By M. Bilal –
The shocking revelations made by auditors on former President Asif Ali Zardari’s generosity remind us the era of Mughal kings
The President is a symbol of unity of the country. Being the constitutional head of the country, the President is supreme commander of the armed forces and an integral part of the Parliament.
But if someone goes through an audit report compiled by Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP), it is shocking how former president and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari doled out public funds meant for donations among his employees in the shape of Eidi and ex-gratia amounting to Rs139.52 million during 2012-13.
Former President Zardari appeared to be overjoyed on completion of 1st democratic term by his party in April 2013 that he gave away Rs40.179 million to his employees who seem to be real beneficiary of fruits of democracy.
The report shows staggering amount of Eidi distributed to Secretary General, Consultant, Special Secretary, Director General and other employees from BPS-20 to right down to BPS-1.
During Zardari’s era, President Secretariat (Public) paid to its employees as many as Rs27.611 million in term of Eidi on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha in 2012. The then Secretary General to the President Salman Farooqi was given Rs1.987 million Eidi on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha. Moreover, Farooqi was given Rs993, 819 ex-gratia on D-8 Summit held in 2012. Furthermore, he got ex-gratia amounting Rs1.257 million on completion of 1st democratic tenure.
The report says that during the same period, President Secretariat (Personal) distributed Rs40.414 million Eidi to employees of BPS-20 to BPS-1. They received Rs19.548 million on Eid-ul-Fitr and Rs20.866 million on Eid-ul-Azha. Former President Zardari, according to the audit report, paid Rs18.071 million to employees on the eve of D-8 Summit.
Auditor General of Pakistan has observed in its report that the entire expenditure was unauthorised and irregular from the Contingent Grant. As per Finance Division set rules, the Contingent Grant is meant for payments to schools, charitable institutions and indigent individuals and public servants besides private citizens and organizations which are normally not financed from public money.
The auditors have observed that the expenditure was not covered under the purposes meant for disbursement of Contingent Grant. The report says Secretary General to the President was serving on honorary basis with the status of Federal Minister but he was also paid from the Contingent Grant of the President.
The management took the position that one of the purposes of Contingent Grant was donation to public servants. The term public servant was applicable to all the government servants in BS-1 and above and was not limited to the employees in BS-1 to 22. The President awarded certain amounts to employees in the President’s Secretariat from time to time irrespective of grade and designation in recognition of the services rendered by them for which they worked hard till night even on holidays.
The management informed audit that the Secretary General to the President was serving on honorary basis and was, therefore, not paid salary/allowances from the President’s Secretariat. However, ex-gratia even to an outsider for the services be rendered in the public interest. So, President’s Secretariat is of the view that ex-gratia paid to the ex-Secretary General was ‘justified’.
Later on, the President’s Secretariat in its revised reply dated January 2, 2014 stated that the President’s Secretariat did not have any allocation in the head of honorarium to grant to its employees on different occasions, and ex-gratia was paid as per approved policy.
But, the audit refused the reply stating public servants were entitled to financial assistance only under framed policy and rules. The report shows series of communications between the Auditor General of Pakistan and President’s Secretariat. However, the Auditor General of Pakistan has recommended that the irregularity should be discontinued and public funds should not be utilized for personal benefits.
In another audit para, the Auditor General of Pakistan has pointed out that an authorised expenditure worth Rs5 million was incurred on maintenance and procurement of generators and swimming pool from Contingent Grant.
The report says the management of President’s Secretariat signed an agreement with State Life Insurance Corporation on May 31, 2011 for accidental death benefit coverage to the employees posted at President’s Secretariat and other employees at Bhutto House, Naudero and Bilawal House, Karachi for 1,046 employees.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist