Despite Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s orders to conduct a third party audit in development projects to ensure transparency, Punjab Excise and Taxation (E&T) Department Secretary Shamail Ahmed Khawaja is evading an external audit, sources told Pakistan Today on Saturday.
A senior official in the E&T said that the secretary was bent on evading a third party audit in various heavy-budget projects to hush up billion of rupees’ monetary irregularities.
He said that the secretary was well connected and felt no threat in mocking the standard operative procedures (SOPs) of the Punjab government’s financial policy as envisaged by Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif.
He said, in a meeting held to review the Annual Development Programme at Chief Minister’s Secretariat, it was decided that a third party audit system would be implemented with regard to all development projects to ensuring utilisation of development funds in a transparent manner. However, “Shamail Khawaja is still unmoved,” he added.
The Punjab E&T had initiated various development projects including the Motor Transport Management Information System (MTMIS) costing around Rs 1 billion. It also signed an agreement with Speedex, a courier company, costing Rs 550 million to deliver vehicle number plates on people’s doorsteps.
Recently, the department established its major branch in Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Lahore to optimise the performance and paid a rent of Rs 10 million for three years in advance.
Sources revealed that all the projects still awaited a third party audit.
Sources said that former E&T Director General Khawaja Dawood sought the requisite record by issuing an official letter No INT-Audit/2009-10/RFA/A?E/10929 from January 1, 2009 to June 6, 2010, noticing financial scams in various projects. But, he was replaced immediately, they added.
According to the official data, the MTIMIS project was launched for integrated computerisation of motor vehicle registrations, motor vehicle examination, issuance of uniform and licensed number plates, issuance of route permits and fitness certificates, issuance of driving licenses, enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, automation of motor vehicle records and automation of criminal records.
The phase-I of the project was started for district Lahore with the original cost of Rs 106.717 million in September 2003 with a gestation period of 18 months, which was revised with the cost exhaustion of Rs 274.146 million and a gestation period of 35 months.
To fulfill the project requirements, it was revised again with the cost of Rs 299.922 million and a gestation period of 50 months. It was revised once again with a gestation period of 65 months, ending on December 31, 2008. The project stakeholders were the E&T Department, Transport Department, Driving Licensing Authority, Environment Protection Department and the Criminal Record Office.
After this, Phase-II of the project was extended to all 36 districts. The project cost Rs 438.915 million and ended on August 30, 2010. Later, the revised cost stood at Rs 560. 5 million and its period was extended to end in September 2011. As part of the project, the Central Facility (CF) MTMIS was set up which served as the central hub of information providing state of the art facilities for embossing and hot-stamping of retro-reflective registration plates. The CFMTMIS was connected with all the district’s excise offices of the Punjab, through VPN connectivity.
Under the project various items were shown in documents as purchased such as 40 surveillance systems costing Rs 20.2 million, 17 project vehicles costing Rs 30.8 million, specialised equipment Rs 10.5 million, variable recurring expenditure Rs 160.8 million, man-power costing Rs 10.7 million, generators of 6 kv, 20. kv, 100kv, 25 kv , eight colour televisions, high-speed scanners, photo copier, two handy cam, two digital cameras, six electric water coolers, six water dispensers and 51 heavy and medium duty printers.
However, except for the purchase of a few items, most money was embezzled, he added.
He said that the secretary inked an agreement to his favoured companies—MMM and Netsol – to develop the software of MTMIS. He also awarded the contract to Speedex, Courier Company to deliver the number plates. “So far around 10,000 number plates have gone missing,” he said.
Meanwhile, the MMM and Netsol sold similar software to 36 district offices of the E&T department, Punjab and charged each of them separately. After the issue came to the limelight, the companies returned the money. But no legal action was taken, neither were the companies blacklisted for dodging the government. The responsibility for this scam lies on Shamail, he added. He also set up DHA Office Lahore and paid Rs 10 million in rent but the office was still unequipped and devoid of all basic facilities.
On being asked, Punjab E&T Department Deputy Secretary (Technical) Imran Aslam said the internal audit of the MTMIS and other projects and agreements had been carried out as per rules but a third party audit could not be conducted. He said that instead of the E&T department, MTMIS belonged to the IT department and the latter should have conducted such an audit.
The E&T Additional Secretary Masoodul Haq said that the internal audit of all projects including the MTMIS till 2008 had been conducted under the parameters laid down by the Punjab P&D Department. The current audit would be carried out after the completion of this year, he added. Punjab E&T Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehamn was not available for comment.