee.

The PAC chairman, Nadeem Afzal Chan, summoned the heads of all such departments at the next meeting, which is likely to be convened in October.

There are roughly two dozen government and semi-government organisations that take funds from the treasury but are resisting the audit of their accounts. Under the constitution, any body that takes funds from the treasury or is owned by the state will be subjected to an audit by the Auditor General of Pakistan.

The organisations include the Strategic Planning Division and its attached departments, said Deputy Auditor General of Pakistan Tahir Saeed. He added that the National Bank of Pakistan and non-governmental organisations like the Rural Support Programme Network and the National Rural Support Programme were also resisting the audit.

Other bodies include the Islamabad Club, an elite club being financed by taxpayers, the National Database and Registration Authority, PTCL, Securities and Exchange Commission, Frontier Works Organisation, Kahuta Research Laboratory and NESCOM.

It is not clear whether the Supreme Court is also included in the list as it has already barred its registrar from attending PAC meetings for the scrutiny of accounts.

Fall of the PAC?

Once known for its principled stance and for having the support of all political forces on both sides of the aisle, the PAC has lost a lot over the past couple of months.

Former Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) Tanvir Ali Agha was the strongest arm of the body, which used to give his valuable input in a professional manner, according to a PAC member from the treasury benches. During his tenure, the PAC recovered over Rs115 billion.

Incumbent AGP Akhtar Buland Rana, on the other hand, does not attend all the meetings and is currently struggling to save his post.

The Controller General of Accounts has forwarded a reference against Rana to the Supreme Judicial Council on multiple charges, while Minister of State for Information Syed Sumsam Bukhari has also sent a reference to the president.

A finance ministry official told The Express Tribune that former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani appointed Rana as the AGP, despite opposition from within the Pakistan Peoples Party, as well as Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, just to secure 14,000 votes that the AGP’s clan has in Gilani’s constituency.

When contacted, the audit department spokesperson Tahir Saeed said that he was not aware of any such political move behind the appointment. Saeed maintained that any issue relating to the AGP was not affecting the audit as it has produced 43 reports in the last one year.

The PAC, itself, is struggling to maintain the momentum set during the Nisar era. Most of its members do not attend meetings and it often works even without the minimum quorum requirement of six members out of 24.

It is also internally divided as many members complain about the discriminatory treatment by the PAC chairman.

Recently, PPP MNA Noor Alam Khan threatened to resign from the committee and protested against the chairman’s attitude. He claimed that the chairman often exempts federal secretaries from attending meetings. Cabinet secretary Nargis Haider Sethi is one such example, and rarely attends PAC meetings.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2012.

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