ISLAMABAD: A forensic audit of the Establishment Division — the government’s human resources arm — has exposed poor administration, violation of its own policies and irregularities in financial matters.

The audit, ordered by former prime minister Imran Khan in March, was completed by the Auditor General for Pakistan, who recently submitted the report to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The audit points out that the national exchequer suffered a loss of Rs48 million as senior officials of the Establishment Division minted money through “fictitious purchase of stationery and other store items”.

The audit said the exercise violated the General Financial Rules, which state that the “purchase must be made in the most economical manner in accordance with the definite requirement of the public service”.

Report finds Rs48m spent on buying stationery and store items, weak internal, administrative controls, violation of policies, etc

The Establishment Division manages bureaucracy and, in turn, ensures the country’s affairs are run smoothly. It serves as the nerve centre of the bureaucracy and its officers act as management consultants for the federal government.

The audit report states that the division floated open tenders during 2016-17 and 2017-18 fiscal years to buy stationery and other store items and Rs48m was spent during the three fiscal years through 2018-19.

The procurement was made without approval from the purchase committee. An internal inquiry was conducted in the Establishment Division, but its findings were not shared with the audit team. The division spent Rs20.3m on stationery in 2017, Rs21.5m in 2018 and Rs6m in 2019.

A previous report had observed that “during the financial year 2018-19, there was a substantial decrease in expenditure on purchase of stationery”.

The audit held that this was a serious violation of General Financial Rules.

The audit objection was based on a complaint filed with the then establishment secretary Ejaz Munir. However, the Establishment Division’s section officer, who raised the issue, was posted out.

Chief Finance Officer Mohammad Afzal, who confirmed the financial irregularity and urged the establishment secretary to hold an inquiry, was also transferred from the division.

The inquiry into the matter has been pending since 2019, while the inquiry officer is proceeding abroad on a scholarship.

The latest forensic audit points out several reasons for this financial misappropriation, including “weak internal and administrative controls”, “partial implementation of E-Office applications”, “non-observance of rotation policy by the Establishment Division caused long-time stay of officers/officials in same posts”, “procurement of stationery, computer stationery and other store items on the basis of unrealistic demand” and “unauthorised purchase of stationery and other store items by a section officer”.

The audit recommends that the division must devise and implement a yearly procurement plan to end such financial irregularities in future.

It also suggests that the “rotation policy of staff and officers may be observed in true letter and spirit so that opportunities of misappropriation/fraud may be curtailed”.

A previous audit report pointed out that the Establishment Division itself has been violating the rules governing the transfer and posting of civil servants on deputation.

The auditors pointed out that several officers working at the division on deputation have overstayed their deputation period well over the extended five-year limit.

These officers include those from provincial education departments, ex-cadre and non-cadre officials and, in one instance, a veterinary doctor from Balochistan.

As per the Establishment Division’s own rules, “The normal period of deputation for all categories of government servants would be three years. This would be extendable by two years with the prior approval of the competent authority”.

After five years have elapsed, “both the borrowing and lending organisations must ensure the immediate repatriation of the deputationist”.

“If a person is on deputation to a government organisation and has completed the maximum tenure of five years, he must revert or be reverted by the borrowing office to his parent/lending organisation… otherwise, the audit offices concerned shall not make payment of salary and allowances to him beyond the date of expiry of five years,” according to the rules.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022

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