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PAC meeting: Auditor-general sends Rs120 billion ‘bill’ to army

ISLAMABAD: Tense moments were witnessed once again during the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday when a senior official questioned the motives of another. Defence secretary Lt-General (retd) Athar Ali accused the auditor-general of Pakistan of maligning the Pakistan Army by sending it a ‘bill’ of Rs120 billion for using the Fortress Stadium in Lahore ‘illegally’ for decades.

Athar Ali made this statement during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) after the auditor-general brought an audit para before the committee which said that for decades, the army has been illegally using more than a 100,000 square-yard-area of the Fortress stadium for commercial purposes without any lawful authority. The auditor-general claimed that the rent generated from this commercial activity was deposited into military accounts, not with the government of Pakistan.

The auditor-general said that a total of Rs120billion were collected by the military from this activity and that this amount should now be deposited with the government in its consolidated fund.

Ali took a strong exception to the audit para and said this was an attempt to malign the army. He refused to accept the validity of the auditor-general’s claims saying he was surprised how the auditor-general brought such kind of ‘laughable facts and figures’ before the committee, adding that the army could not have collected such a huge amount from Fortress Stadium.

But, Auditor-General Tanveer Agha explained that the audit team had followed the proper process before bringing this audit para before the PAC. He explained that the audit objection was established on the basis of documents provided by the Military Estates Office Lahore, adding that the matter was also discussed by the departmental accounts committee.

PAC formed a joint committee, comprising members of the audit department and the defence and finance ministries, to investigate the matter and submit its report within a month to the PAC for a final decision.

Ali, who is often praised by the committee for his good performance, was this time criticised by the PAC for not coming fully prepared. The audit objections brought before the PAC were not addressed by defence ministry officials which sent negative signals to the committee’s members who observed that they were not being taken seriously by the top military command. Committee members also criticised the defence ministry for its ‘lethargic’ and ‘non-serious’ attitude to the audit objections which were piling up.

Chairman of the committee Ch Nisar Ali Khan said that the army was being brought into disrepute by some individuals for their personal interests as a result of which the whole institution was paying its price.
Nisar also questioned the joint partnership between Bahria Town and Defence Housing Authority.

The environment, in which the committee’s meeting was held, was so tense that at one stage, PAC member Zafar Padhiar threatened to quit the committee saying he was advised by one of his colleagues to write his “will for asking too many questions from military officers.”

PAC has also sought a report on the non-compliance of its directives by the ministry of defence.

Source: Express Tribune

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