ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday ordered Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) Akhtar Buland Rana to appear in person on June 3 and explain to the committee his position over allegations of drawing ‘excessive’ salary from the national exchequer.
The meeting reviewed a report submitted by a sub-committee set up to investigate the allegations against the AGP wherein it had recommended to the PAC to ask government to send a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council against Akhtar Buland Rana under Article 209 of the constitution and try him for ‘misconduct’ over drawing excessive salary as compared to other grade-22 officers in the federal government, a source who attended the meeting told Daily Times.
The special ‘in-camera’ sitting of the PAC was chaired by Syed Khursheed Shah.
The auditor general of Pakistan is a constitutional post and the holder of this position can only be removed by the Supreme Judicial Council.
Rana has been accused of drawing excessive salary and benefits as compared to other grade-22 officers. The matter was raised in the public accounts committee which formed a sub-committee to examine the accusations in the light of SRO 1074-(1)/2007. On Thursday, the sub-committee, headed by PML-N legislator Junaid Anwar Chaudhry, had recommended to the PAC to ask the government to file a reference against the AGP and get him removed from the office over ‘misconduct’. However, the PAC meeting decided to give an opportunity to the AGP to appear before the committee and explain his position on the issue.
The head of the sub-committee, Junaid Anwar Chaudhry, confirmed to Daily Times that they recommended to the PAC that government must be asked to file reference against the AGP. He said the person who has been found guilty of ‘misconduct’ can’t serve on such a high position.
He also confirmed that the PAC had decided to give another chance to the AGP.
However, sources familiar with the development smell a rat behind the whole affair. They say the government wants to replace Rana with one of its blue-eyed officials. They say the scrutiny/audit of the spending of the first financial year of the incumbent government is starting on July 1 and the government can’t afford such a ‘defiant’ AGP, who has, reportedly, already refused to delete some audit paras against top PML-N and PPP leaders from the audit report for financial year 2013-14. According to the sources, the government wants a ‘loyal’ officer to hold the reins as auditor general of Pakistan, most preferably on acting basis, so that the scrutiny process could be made ‘government-friendly’.
During Tuesday’s PAC meeting, committee members from PPP, PTI and Awami Muslim League objected to the recommendations of the sub-committee and proposed to provide a chance to the AGP to clear his position. They opined that the government’s ‘witch hunt’ of honest and professional officers must stop. The sources said that Naveed Qamar, Khursheed Shah, Sheikh Rasheed and Shafqat Mahmood opposed the recommendation of the sub-committee and called upon the PAC to review the matter itself. They were of the view that the AGP was being targeted like the heads of NADRA and PEMRA, the sources said.
Junaid Anwar Chaudhry, however, claimed that the PAC was not divided over the issue. He said that it was a unanimous decision by the PAC to give a chance to Rana, who had earlier failed to appear before the sub-committee for personal hearing.
“Agreeing to the suggestions by some members, finally PAC Chairman Khursheed Shah decided to give a chance to Rana,” he said.
When contacted, Deputy Auditor General Manzar Hafeez Mian, who was then serving as Accountant General Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) and who had approved the ‘excessive’ salary for the AGP, defended his decision. “This is the only constitutional post whose salary is determined under the Schedule for Pay, Allowances and Pension of Section 3 of the Auditor General’s (Functions, Powers and Terms and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2001. Under Clause ‘A’ of this Schedule, it is mentioned that the salary for the AGP will be 20% higher than the maximum salary payable to any officer in Revised Basic Pay Scale-22. The term salary for the purpose of this clause also includes ad-hoc reliefs/increases sanctioned by the government for civil servants from time to time. Moreover, under Clause ‘B’ of the Schedule, the AGP is entitled to all benefits including entitlements pertaining to travel admissible to a minister of state,” he said.
“Hence, the salary of AGP includes all sorts of allowances, including monetisation allowance. Ultimately, the AGP will be paid a lump sum salary which is to be determined and fixed by the Accountant General Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) and not by the Auditor General of Pakistan himself,” he added. He said he was satisfied with his judgement on fixing the salary of Rana. “If anyone has any objection to my decision, the matter may be raised with the incumbent AGPR. And even if any officer gets excessive payments, the extra amount could be deducted from his salary later on,” he added.
The charges are vehemently denied by the AGP as well. Rana had earlier refused to appear before the subcommittee of the PAC maintaining that it had no legal authority to question his conduct. He told the committee that his conduct could only be discussed by the supreme judicial council. “The committee took this response as an insult and sought legal advice from Law Secretary Barrister Zafarullah over its authority to hear the case. The law ministry in its reply stated that the committee could discuss the remuneration of the AGP as it was a voted budget item,” the sources said.
“Akhtar Buland Rana also contacted the law secretary over his legal advice to the sub-committee and mentioned Article 81 of the constitution which provides that like the judges of the apex court and other constitutional post holders, the remuneration of the AGP was charged upon the Federal Consolidated Fund, meaning that the same could not be discussed even by the parliament,” the sources said. “The law secretary admitted his mistake and again informed the sub-committee that the remuneration of the AGP could not be discussed by the PAC,”the sources said, adding that the proceedings of the sub-committee still continued.
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