ISLAMABAD: The office of the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) would be digitalised and cheques issued through automation to reduce human involvement and increase transparency, sources in the Cabinet Division told Dawn on Wednesday.

Following serious concerns raised over the working of the AGP office by none other than Prime Minister Imran Khan a few days ago, the government decided to completely overhaul the institution to enhance its credibility and enable it to uprightly perform the mandated responsibilities of ensuring public accountability and fiscal transparency in public-sector departments.

The federal cabinet, in its meeting earlier this week, expressed complete distrust over the AGP with Prime Minister Imran Khan disclosing that corruption amounting to Rs180 billion had been unearthed in the institution. The cabinet also assailed the AGP for harassing government officials on the pretext of audit paras.

In a detailed discussion about the AGP affairs, the sources said the prime minister had received many complaints about malpractices in the institution.

“Everybody has seen the unwavering stance of the prime minster against corruption, and in such cases, he also gets confirmation from the intelligence agencies before proceeding further,” a cabinet member said, adding that in the case of AGP, ministers and bureaucrats were unhappy with the unnecessary and unrealistic audit paras that resulted in their absolute dysfunctionality and brought the decision-making process to a grinding halt. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had on a number of occasions expressed its surprise over the rising number of audit paras.

Asked about the nature of corruption uncovered in the AGP – the institution that itself was established to ensure financial discipline and transparency – the cabinet member said the audit officials were involved in the corrupt practice of removing audit paras of those who greased their palm and proceeded against those who failed to appease them.

“It has been decided to hold a thorough investigation into the matter and punish those involved in corrupt practices,” he added.

He said the prime minister had also directed for an external audit of the AGP to expose and punish black sheep in it.

The member said there were serious question marks on the AGP’s performance and therefore the government had decided to bring necessary reforms in it to ensure greater transparency in its affairs.

Asked about the committee constituted by the prime minister, the sources said this would discuss the options such as that of outsourcing the core operations of the AGP.

“This will enhance not only the credibility of the institution but also restore public confidence on it,” he added.

Talking to Dawn, PM’s Adviser on Institutions Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain said the government had decided to revamp AGP office by inducting competent officers, auditors and even chartered accountants.

He said the government believed AGP office was one of the hurdles in the way of progress as it made “undue and baseless” audit paras which hampered government’s functions and decisions.

“For instance, the power sector has become a challenge for the government and we want to bring improvements in it, but at the same time a para is made that why a peon has been appointed in an electricity department as it can be a threat to the concerned department,” he added.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2021

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