ISLAMABAD: Federal auditors have pointed out a number of serious natures of financial and administrative irregularities in the books of the Pakistan High Commission in London, and its three consulates elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
If the audit and inspection reports of the accounts of the high commission and the three consulates, in Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester, for the year 2012-13 are anything to go by, the country’s mission in the UK has not been in able hands.
According to the report, ready to be laid before the National Assembly and taken up by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the national exchequer was deprived of valuable foreign exchange and Pakistani expatriates settled in the UK were inconvenienced by the irregularities.
The unauthorised expenditure of hundreds of thousands of British pounds, the disappearance of visa stickers and passports and the renting out of buildings without mandatory permission and a requirement, have been pointed out as major discrepancies by federal auditors in their report.
In one incident, auditors reported that 21 visa stickers — Serial Nos VG811680 to VG811700 — were found to be missing from the official record. “Misplacement of visa stickers is a very serious lapse. [The] consulate of Birmingham should immediately inform the Directorate General Immigration and Passports, Islamabad, for their cancellation before they fall into the hands of anti-state elements,” the report notes.
Audit report, to be tabled before parliament and PAC, recommends fixing blame and recovering funds from those found to be at fault
Besides recommending a top-level investigation to fix responsibility against the officials involved in the misplacing of stickers, federal auditors have also asked the director general of Immigration and Passports “for issuance of cancellation circular of visa sticker Nos VG811680 to 811700”.
In response to these observations, a spokesperson for the high commission told Dawn that the issue of visa stickers was duly looked into and a report on the matter had already been submitted to the Foreign Ministry. However, the spokesperson refused to comment on the findings of the report.
The audit report also revealed that there were serious anomalies in the revenue figures against passports registered at the Birmingham consulate over the issuance of visas, to the tune of 131,239 British pounds. Under the current exchange rate of one British pound to Rs153.9, this amounts to a loss of over Rs20 million.
“It was observed that consular receipt on account of passports, visas and endorsement have not been properly accounted for by the mission. There is difference of 131,239 British pounds in the actual receipt as per passport register and amount shown in the cash book,” the report says.
However, the spokesperson contended that the matter was a simple “accounting mistake” which had been duly rectified.
The report also carried an audit para that pointed out “wasteful, avoidable and unnecessary expenditure on the account of hired accommodation for the then-high commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hassan, amounting to £132,567.”
According to the report, Mr Hassan initiated the renovation of the high commissioner’s eight-bedroom official residence at 93, Winnington Road. Responding to the request, the officer concerned at the Foreign Office said, “Renovation work has to be completed within six months of the hiring of a temporary residence. Therefore, the hiring of the temporary residence and the renovation work of the embassy residence should coincide.”
However, the commissioner shifted to the rented accommodations almost seven months before the commencement of renovation work at a cost of 4,100 British pounds per week. “The financial impact of this decision … is around 114,800 British pounds,” the report says.
The report notes that the high commissioner shifted to his rented accommodations before the tender for renovation was published. The auditors have suggested that a high-powered inquiry be conducted to fix responsibility and ascertain whether it was a financially prudent decision to shift residence prematurely and whether precious foreign exchange that was wasted as a result may be recovered from the person(s) at fault.
When asked for response, the spokesperson said that the Foreign Ministry had granted permission for the high commissioner’s extended stay in the rented building. However, according to a federal auditor, it was up to the PAC to decide whether the expenditure was permitted or not.
Auditors have also termed irregular an expense of 57,138.75 British pounds, in lieu of hiring vehicles for former president Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to London.
“Audit is of the view that visit of prime minister and president to London is a recurring phenomenon and hence should not be treated as emergent incident; in this regard high commission should have, as per Pakistan Procurement Regulator Authority Rule 8, floated tenders to obtain competitive rates for hiring of vehicles, rather than doing it on piecemeal basis, and lowest competitive bidders should be on their panel so that in future they can contact them to obtain quick and spot quotations,” the report said.
Federal auditors suggested that the Pakistan High Commission in London should issue tenders to seek competitive rates for vehicle rentals so that future visits by the president, prime minister and other dignitaries can be done based on competitive rates.
The “wastage” of 27,600 pounds has also been reported from the Manchester consulate, which supposedly hired “an unnecessary building”.
In the Bradford consulate, federal auditors have reported a loss of 460,800 pounds by paying commission to a courier company against the rules. “During the course of audit it was observed that Bradford consulate had processed and issued 12,800 visas in 2012-13; however audit was perplexed to observe that the consulate gave 36 pounds per visa to a courier company without approval.”
The audit wasn’t provided any plausible justification for the payment of commission at the cost of oversees Pakistanis. A loss of 334,692 pounds and 456,732 pounds was also reported from consulates in Manchester and Birmingham respectively on the same account of commission to the courier company. However, the spokesperson insisted that the passport handling by a courier company was endorsed following PPRA rules, including the stipulation for competitive tendering.