PESHAWAR, Jan 29: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is losing millions of rupees every month in pension payments to public sector retirees, who never worked for it, according to official sources.
According to a senior official, the province has so far recovered around Rs130 million from the federal government and the governments of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan after establishing through an ongoing audit of its pension accounts that scores of their pensioners were paid pensions from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s kitty in 2010 and onwards.
An equally larger amount is due to be recovered from the other governments as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, said the official, has established invalid payments from its account to their retirees living in different parts of the province.
“The amount recovered seems to be a tip of an iceberg if analysed by taking into consideration the limited scope and scale of the pension audit and the period it pertains to,” said the official, adding that the province stands a chance to lay claim to huge sums of the lost money by conducting an extensive audit of its pension accounts.
The incumbent provincial government, said the official, launched the audit of its pension accounts after learning that in many instances, commercial banks had been charging it the money they released in pension payments to retirees who actually did not belong to any of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government departments or their attached entities.The province does not have a monitoring system to check pension payments to its retired employees, totalled 150,000 as per the recently compiled official data. The problem has compounded due to the negligence of the commercial banks’ staff, particularly in the rural and far-flung areas of the province in addition to the government’s inability to keep a close eye on pension payments.
“They (banks) deal most of the retirees as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s pensioners,” said the official, adding “the problem is more deep-rooted in the rural areas where the banks’ staffers do not take the plunge to maintain separate registers of records of pensioners belonging to different governments.”
As per the official system, all public sector employees, irrespective of the province where they worked during their years in employment and the government they worked for, receive their monthly pension payment from commercial banks in the area of their residence.
“The audit team found that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-based retirees of the federal government and the other provincial government are being paid pension from our account simply because they live in Abbottabad or Peshawar,” said the official.
He said the banks sent vouchers of monthly pension payments with details to the district account offices.
“They (banks) should send us the vouchers of only those retirees who belong to us, but they don’t bother to sort out the pension vouchers of our retirees from those who don’t belong to us,” said the official, adding “what they do is that they send everything to us and our district account offices also don’t take the plunge to go through by every voucher to establish their validity.”
The provincial government’s audit team, said the official, had so far visited 11 of the 25 districts of the province where it audited only selective record of pension payments.
All district account offices, said the official, had a poorly maintained record keeping system as they put all pension vouchers in sacks and placed them in their dusty record rooms.
“Our team randomly picks up a bag of vouchers wherever they went and audited the records checking the pensioners’ names and employers’ details,” said the official.
He added that the provincial government might need to launch the audit on more extensive lines in view of the positive results recorded by its existing small effort. “We have only one team that is constrained to go through the entire pension records in all the districts,” said the official.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s pension bill for the current financial year stands at around Rs22 billion, eating up almost nine per cent of the government’s current budget.
The official said the province could safe a considerable amount by streamlining its pension payment system by evolving an effective monitoring system.
The provincial government's annual pension bill, according to another relevant official, was increasing at an alarmingly high rate of 10 per cent to 12 per cent with the number of its retirees growing at around five per cent annual rate, putting the provincial resources under strain.
A Peshawar-based senior banker, when contacted, said the provincial government should conduct a province wise survey to verify the details of its retirees and put in place an effective computerised monitoring system to keep its pension payment system under a constant check.