PAC Panels decides to opt against open scrutiny of defence ministry accounts

ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly seems to be helpless in conducting an open scrutiny of financial affairs of the defence ministry as its sub-committee has decided to debate the audit objections to the ministry’s accounts in camera.The decision was taken at a meeting of the sub-committee, headed by PML-N legislator Rana Afzal Hussain, on Wednesday at the request of the defence ministry.“Officials of the ministry have requested us to keep the proceedings in camera,” he said. “Therefore we have no other choice.”He said that the committee did not want to keep the discussion private, but had to do so due to “sensitivity of the matter”.Most of the paragraphs of the audit reports being scrutinised by the sub-committee relate to the Military Estate Office, cantonment boards and military land.Interestingly, the paragraphs had been openly discussed several times over the past few years as the audit reports pertain to 1996-97.

It was in February this year that the defence ministry expressed reservations over the reporting of the committee’s proceedings in which the auditor alleged that the ministry could not recover Rs1.53 billion embezzled by its 81 army and civilian officers even after about two decades.A PAC member said the committee could not reject the ministry’s request because it had been made ‘in the name of national interest’.

“You know, in the name of national interest they may even ask any of the lawmakers to leave,” he added.

RECORDS GO MISSING: On the other hand, the committee was tough on retired government officials whose house allotment record went missing because of a fire incident in the Shaheed-i-Millat Secretariat in 2002.The audit authorities had informed the committee that recovery of Rs3.9 million could not be made from about 110 allottees of government-sponsored residences because the allotment record of the Estate Office had been gutted in the fire.The housing ministry requested the committee to allow it to write off the recovery as most of the allottees were untraceable — they had either retired or expired. But the committee rejected the request and directed the ministry to trace the allottees and recover the amount even from retired officials.

Mian Abdul Manan, a PAC member, directed the secretary of the committee to summon the retired secretary of housing. He will be asked why he did not refer to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) the matter related to the recovery of Rs4.8m from senators and members of National and provincial assemblies on account of non-payment of room rent of an official rest house.Director General Audit Maqbool Gondal told the committee that the ministry had failed to recover the amount from lawmakers.

In a meeting in 2001, the then PAC had directed the secretary of housing and works ‘to take all possible steps’ to recover the outstanding amount and, in case of failure, refer the case to the NAB.The incumbent secretary of housing said that a meagre sum had been recovered and efforts were being made for the recovery of the remaining amount.

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