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Official appointed by president stopped from taking charge

March 22, 2013

President Asif Ali Zardari 670 x 350 - File Photo
President Asif Ali Zardari.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: A tussle between the government and the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) over pre-poll spending took a new turn on Thursday when the latter stopped the Controller General of Accounts (CGA), appointed by the president, from taking charge as custodian of national treasury.

Background discussions with key players suggest that while AGP Akhtar Buland Rana initially took a moral stance against the government’s 100 sanction orders of Rs5 billion for the People’s Works Programme (PWP) issued on the last few days of its term, bureaucrats at the Ministry of Finance checkmated Mr Rana over his inability to ensure merit and transparency in postings and transfers as well as foreign visits.

“The situation has reached a stage where the government has offered the AGP to go on leave or face a reference being sent to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) for removal from service on charges of misconduct and disobedience,” said an official familiar with the development.

Being a constitutional office, the AGP’s removal is possible only through the SJC.

In an unrelated case, Mr Rana’s appointment has already been challenged in the Supreme Court because of his Canadian nationality. The case is pending.

According to informed sources, the dispute started when the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenues (AGPR), a subordinate officer of the AGP, objected to the sanction orders for the payment of Rs5bn under the PWP in different constituencies.

In usual circumstances, the AGPR cannot object to sanction orders provided that budgetary provision is there, documentation is complete and if any specific restriction is not in place.

The objections were based on a directive of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) putting a ban on ‘directed fund releases’ and transfer-postings as being pre-poll rigging. The AGPR wanted the finance ministry to seek an opinion from the ECP whether or not the funds fell under the definition of pre-poll rigging.

Finance Secretary Abdul Khaliq and Finance Adviser Rana Asad Amin — two formerly estranged colleagues of the AGP — took the objections with a pinch of salt and called AGPR Mian Manzar Hafeez to inform him that his institution had no powers to stop payments and asked him to stop attending office.

The AGPR had stopped the salary of Rana Amin two months ago and Mr Khaliq failed to get speedy promotion because of AGP Buland Rana’s opposition a few years ago.

Buland Rana rescued his officer (Hafeez) by sending him on a 15-day leave and gave the charge of AGPR to a junior (grade-20) officer of his choice, Farhad Khan, against the grade-22 post.

The finance ministry sprang into action and dusted off an old summary prepared by a former CGA, Junaid Khan, about a year ago and brought it up to date. Mr Khan had demanded in the summary that he be given full powers under section 6 of the CGA Act, 2002, being denied to him by AGP Rana.

Under the act, the office of CGA is to become fully independent in the matter of transfers and postings of the four provincial accountant generals and also for subordinate offices in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and the districts account offices across the country. Because of this tussle with the AGP, Junaid Khan has yet to get his pension and other retirement benefits even after a lapse of one year.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf approved a finance ministry’s summary for bifurcation of the Pakistan Audit and Accounts Service -- audit led by the AGP and accounts by the CGA.

A separate notification was issued by President Asif Ali Zardari to appoint Asif Usman Khan, a grade-22 officer previously sidelined by the AGP, as CGA.

In the appointment of four previous CGAs, the finance ministry had consulted the AGP, but this time it was not done. However, the ministry is reported to have asked the AGP in three memorandums to appoint a grade-22 officer as CGA. But the AGP ignored the advice and continued with a grade-20 officer to look after the CGA functions in addition to his actual posting as Accountant General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

After Manzar Hafeez was sent on leave, AGP Rana appointed Tahir Mahmood (BS-20) as AGPR and continued with Farhad Khan (BS-20) as CGA by ignoring the appointment of Asif Usman, even though he was the president’s choice.

AUDIT OF UN AGENCY: Pakistan has the privilege of auditing functions and expenditures of the United Nations International Development Organisation (Unido) for several years. Five officers of the AGP are currently in Austria for the organisation’s audit.

Under rules, the Unido audit has to be supervised by a senior auditor. AGP Buland Rana and CGA Farhad Khan intend to visit Austria on Saturday, although the latter is performing duty as an accountant, and not auditor, as required by the rules.

The sources said President Zardari had directed the AGP at a meeting on Wednesday to implement his orders and allow Asif Usman to take over as CGA, but Mr Rana was reported to have declined to oblige.

As the controversy continued, Federal Tax Ombudsman Dr Shoiab Suddle has summoned Mr Rana to explain why his (Suddle’s) judicial allowance and the law secretary’s salary had been stopped.

Mr Rana has been able to get a stay order from the Islamabad High Court from appearing before the ombudsman.