ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament has put its weight behind the Ministry of Finance, asking the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) to get its accounts audited by the external auditor without further delay.

The Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has been resisting its own audit for the last few years to avoid ‘infringement upon its independence’ while the ministry of finance has been insisting on audit of AGP’s accounts.

The AGP has been quoting restraining orders from courts to evade its audit. Insiders said the two multi-billion rupee projects — Project to Improve Financial Reporting & Accounting (PIFRA) and Programme for Results (PfR) — had some grey areas relating to building construction, equipment and related contracts that can put auditor’s reputation at risk.

Auditor General of Pakistan has been resisting scrutiny for years

The ministry of finance wants the scrutiny of AGP’s accounts exactly on the same principles as AGP office applies to other government entities and accounts and as such diving deep into the PIFRA and PfR accounts.

Last week, the PAC took up the “Refusal” of the Auditor General of Pakistan to conduct audit of AGP for discussion and directed both the finance ministry and the AGP to go for a detailed audit. It also asked finance ministry to write fresh letters to the AGP for the schedule of audits.

Created under article 170 of the Constitution, the AGP is a constitutional body responsible for examination of public accounts of all tiers of the governments to rule out fiduciary concerns in utilisation of public money.

Since January 2020, the country’s top auditor has repeatedly declined audit teams sent by the external auditor appointed by the President of Pakistan to have access to its accounts for financial years — FY2016-17 to FY2018-19 and beyond.

The External Auditor had earlier complained to the president, the prime minister, and the top brass of the ministry of finance that the audit process of AGP accounts started in January 2020 had been blocked by the AGP office on one pretext or the other despite repeated requests.

Interestingly, the AGP had been complaining to the PAC at multiple occasions that various corporations and government agencies were not allowing the audit by the AGP even though every rupee out of the public money was required to be audited to avoid irregularities, misuse of funds and corruption.

As required under Section 19-A of the Auditor-General’s (Functions, Powers and Terms and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2001, President Arif Alvi, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoints an additional secretary of finance as External Auditor. Section 19A says: “the President may appoint an independent officer to audit sanctions to expenditure accorded by the Auditor General. The AGP shall produce for inspection all books and other documents relating thereto and give him such information as he may require for the purpose of audit”.

However, the AGP had repeatedly declined its audit initially on grounds of capacity and conflict of interest of the finance ministry and then objected over the ‘scope of audit’ by limiting it to include only the inspection of sanction orders and to see if such orders had been approved by the competent authority or not.

A senior AGP officer said the ministries of finance and law were “misinterpreting independent auditor as external auditor coming from finance ministry”. The ministry of finance had taken up the matter with ministry of law for legal opinion and clarification which observed that “section 19-A of the AGP’s Ordinance, 2001, was unambiguous in this regard and may be applied in letter and spirit”.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022

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