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Billion Tree Tsunami: Audit finds Rs247.6m financial irregularities in Forest Dept

PESHAWAR: An audit report has exposed Rs247.6 million financial irregularities in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Department of Forestry, Environment and Wildlife during financial year 2014-15.

The Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) report says that inefficiency and dereliction of duties on the part of the officers and staff of the department caused huge losses to national exchequer. The report says that cash payments to labourers were declared illegal under the Billion Tree Tsunami Project. Saplings were purchased on higher price than those fixed in PC-I.

In some cases, payments were paid even in the absence of setting up of nurseries. Ten times higher prices were paid for look after of the nurseries. Department records were tampered with after alleged theft of costly timber worth millions of rupees.

Audit para 4.5 of the report showed that financial bungling worth Rs17.47 million was detected in Chitral. Despite the court verdicts, the illegally occupied forest lands were not retrieved, and even fine amounts were not recovered from the occupants, causing Rs16 million damages to the national wealth.

Sub para 2 says that Rs4.1m irregularities were committed in payments to daily wagers in a mega project. Divisional Forest Officer Mardan was released Rs4.36 million rupees for payment to daily wagers under a mega project. However, audit of the records showed that Rs4.1m were paid to employees in violation of the rules.

Under the Billion Tree Tsunami project, a local office was issued Rs43.55 million. The audit showed that Rs21.22 million out of the amount were paid to daily wagers, and remaining Rs22.33 million were spent on establishment of youth nurseries locally. The audit report objects to payment of such a big amount to daily wagers, declaring it against the rules.

Sub para 3 of the audit report also detects financial irregularity of Rs1.2 million in auction of timber.

During financial year 2014-15, Divisional Forest Officer Mardan was issued 132 permits for auction and transportation of timber. The process fetched Rs5.99 million, but the officer deposited only Rs4.79 million in the exchequer but didn’t mention where the remaining amount of Rs1.2 million were spent.

Sub para 4 says that Rs65.01m financial irregularities were found under the royalty payment head in the Forest Development Corporation (FDC) accounts. During financial year 2013-14, Forest Development commissioner Kalam transported 89132 square feet timber from different forests to the market. The timber consisted of five “lot”. Without fixing the per foot price of the precious timber, Rs19.67 million were paid to the FDC as price of three “lot”, and the price of remaining two “lots” was never paid to the corporation. Record shows that the FDC was paid a lower price of the timber. At that time, per foot price of timber was Rs950. According to this rate, the FDC should have been paid Rs84.67 million, but it was paid Rs65.01 million less amount. The audit authorities have recommended to the FDC to recover the remaining amount.

Sub para 5 also showed timber was auctioned at less price, causing Rs18.27 million loss to the department. During financial year 2014-15, sheesham timber was auctioned at less price than the approved rates at Forest Department’s Mardan office. On January 24, 2014, the Forest and Environment Department issued a notification fixing the sheesham price at Rs1,800 per square foot. However, the Mardan office sold out it at less price, causing Rs18.27 million to national exchequer.

Sub para 6 stated that auction of timer at less price in Mardan office inflicted a loss of Rs16.76 million on the exchequer. During financial year 2014-15, the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), acting on the application of one Muhammad Rasool, conducted a raid on the Mardan office of Forest Department and inspected the auction record. Later on, the Audit authorities detected financial irregularities worth Rs16.76 million in sale of timber on lower prices.

Sub para 7 says that timber was sold out at less rates at Forest Department Mansehra office, causing Rs5.13 million to kitty.

Sub para 8 showed that financial irregularities worth Rs3.42 million were committed due to non-recovery of duty in financial year 2013-14.

Sub para 9 said that Rs3.06 million loss was caused to kitty by paying higher rent amounts for rented buildings.

Under Sub para 10, fine amounts were not recovered in Mansehra, thus causing Rs2.68 million to national exchequer.

According to sub-para 11, an embezzlement of Rs2.47 million was detected in the setting up of nurseries. During the financial year 2014-2015, the office of DFO Sirn, Mansehra struck a deal with the owners of land for launching youth nurseries under the Billion Tree Tsunami Project. In April 2015, Rs25,000 per nursery were paid initially to the owners of the properties. The total amount came out to be Rs2.47 million. However, the next payment could not be made till December 2015, while the owners failed to prepare the land for the tree plantation. The amount thus went to waste.

According to sub-para 12, the national kitty suffered a loss of Rs2.16 million due to non-establishment of youth nurseries in Mardan.

During the financial year 2014-15, the first installment was paid to the owners of 128 private nurseries by the Divisional Forest Officer, Mardan. The second installment was made conditional to the condition of the plants. The Forest Officer, however, paid to the owners of 86 out of 128 nurseries without making any re-assessment. The remaining 42 owners of land failed to set up nurseries.

Eight persons who got money in the second installment were not present in the list of owners paid in the first installment.

According to the Sub para 131, the treasury faced a loss of Rs5.32 million due to over payments by the divisional forest officer, Mardan, to daily-wagers. Under the Billion Tree Tsunami Project, the forest officer paid Rs400 instead of Rs300 to each daily-wager.

According to the Sub para 14, the treasury suffered a loss of Rs18.87 million due to the non-recovery of fine imposed by the district forest officer, Kohistan, in 2 FDC “Lot”, Shringal. The fine had been imposed in the fiscal year 2014-15.

According to the Sub para 15, due to non-recovery of FDC fine, imposed by the Forest Department’s Kalam office, a loss of Rs3.96 million was suffered by the department. In the fiscal year 2013-14, timber was sent to market after auction and 40 per cent of the amount was to be submitted to the treasury. It amounted to Rs3.96 million; however, the office concerned did not recover the amount.

According to the Sub para 16, during the fiscal year 2014-15, the DFO Swat, caused a loss of Rs12.44 million to the treasury by over-expenditures. The DFO paid an additional amount of Rs1.51 million to the field staff.

According to the Sub para 18, in the fiscal year 2013-14, the Kunhar Water Division of the Forest Department, Mansehra, spent an additional amount of Rs1.08 million on renovation of nurseries, whereas only Rs100,000 had been allocated for the purpose.

According to the Sub para 19, the Forest Department’s Saran Mansehra officer leased costly wood and other items and caused a loss of Rs3.56 million to the treasury. According to the report, several cases were submitted to the Saran office, which were sent to court. Despite the cases being heard by the court, costly wood and other items worth Rs3.56 million were given on lease that caused a loss to the treasury. There is no mention of items given on lease in the official record.

According to Sub para 20, corruption worth Rs1.92 million was noticed in the recovery of fine imposed by the Forest Department’s Saran Mansehra office. In the fiscal 2014-15, the office concerned recovered Rs4.09 million in different cases, but Rs2.18 million were deposited in the treasury.

According to the Sub para 22, no private nursery could be established despite spending Rs4.91 million by the DFO, Swat. According to Chapter 5 of the audit report, the Forest and Environment Department got surplus funds without informing the quarters concerned in the fiscal year 2015-16. According to the law, it is a must to inform the government till June 30 in connection with surplus budget so that the government could adjust this amount in the new budget or make any decision in view of the circumstances. However, the Forest and Environment Department, despite getting a surplus budget of Rs203.984 million in the fiscal year 2015-16, did not inform the government and the audit report objected to it.

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