ISLAMABAD: The Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has found irregularities worth over Rs101 million in the financial affairs of the National Assembly (NA) during a scrutiny of its accounts from the last financial year.
As per the audit report, four MNAs spent a total of Rs 12.6 million on their treatment abroad; three MNAs claimed unjustified reimbursements for medical charges from private medical hospitals, while the NA Secretariat paid an “inadmissible amount” of Rs86.86 million to certain MNAs as ‘house allowance’.
According to the audit report, former speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza claimed “unauthorised reimbursement of medical charges on treatment abroad”.
The audit report said that the Cabinet Division had decided in 1996 that “the facility of medical treatment abroad at public expenditure should be withdrawn”. Subsequently, the Prime Minister’s Directive of February 2, 1997 revoked the policy of arranging medical treatment for representatives/government officers at state expense.
Audit names four MNAs, including former speaker, who claimed reimbursements for medical treatment abroad
However, the audit noted, the PM’s Secretariat had stated on August 6, 2012, “that (the then) speaker National Assembly informed that during her visit to USA she developed some medical complications, for which urgent surgery was required. The prime minister was pleased to direct the Pakistan embassy in Washington to make [the] necessary payment to hospital… The NA Secretariat made [a] payment of Rs2.74 million to the Consulate General of Pakistan [in] Houston through chief accounts officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
According to the audit report, this payment was made in violation of a Cabinet Division decision and the prime minister’s earlier directive.
When contacted, Dr Mirza told Dawn she was suffering from cancer and had borne all her medical expenses from her own resources while she was speaker. While she conceded that the government may have spent some money on her treatment while she was abroad, she maintained that there had been no allegations against her throughout her five-year tenure as custodian of the lower house.
“Since I have not read the audit para in question, I am not in a position to comment on this in any detail,” she said.
The audit report also noted that in December 2011, PML-Q MNA Bushra Rehman was paid Rs4.3 million when she was advised emergency cardiac bypass surgery while in the USA.
The report said that Ms Rehman had requested the Prime Minister to reimburse the expenses incurred on her medical treatment abroad and the devolved ministry of health had moved a summary to the prime minister for the payment of Rs4.3 million to the lawmaker, which the PM approved.
The audit claimed that the ministry illegally moved the summary to the PM and recommended that “this may be properly investigated.”
A third “unauthorised” amount of Rs2.86 million was paid to MNA Shahzada Mohiuddin for eye-treatment in London. Mr Mohiuddin belongs to a notable political family of Chitral and has remained State Minister for Tourism, as well as being chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan under the previous PPP government.
In this case too, the audit was of the view that “the payment was made in violation of the decision of cabinet and the prime minister.”
The audit report stated that in December 2011, a sum of Rs2.7 million was paid to ex-PML-Q MNA Begum Shahnaz Sheikh for the treatment of a backbone injury in the US. The audit said that Ms Sheikh was not entitled to treatment on public expense and was also disqualified by the Supreme Court for possessing dual nationality.
“The NA Secretariat on November 20, 2012, asked the ex-MNA to refund the amount paid as the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified her, but she did not respond.”
The audit recommended that the amount should be recovered from Ms Sheikh and deposited into the treasury.
The audit noted that MNAs Sahibzada Syed Murtaza Amin, Abdul Wasim and Kishwar Zehra also claimed “unjustified reimbursement of medical charges for treatment at private hospital”.
The report claims that the three lawmakers were reimbursed Rs1.67 million after they obtained medical treatment from unauthorised medical institutions in Pakistan.
Regarding the Rs86.86 million in “inadmissible payment of housing allowance” to lawmakers, the report said that “the NA Secretariat paid an amount of Rs86.86 million to MNAs during 2013-2014.”
The audit observed that housing allowance was being paid to the MNAs who were already allotted furnished suites in the Federal Lodges. It was further observed that Parliament Lodges were constructed after the enactment of the Member of Parliament (Salaries and Allowances) Act, 1974, and there was no provision in the existing laws and rules for grant of housing allowance to MNAs who were allotted suites there.
The audit considered the payment of housing allowance to MNAs who were allotted suites in the Federal Lodges “a violation” and recommended the recovery of Rs86.86 million from them.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2016