Report of the Auditor General of Pakistan on the Punjab government accounts for audit year 2013-14 make quite interesting, alarming as well as concerning reading to say the least. Besides pointing financial indiscipline and irregularities of the sorts, the report also highlights the indifferent attitude of the administrative departments towards submission of the relevant record of their financial expenditures to the audit teams at the time of auditing of their accounts, indulging dilly-dallying tactics and showing no respect at all to follow the rules and regulations, resort to strict financial discipline and ensure strong and effective internal control in respect of spending of the public money.
In general, the report has identified control failure in as many as 12 areas including maintenance of records, delegation of powers, purchase handling and storing, contract administration and execution, inventory management of tools and equipments, payroll procedures, fraud awareness, asset management, budgeting and financial control, purchase procedure, appointments and extension procedures and utilisation of grants and development funds.
Critical accounting areas, according to the report, which needed special attention of the drawing and disbursing officers (who handle and operate the public money) are receipts, payroll, stocks and stores, contracts for construction works, loans and advances, public procurement and adherence to rules and regulations.
The report running in 444 pages has covered Agriculture Department, Auqaf and Religious Affairs Department, Finance Department, Food Department, Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Department, Health Department, Higher Education Department, Home Department, Information and Culture Department, Lahore High Court, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Department, Livestock and Dairy Development Department, Mines and Minerals Department, Population Welfare Department, School Education Department, Services and General Administration, Social Welfare, Women Development and Baitul Mal Departments and Youth Affairs, Sports, Archaeology and Tourism Department.
Following were listed as the key audit findings:
— Unauthorised payments of Rs 195.40 millions were noticed in eight cases.
— Eleven cases amounting to Rs 5349.11 millions pertained to non-production of record.
— Embezzlements, misappropriations and fraud amounting to Rs 115.20 millions were noticed in seven cases.
— There were 13 cases of Rs 903.03 million irregular expenditure/payments in violation of rules.
— Recovery pointed out in 26 cases amounting to Rs 2220.81 millions.
— A lack of internal control was noted in eight cases amounting to Rs 720.75 million.
— There were three cases pertaining to non-protection of assets amounting to Rs 83.79 million.
— Non-adjustment of advances was noticed in two cases amounting to Rs 15.33 million.
A number of recommendations were made in the audit report. These included:
— Ensuring production of relevant record for audit in respect of cases of non-production of record pointed out in the report besides taking disciplinary action in terms of Section 14(3) of Auditor General’s Ordinance 2001.
— Strengthening of internal control mechanism to prevent recurrence of irregularities of similar nature.
— Investigation of cases regarding embezzlements/frauds and suspected misappropriations of public money, taking necessary remedial and preventive measures also.
— Ensuring prompt recovery of government dues and overpayments, wherever applicable, and depositing of the same into the government treasury.
— Adherence to canons of financial propriety, rules and regulations, especially in autonomous institutions.
— Capacity building of financial managers.
— Uniform interpretation and application of acts, statutes and rules in autonomous bodies.
— Monitoring of progress regarding holding of departmental committee meetings by respective principal accounting officers and their output.
— Improving compliance with directives of Public Accounts Committee by the departments.
— Initiation of disciplinary action against the officers/officials responsible for losses to government/institutions.
The report has also pointed out the public financial management issues. These included unjustified negative balances of foreign debts Rs 41,543.55 millions; excess payment against domestic debt Rs 13015.91 millions; difference of cash balances between bank and book Rs 7,926.72 millions; non-clearance of pre-audit civil cheques Rs 4,782.27 millions; expenditure against zero budget allocations Rs 2,567.89 millions; expenditure in excess of the budget allocations of Rs 8,929.38 millions; unjustified supplementary provision Rs 2,231.69 millions; unutilised budget Rs 17,0791.08 millions; excess payment against pay and allowances Rs 11.02 millions; non-reconciliation of receipts and payments; unjustified forest advance Rs 248.78 millions; pre-audit civil cheques Forest Department Rs 1,077.41 millions; and unjustified negative balance of Forest Department Rs 2827.72 millions. The report has categorised all these as high risk, made observations and highlighted implications, pinpointed management response and made recommendations in each case.
Regarding implication of unjustified negative foreign debt balance, which appeared in the annexure of Finance, the report said it “leads to financial discipline and misleads the user of the Financial Statements about the true and fair position of the state of affairs of financial data of the government”.
To this, the response from the management said that the negative balance was due to the fact that the disbursements under Foreign Loan were made by the donor agencies in foreign currency to the federal government, whereas the Federal Government credited the equivalent rupees to the account of the provincial government. It was further explained that the Federal Government repaid the Foreign Loan to donor agencies in foreign currency and recovered it from the provincial government in instalments. Moreover, receipt figures pertaining to Third Party payments were not being accounted for whereas repayment was being made for the whole amount including receipts pertaining to Third Party Payments as well. All of these figures had resulted in negative balances appearing in the Financial Accounts of the Punjab government.
In this respect, the auditors recommended “debt balances were required to be updated on regular basis according to the figures of Finance Department of the Punjab government and Economic Affairs Division of the Federal Government. Moreover, the debt balances need to be reconciled with lenders on priority basis for accurate accounting.”
As regards excess payment of Rs 13,015.91 millions against domestic debt, the report observed “excess paid domestic loans were appearing in Annexure-1 of Financial Accounts. Moreover, Domestic Loans were already appearing excessively paid despite the fact that further payments of Rs 1008.10 millions were made during the financial year 2012-13”.
Implications and recommendations were the same as mentioned above in foreign debt case whereas the management response stated that the matter had been referred to the Finance Department for clarification.
There is much more to write and read. The audit paras about the financial management and handling of the public money by the administrative departments, covered in the report, still make more interesting, alarming and concerning reading showing ruthless spending of the public money without caring much about rules and regulations in quite irresponsible without having any fear about being made accountable sooner or later. These, only involving substantially high figures, will be covered separately in due course of time.Muhammad Zahid Riffat, "Audit report on Punjab government accounts," Business recorder. 2015-03-01.
Keywords: Economics , Economic issues , Economic system , Economic planning , Audit report-Punjab , Financial planning , Asset allocation , Financial planners , Punjab , Pakistan