As much else around these parts, the politico-bureaucratic nexus after successfully hushing up financial irregularities and alleged misappropriations running into millions of rupees in the Punjab Sports Festival by Sports Board Punjab, are now all set to devour billions more off the public exchequer through the upcoming Punjab Youth Festival.
Pakistan Today has learnt through unimpeachable sources that serious breaches of financial discipline and misappropriation of funds has been observed in the organization of the recently-held Punjab Sports Festival, with DG Sports Usman Anwer emerging as the principal character, who is at the very least accused of being economical with the truth in official correspondence with regards to transactions. Interestingly despite an initial uproar created by the provincial Finance Department high-ups over such gross financial misconduct, Anwer managed to suppress it in all the concerned departments – the Sports, the Finance and the Chief Minister’s Secretariat.
This raises questions on the probity of higher echelons of provincial bureaucracy. But with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) heir-apparent MNA Hamza Shahbaz Sharif the driving force as the chairman of this entire youth programme and Deputy Speaker Rana Mashud its chief of organizing committee, expecting the Punjab bureaucracy to stand up to it was expecting a little too much.
An official manning a high position on condition of anonymity confided with this scribe that when DG Sports Usman Anwer asked the Finance Department (FD) to transfer funds from the Special Drawing Account (SDA) – under the FD’s watch – to its commercial account on the plea that the cheques to the tune of Rs70 million given to vendors and artistes had bounced. The deception came to light upon probe, as the FD found that Anwer transferred the leftover money from previous years in the SDA to the commercial account, and all issued cheques had been honoured. A copy of the probe is available with Pakistan Today.
This made the finance secretary see red, and he recommended “item-wise scrutiny” and “reprimand”, which the chief minister duly approved.
The then sports department secretary Dr Allah Baksh Malik proposed to the CM Secretariat that the S&GAD should issue ‘reprimand’, and a ‘special audit’ be initiated, expressing grave reservations over the affairs of the Sports Festival.
The CM Secretariat did not consent to the special audit, finding ‘reprimand’ enough, to which Dr Malik remarked: “either approve both or leave it”, because one is not possible without the other.
The entire communication took place through the FD and the file was still there when an ‘unseen hand’ got Dr Malik replaced with Haroon Ahmad as new Sports Secretary, who is said to have procured the file from the FD, sanitized it and closed the issue. Curiously the FD also allowed transferring Rs52 million in addition to Rs75 million to the commercial account, probably at the behest of the same ‘unseen’ hand. Why? This is how a senior official explains: from the SDA, the DG is the drawing authority and thus directly responsible, while the commercial account is operated by the deputy director, who will cop it if the scam is caught.
It hasn’t stopped here: allegations galore over the Sports Festival’s operations. Another document available with Pakistan Today reveals irregularities in the tendering process, and how hefty amounts were spent on minor things without any oversight. To cite a few cases: Blue Moon productions were dished out Rs8 million for lighting, and exorbitant sums spent on purchase of caps and uniforms. These details were among others brought to the knowledge of chairman PSB, secretary sports, the auditor general and the accountant general but there was no response. Sources further allege that out of around 15 sports selected for the Festival including athletics, badminton, hockey, cycling, cricket, football, wrestling, kabbadi, table tennis and the marathon only a few were actually organized at the union council and tehsil levels while charge was footed for the entire list.
And now billions of rupees earmarked for it, the same set of organizers is all set to reenact an even grander rip-off in the Punjab Youth Festival. A senior official seeking anonymity divulged that the DG Sports wanted 10 percent of the districts’ budget (a whopping Rs19 billion) to be dedicated to the Festival, with the FD again not willing to grant more than one percent. But since the DG PSB has backers in high places, the Local Government Department has ordered the districts to allocate four percent of the budget – around Rs8 billion – to the Festival. This huge diversion from a cash-starved department that spends from a total outlay of Rs186 billion around Rs170billion on salaries alone. Imagine he impact off the meager Rs16 billion, half ripped off in the name of the youth to at the cost of public facilities!
As if that was not enough, the DG Sports is said to have met with the IG Police, at one of the many CM Houses, asking with him to divert the Police Sports’ funds to the Youth Festival. Finance Secretary Tariq Bajwa says: “The finance rules cannot be compromised. “If someone needs relaxation in rules, it should be sought before spending the money, not after it. The FD has made it clear to the Sports Department.” Sources however reiterate that the funds are in the commercial account, though no fresh releases for the Youth Festival have been made so far.
DG Sports Usman Anwer when contacted threatened the scribe with “dire consequences”, adding, “I am not commenting on this issue; we will only do so if you publish the story.” Sports Secretary Haroon Ahmad first hung up without commenting, but later conceded that the finance secretary had “noted some reservations on the file and wanted the queries answered. It was a close official meeting; we will submit our replies soon,” he said, quickly jumping to DG Sports’ defence, “If there was something fishy in the conduct of the festival, he would not have retained his post.”