The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will be given more power and authority to punish officials for any irregularities and misuse of public money. In this respect, a bill will be tabled in the next session of the provincial assembly.
This was remarked by PAC chairman Saleem Raza Jalbani, while presiding over a meeting at the Sindh Assembly committee room on Friday. "No official is taking the provincial watchdog authority seriously, seemingly because they know that we have no power to punish them. We have now started consultations to change the rules to empower the PAC," he said.
The PAC chairman added that, at the moment, they only have the power to lodge a complaint with the chief secretary, the chief minister and the governor against the officials involved in irregularities, but so far this has yielded no tangible results.
Jalbani's remarks come in the wake of the response received from vice-chancellors (VC) of government universities who dubbed themselves 'independent' and paid no heed to the financial rules of the provincial government.
"We are tired of hearing about the powers of the universities' syndicate," he said, pointing towards irregularities of over Rs26 million found in the accounts of the Quaid-e-Awam University of Engineering, Science and Technology in Benazirabad. "The VCs are doing whatever they want merely by getting the approval of the syndicate and the senate of the university. They are blatantly violating government rules in order to misuse funds."
At the start of the meeting, the provincial audit director-general, Ghulam Akbar Sohu, reading the first few paragraphs of the 2008-09 audit report, said that the university has utilised Rs317,000 in violation of the rules. "They have purchased material without inviting tenders," he said. "The VCs of public universities have become monarchs. During the audit, we pointed out the irregularities, but they do not take us seriously and do whatever they want," he said, adding that irregular payments worth Rs3 million were made as medical allowances by the varsity to employees who were not eligible for it.
The university's VC, Abdul Kareem Baloch, justified the expenses by claiming that the university is entitled to making its own administrative decisions. "Universities are autonomous bodies and we are authorised to make our own decisions," he said, adding that the medical allowances were paid to officers and that the university chancellor, the governor of Sindh, had approved them.
Sohu also pointed out irregular expenses of Rs4.5 million and said that officials have purchased computers, furniture and machinery but the purchases have not been accounted for in the relevant stock registers, nor is there any proper record of them. Upon this, the university's finance director sought a week to produce the purchase records.
The audit officials also highlighted excessive payments of Rs7 million that have been paid to officials under the rent allowance. "Instead of 30 per cent, the university's administration has been paying 45 per cent of its staff's house rent," said Sohu. In response, the VC said that the 45 per cent allowance is at par with that of the Mehran University and said, "Our university is located in a remote area. Therefore, we try to give our faculty more incentives, otherwise they will not continue with their jobs," he said.
Not satisfied with the response, Jalbani said that all educational institutions should follow standard government policy. "You have to recover this amount from the employees and need to stop this policy," he said.
At the end of meeting, the PAC chairman said that a total of seven paragraphs from the audit report - involving an amount in excess of Rs26 million - were discussed. The university's officials were only able to justify expenses worth Rs568,000. Jalbani therefore directed the varsity officials to either produce the relevant records for the remaining amount by the next meeting or deposit the amount into a government account.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th,2014.