Scrutiny of NGO finances on the cards

ISLAMABAD, Dec 12: The Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly sought on Tuesday a detailed government response on foreign-funded development projects, with focus on billions of dollars from the Kerry-Lugar fund. Members of the committee also expressed their reservations over spending of public money by non-governmental organisations without any effective government control. They were of the view that not only should the government put in place proactive monitoring procedures to check how NGOs were working in the country, but also scrutinise their sources of funds whether they come from government or from international donors. The PAC, which met here at the parliament house, decided to have a briefing next week from the economic affairs division, the finance ministry and the Planning Commission, exclusively on the working of NGOs involved in carrying out projects supported by foreign donors. Two members of the committee were particularly concerned at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which they said was entirely working on its own with absolutely no oversight by any government department concerned. Attiya Inayatullah of the PML-Q, who has recently joined the PAC, said all development projects funded through the Kerry-Lugar bill were being implemented by USAID. “The money we receive under the Kerry-Lugar bill is funnelled through the State Bank of Pakistan, and then EAD releases funds to USAID. But surprisingly the government of Pakistan has absolutely no control over the projects funded through this money,” said Ms Inayatullah. She said it was high time for the government to put this sector under effective government control. Noor Alam of the PPP said on papers the USAID was undertaking countless projects for the benefit of the masses, but on the ground “we don’t see anything in concrete terms”. He wondered if the government had any control over NGOs or the federal audit conducted their regular audit. The PAC chairman, Nadeem Afzal Gondal, said if funds were provided by the government to these agencies, who had stopped the federal auditors from conducting their regular audit. How would the government know whether funds provided in its name were being spent on the ground, questioned the PAC chairman. It’s a very serious issue, which the committee should probe, he added. Riaz Fatyana of PML-Q criticised the Khushhali Bank and Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), which were funded both by the government and foreign donors, for granting loans on high interest rates. Theoretically, they (Khushhali Bank and PPAF) are meant to help the poorest, but in reality they earn money which makes no sense, said Mr Fatyana. Deputy Auditor General of Pakistan Tahir Saeed, while accepting the missing link between the government and private sector involved in development projects financed through foreign funds, said the EAD only managed accounts; which NGO got how much money and that’s it. A representative of the finance division also accepted the anomaly, saying it needed review. In response to a query, Mr Saeed informed the committee the EAD only worked as a post office for the transfer of funds and it had nothing to do with the implementation projects. He said according to the EAD, the responsibility of monitoring lay on the finance ministry as administrative ministry, which also has no clue. About the role of the federal audit where government funds were provided to private sector for development projects, Mr Saeed said: “In routine we don’t conduct their audit, because of our preoccupation with government departments.” But, if some foreign agency requests for the audit, which happens rarely, the auditor general office could do that, he said. The committee also asked the Federal Board of Revenue for a briefing next week over the practice of issuing SROs, which the board claims it has powers to issue at its free will.–Dawn]]>

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