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Information Ministry doled out Rs570m from secret fund

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting distributed about Rs570 million from its notorious “secret fund” in 2007-08, the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly was informed on Thursday.

Information Ministry doled out Rs570m from secret fundHowever, despite persistent questioning by members of the committee, Information Secretary Mansoor Sohail refused to share details of how and for what purpose the money had been used.

All he said was that the practice had been there for four decades and every government had made use of the fund.

“During 2007-08, my ministry spent Rs570 million under the head of secret fund, which under the law is not auditable. Hence, I cannot respond to the queries of the honourable members,” Mr Sohail said in reply to a question asked by Pervez Malik of the PML-N.

However, Auditor General Tanvir Ali Agha said that only the president had the authority to declare any fund secret. “As far as my office’s information is concerned, the information ministry has not provided us any such certification from the presidency, therefore, these funds are auditable,” he said.

But the information secretary said no previous government had revealed details of the fund.

“Under the existing practice, the secretary of the information ministry sends a one-line response asserting that it’s a secret fund when the audit department inquires about its details as part of the annual audit of the ministry,” he said.The auditor general informed the PAC that other departments had also started maintaining secret funds to hide their expenditures from audit.

But, he said, his office had started working on a special audit of all the secret funds of federal government departments.

“Does the ministry of information and broadcasting run some secret agency or some covert operations? This is beyond my comprehension,” Afzal Chan of the PPP said.

Riaz Pirzada of the PML-Q said the ministry used the fund to buy the conscience of people who it believed could create problems for the government. “I think the time has come to put an end to these malpractices of the past and make public the record of every penny spent out of public funds,” the lawmaker said.

He also questioned the role of the ministry, saying it spent a massive amount every year on the “image building” of the government of the day, but to no avail. This money should go towards welfare of the people, he said.

The members were also surprised to hear that the ministry provided special financial help to two think-tanks based in the federal capital — the Institute of Regional Studies and the Institute of Strategic Studies.

The secretary said the think-tanks worked on issues relating to Pakistan and its

relations with neighbouring countries and provided input on policy issues.

However, he did not some up with a convincing response when the PAC members asked about the relationship between his ministry and the institutes.

The auditor general also expressed surprise over this expenditure.

OFFICIAL EXPELLED: PAC’s Chairman Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan expelled Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation’s Director General Murtaza Solangi from the meeting because he was holding the charge without any written orders. His contract had ended on June 15.

When asked, he informed the committee he was continuing to serve on the directives of the information secretary who was sitting next to him.

Mr Sohail initially said he had received an order in this regard from the competent authority — the prime minister. When pressed to present any written evidence, the secretary retracted his statement and attributed the order for Mr Solangi’s continuation on the job to Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. When asked again to present a documentary evidence, he said it was a verbal order.

“You are a stranger here, please leave the room,” the chairman said to Mr Solangi.

He also asked all federal secretaries to stop releasing salaries and other perks of any official serving on verbal orders.

The committee was informed that several officials held government positions on verbal orders.

The auditor general said that under government rules no one could hold a government office merely on the basis of verbal orders.

CONTRACT EXTENDED: According to a handout issued by the Press Information Department on Thursday night, “The establishment division has issued a notification under which the contract appointment of Ghulam Murtaza Solangi has been extended for one year, with effect from June 16, 2010, ‘and till further orders’”.

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