AGP seeks Rs10.2m recovery in budget honorariums.
Byline: Shahbaz Rana
ISLAMABAD -- The office of Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has once again sought recovery of budget honorariums received by finance ministry's top bureaucrats last year as the issue lingered on for past many years due to divergent positions taken by the two government departments.
The Ministry of Finance paid Rs251.2 million in budget honorariums to its officials as reward for late sittings in order to prepare budget documents for fiscal year 2016-17, according to an audit objection that the AGP raised in its latest audit report.
However, the AGP sought recovery of only Rs10.2 million that had been paid to grade-21 and 22 officers of the Ministry of Finance. The report has been laid before parliament and will be taken up by the new Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif.
The audit report for financial year 2016-17 showed that nearly 16 officers of grade-21 and 22 were paid Rs10.2 million in budget honorariums by former finance minister Ishaq Dar. The audit department termed the payments irregular, which were in violation of the budget honorarium policy approved by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet 22 years ago.
'The audit recommends recovery of unauthorised payments and the Ministry of Finance may ensure implementation of its financial rules,' said the AGP in its recommendation to PAC. In 1996, the ECC had decided that the budget honorarium would be given to officers of up to grade-20 of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Planning and Development Division and Ministry of Finance.
But the finance ministry is not complying with the policy and is giving budget honorariums every year, resulting in audit objections. PAC has also not allowed recovery from these officers.
Unlike past practices, for fiscal year 2017-18, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi approved budget honorariums for all the government departments that many saw as an election stunt.
Despite audit objections, the financial misdemeanour by top management of the finance ministry continued. The competent authority approved budget honorariums equivalent to six basic salaries of the officers for preparing the fourth PML-N budget, according to the audit objection. Six of them got honorariums equal to their three basic salaries.
The budget honorariums have been given to the then finance secretary, special finance secretary, Economic Affairs Division secretary, four additional secretaries of finance, economic adviser of the finance ministry, four senior joint secretaries, retired finance secretary and Accountant General of Pakistan Revenue. Six of them have already retired and two have moved out of the finance ministry.
Where the Ministry of Finance has doled out Rs10.2 million to top two grades of the bureaucracy, it has stopped late sitting honorariums for its low-paid staff. Instead of eight-hour work time, the ministry has increased the time period for the low-paid staff to 10 hours. They will be eligible for the late sitting allowance only if they stay in office beyond 7pm, according to a circular of the finance ministry.
Their overtime has been stopped by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.