Cabinet moves to tighten rules for Auditor General

Top auditor had uncovered irregularities in the expenditures incurred on Covid-19 relief programme

ISLAMABAD: The government has been mulling over tightening the noose around the Auditor General Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) by constituting a high-level committee to recommend parameters for making financial audits more meaningful and accountable.

As per details, members of the federal cabinet are not happy with AGPR following the detection of irregularities detected in the expenditures incurred on the Covid-19 relief programme, and have convinced Prime Minister Imran Khan to take action in this regard.

Reportedly, the PM decided to constitute the committee under Shaukat Tarin during a high-level meeting held here on Monday.

According to sources, the majority of federal cabinet members have endorsed the point of view that the fault lies in the AGPR’s financial audit, which concentrated more on procedural irregularities rather than financial embezzlement.

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Drawing a clear distinction between system audit and financial audit, Special Assistant to the PM on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Dr Sania Nishtar explained how the AGPR was more focused on the former than the latter.

She added that at times insipid observations were made, such as decisions of the Cabinet and the Board being questioned in the recent audit paras pertaining to the Ehsas Programme.

Sources said that the committee will comprise adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance & revenue (Convener), SAPM on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety, secretary Finance Division, and secretary, Law and Justice Division. The Finance Division would notify this committee and provide it with secretariat support.

Profit also learnt that a cabinet member, during a meeting with the PM, pointed out the that secretaries of the divisions defend audit paras irrespective of any wrongdoing. He opined that this hampered the discovery of major financial scams of the previous governments.

He suggested that the minister in-charge should also be involved in the process and hold a meeting with the Principal Accounting Officer (PAO) for firming up the Division’s stance in the Departmental Accounts Committee (DAC) and  Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The Cabinet secretary apprised the Cabinet that secretaries also function as PAOs and were responsible for the financial discipline of their divisions. However, since most of the audit paras prepared by the AGPR pertained to procedural irregularities, a majority of these get settled in DACs after rectifying procedural shortcomings.

“The cases where financial impropriety and bungling was established, secretaries do recommend recoveries and, in some instances, even refer the same to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). This can be ascertained from the PAC’s record,” he said, adding that hardly any major financial scam was brought forward by the AGPR’s financial audit.

“Nonetheless, if there are still any misgivings about the intentions of the bureaucracy, the ministers should be empowered by nominating them as PAOs,” he suggested.

It is pertinent to mention here that the AGP had scrutinised Rs354.3 billion expenses incurred on Covid-19 over IMF’s pressure and unearthed Rs40 billion irregularities. The findings showed misprocurement, payments to ineligible beneficiaries, cash withdrawal through fake biometrics and procurements of substandard goods by Utility Stores Corporation (USC) for consumption.

Moreover, the government has also been trying to empower its ministers to play the role of PAOs for PAC briefings instead of federal secretaries.

 

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Ahmad Ahmadani
The author is a an investigative journalist at Profit. He can be reached at [email protected]

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