Provincial watchdog: PAC for checks on financial autonomy of public varsities

Members of the accounts committee grilled officials of the NED University over irregularities.

Hafeez Tunio August 06, 2014

KARACHI: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Sindh Assembly has decided to revisit the monetary powers of the syndicates and senates of public universities. The decision comes after the PAC uncovered irregularities amounting to Rs123 million in the accounts of the NED University of Engineering and Technology.

The PAC meeting on Wednesday, chaired by Saleem Raza Jalbani, grilled the vice-chancellor and other officials of the varsity over misuse of funds by reviewing the audit paras for the fiscal year, 2009-2010. "Every public university must comply with the financial rules of the provincial government. The syndicates and senate bodies cannot make their own rules," said the PAC chairperson Saleem Raza Jalbani. His comments were about the irregular expenditures incurred by the varsity without inviting tenders, payment of medical allowance and uneven expenses on purchase of generators, construction of class rooms and examination material.

Jalbani directed his staff to write a letter to the chief minister and the Governor who is chancellor of the public universities, to inform them how the university officials were violating the rules of the Public Procurement Regularity Authority (PPRA), especially in procurement. "We will call a meeting of the standing committee on higher education to discuss the financial powers accorded to universities," he said. "The officials of finance and law departments will be invited to clarify the matter."

As the meeting started, the Audit department's director-general, Ghulam Akbar Sohu, diverted the attention of the PAC members towards a certain expenditure of Rs5.9 million and said: "The university management has purchased examination material without inviting open tenders."

The VC, Dr M Afzal Haque, defending the university management, said that the material had been purchased with the approval of the varsity's syndicate and senate which were independent bodies that enjoyed the power to make the decision.

Sardar Shah, one of the members of the provincial watchdog, however, referred to the financial rules and rebutted that all government departments, including public universities, must invite tenders for procurements that exceed the amount of Rs0.1 million.

The PAC chairperson and its members grilled the vice-chancellor and his staff on rules, while the latter insisted that the university was free to make such decisions.

"Can you even sell the university with the approval of the syndicate?" asked Sardar Shah. "I don't think so. You have to obey the rules set by the government," he said, answering his own question.

The audit DG was of the view the most of the grant issued by the Higher Education Commission was being misused by the varsities' officials. "If I send a letter to HEC pinpointing out the massive irregularities, the grant of the universities will be suspended. The VCs and other staff are all involved in this scam," he said.

The officials of the audit department also informed the meeting of the irregular payment of medical allowance worth Rs7.76 million to those who were not entitled to it.

Committee to probe irregularities

The PAC formed a sub-committee under the supervision of the Audit DG to investigate the irregular expenditures on the purchase of a generator worth Rs11.9 million. "The bid price by M/S Orient Energy Systems was Rs10 million, but the actual payment that was made was Rs11.99 million, without providing any justification to the latter," Audit officials said.

The PAC meeting was also informed about the payment of leave encashment of Rs3.3 million which was against the rules. "The government had revoked the policy to give leave encashment in 2005, but officials of the universities continue the practice," he said, suggesting reimbursing the amount from the employees in installments. The chairperson, on the other hand, asked the VC to avoid this practice in the future and directed the staff to settle the para.

Special audit

During the meeting, the audit DG complained that hardly 20 per cent of the audit was being conducted due to lack of resources. The PAC chairperson, with the consent of other members, ordered the audit officials to start a special audit of all public universities.

The PAC concluded its sitting with directions issued to the VC to produce the record of misused funds. The vice-chancellor claimed that the Governor, being the chancellor of the university, had given his approval on the audit concerns expressed by audit officials.

The chairperson, on the other hand, directed the VC to either produce a copy of the Governor's approval to justify the expenditure or deposit the amount to the government's account.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th,2014.



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