By Anwer Sumra
The Punjab government is unable to explain where it has spent Rs38 billion, which is missing from its accounts for the current fiscal year, official sources told The Express Tribune.
The authorities are reluctant to reconcile the missing amount despite repeated letters of accountant general (AG), they said.
It is feared that either the amount was embezzled or the Punjab government was not willing to share the details of expenditures with the AG – the custodian of public money.
The AG in a letter requested the Punjab chief minister to intervene personally in the issue, as the chief secretary was not responding even after repeated requests, an official said requesting anonymity.
Punjab AG Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam, in a letter No R&P/2011-12/31 dated March 27 written to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, pointed out that there was a gap of Rs38 billion between the expenditures in civil accounts of Punjab government since July and no department was ready to reconcile this big amount, sources in the chief minister’s secretariat said.
According to a copy obtained by The Express Tribune, the Punjab AG wrote that unfortunately over the years the reconciliation of expenditures and receipts had weakened owing to non-responsive attitude of spending provincial departments and principal accounting officers by diversion of funds into Special Drawing Accounts (SDA)/Personal Ledger Accounts (PLA).
A huge amount of funds is diverted into these accounts to avoid normal mode of payments after pre-audit checks to be exercised by Punjab’s AG being custodian of public money on behalf of the auditor general. It is a matter of concern that diversion of funds to these accounts has been on the rise during the last few years and at present, there are about 1,754 accounts and pre-audit checks are not being exercised by the operators (heads of provincial departments and principal accounting officers of Punjab).
The matter was taken up with the Punjab Chief Secretary Nasir Mehmood Khosa via letter No R&C/HM-1609 dated December 2011, followed by a reminder R&C/HM/4486-87 dated February 29, but no response had been received.
The AG requested the CM to look into the matter personally to strengthen the pre-audit system of payments out of the consolidated fund and discourage the practice of opening SDA/PLA except in unavoidable cases.
There were apprehensions that such big gap could not develop without any ulterior motives. Some operators may have misappropriated or embezzled public funds and now they were not ready to reconcile expenditures with the AG, said an official requesting anonymity.
Punjab Treasury Chief Inspector Amjad Saleemi said being the chief accountant of the province it was failure on part of the AG’s office to reconcile accounts showing a gap of Rs38 billion.
About SDA/PLA, Saleemi said there was no need to get consultation from the AG to open these accounts of self accounting entities like Solid Waste Management and Arts Councils. On April 2, the finance department had directed the heads of the provincial departments and principal accounting officers to cooperate with the AG for reconciliation of accounts. The finance department spokesperson said that the Punjab government was fully cooperating with the AG for the reconciliation of accounts. If any department failed to do so the AG should stop payments of bills of defaulting departments, he added.
Chaudhary Zaheerud Din, chairperson Public Accounts Committee of Punjab said, “We were pointing out financial mismanagement of Punjab’s rulers from the very first day.” The PAC would take up the issue in the next meeting and upcoming assembly session, Din added.
Pakistan Peoples Party deputy parliamentary leader in the Punjab Assembly, Shaukat Basra, said the chief minister was putting a huge amount in ill-planned projects like sasti roti and free laptops without getting approval of legislature. It was a technical plundering of public money, he said.