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ISLAMABAD: Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has unearthed mega irregularities amounting to Rs4.8 billion in the funds of Higher Education Commission (HEC) including foul play related to employees, procurements, recoveries, internal controls and others areas.

In the report of audit year 2010-21 that covers financial year 2019-20, the AGP has raised observations of Rs306.39 million of employees related irregularities in HEC, Rs485.25 million related to internal controls, Rs978.84 million under the head of "value for money and service delivery", Rs205.29 million procurement related irregularities, Rs1.03 billion related to recoveries and Rs1.81 billion irregularities under the head of "others."

According to the report, the HEC showed only 38 percent compliance with the directives of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in financial year 2017-18, out of total 83 audit paras there were 13 actionable points, out of which HEC showed compliance on five points and nil or partial compliance on remaining eight points.

The AGP report states that the management of HEC incurred heavy expenditure of Rs4.06 billion on Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN) related activities during financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The AGP made "various written and verbal requests" to HEC management to provide record of activities performed and expenditure incurred under PERN. The audit observed that no record was provided by the management to the AGP for scrutiny. The audit recommended that responsibility be fixed for causing hindrance in audit.

The AGP report further revealed that the management of HRDI-UESTP under HEC's command incurred an expenditure of Rs1.40 billion on account of expenses of scholars of MS and MS leading to PhD programmes despite cabinet's decision that no further students should be sent abroad under HRD project.

The AGP recommended that the matter be investigated to fix responsibility.

The audit report revealed that HEC collected Rs1.031 billion on account of attestation and verification of degrees and related services during financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20. Audit observed that there was no provision of collection of receipts/income in HEC Ordinance 2002.

Audit is of the view that non-deposit of receipts into government treasury is a violation of HEC Ordinance 2002 and Federal Treasury Rules. The AGP has recommended that the said amount be deposited into government treasury.

The AGP observed that an amount of Rs212.67 million was recoverable from those students who went on HEC foreign scholarships. The audit recommends inquiry to fix responsibility besides recovery of this amount.

In addition, the AGP report states that HEC incurred an expenditure of Rs104.30 million on account of scholarships to 234 Afghan students in line with "Award of 3000 Scholarships to Students from Afghanistan under Prime Minister's Directive" initiative. Audit observed that these students dropped out of the universities at various stages which caused a loss of Rs104.30 million to the national exchequer.

"Lessons were not learnt from the cases of the students dropped out previously and no steps were taken to improve the selection and placement process of the students," the AGP noted. It further observed that an amount of Rs6.42 million was recoverable from COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) Islamabad on account of dropout Afghan students.

The AGP also unearthed that the management of HEC incurred an expenditure of Rs36.10 million on account of remuneration of consultants during financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20. Audit is of the view that consultants were appointed for routine assignments without any need assessment and specified job description. They were given extensions without any performance evaluation.

Audit is of the view that that appointment of retired government employees as consultants only to reemploy them without any need assessment was irregular. The AGP recommends inquiry to fix responsibility besides taking corrective action.

Furthermore, the AGP report reveals that HEC management appointed 39 officers/officials in various councils under the administrative control of HEC. The AGP revealed that these posts were filled without advertisement and approved rules and regulations. The salaries and allowances fixed against these positions were also not approved by the competent authority. The audit is of the view that the appointments of employees in councils without open competition and approved service rules from the government were irregular. The AGP recommended that the matter be probed to fix responsibility.

The AGP report further unearthed that National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad, during financial year 2019-20, appointed/promoted eight members of academic staff in violation of required criteria for these appointments/promotions. Those appointed/promoted in violation of the criteria were; Dr Naveed Akhtar (Dean), Dr Arshad Mahmood (Dean), Dr Rizwana Abbasi (Associate Professor), Nazir Ahmad (Director Student Affairs) Lieutenant Colonel Waheed Mukhtar (Assistant Director Regional Services), Dr Arshad Mehmood (Assistant Professor), Jamshed Issa (Assistant Director Sports) and Zaheer Uddin Babar (Lecturer.) The Audit observed that these appointments were made without keeping in view the relevant lengths of experiences laid down in NUML's Statute and were, therefore, irregular.

In its reply to audit, NUML management took the stance that the appointments were on merit as per HEC criteria. The AGP rejected this reply on the grounds that the appointments were against the relevant provisions of NUML Statue. The audit recommends inquiry and fixing of the responsibility.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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