ISLAMABAD: Following the opposition’s move of assailing the government through audit reports of government institutions, Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to replace the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) so that experienced party workers could effectively counter the opposition.
A source in the PTI said the prime minister wanted to replace those PTI members in the PAC who did not challenge flimsy audit paras about government institutions in the committee’s meetings.
The source quoted the prime minister as saying “the opposition parties are being represented by political biggies in the PAC while many of the PTI members are inexperienced and thus unable to counter the opposition leaders vigorously in the PAC meetings”.
The prime minister was of the view that the opposition was using the offices of the PAC chairman and the auditor general of Pakistan (AGP) to portray a dismal picture of government affairs in audit reports.
Incumbent members are said to be unable to counter opposition
Presently the PAC chairman is from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the incumbent AGP was appointed during the previous PML-N government.
Mr Khan said the audit department ignored the irregularities of those institutions which “pleased” the auditors, but audit paras were made against those who “did not compromise”.
Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaisar is said to have been empowered to replace or nominate anyone as member of the PAC.
Presently the PAC has 30 members, including 11 from the PTI. The PTI members are: MNAs Noor Alam Khan, Aamer Mehmood Kiani, Sanaullah Khan Masti Khel, Nasrullah Khan Dreshak, Munaza Hassan, Khawaja Sheraz Mehmood, Muhammad Ibrahim Khan Raja Riaz, Amer Dogar, Shibli Faraz and Riaz Fatyana.
On the other side, the opposition has many stalwarts like Shehbaz Sharif, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Mushahid Hussain Syed, Khawaja Asif, Ayaz Sadiq, Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rehman, Rana Tanveer Hussain (chairman), Hina Rabbani Khar and Senator Talha Mehmood as PAC members.
Talking to Dawn, PTI chief whip in the National Assembly Amir Dogar, who is also a member of the PAC, confirmed that the prime minister had asked him and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to meet the NA speaker soon and revisit the composition of PAC to include experienced PTI members in place of junior ones.
He said usually senior leaders of a ruling party preferred to become cabinet members and were least interested in becoming members of PAC and standing committees of the NA and Senate. On the other side opposition always sends its senior leaders to the PAC and standing committees.
“We are trying to bring those PTI leaders in the PAC who would work hard to vehemently confront the opposition and baseless audit paras,” Mr Dogar said.
The government-opposition tussle on audit reports started when the PAC summoned Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Petroleum Nadeem Babar (on the insistence of PTI member Raja Riaz) to investigate liquefied natural gas import issue following a press conference of the opposition leaders last year in which they criticised the government by referring to corruption in government departments as mentioned in the audit report 2019-20.
Sources said the prime minister was annoyed over the opposition’s press conference and was of the view that audit paras, which were sometimes related to petty issues, could not be called exposure of corruption.
After the press conference, the ministry of finance issued a clarification and said that audit paras should not be declared as exposure of corruption.
The government also tried to conduct an external audit of the AGP office last year but later changed its mind to avoid infringement upon the AGP office’s independence.
Adviser to the PM on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain said the government had decided to revamp the AGP office by inducting competent officers, auditors and even chartered accountants.
He said the government believed that AGP office was creating hurdles in the way of progress in the country by coming up with “undue and baseless” audit paras hampering the government’s functions and decisions. “For instance, the power sector has become a challenge for the government and we want to make an improvement in it, but at the same time an audit para asks why a peon was appointed in an agency working under the power division which causes problems for that agency,” he added.
Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said the prime minister wanted to revamp the AGP office by bringing digitisation in it.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2021