The retired government employees are forced to pay huge commissions for payment of their retirement benefits
Various media reports and public complaints suggest that corruption in pension funds at District Treasury Offices in Sindh is a widespread problem.
In fact, these offices have surfaced as the big dens of corruption where the officers and staff are forcing the retired government employees to pay huge commissions for payment of their retirement benefits like leave encashment, general provident fund, gratuity and release of the monthly pension.
It has also been reported that the officials in these treasury offices embezzle pension funds by creating fake pensioners or by manipulating the records to show that certain individuals are eligible for pensions when they are not.
The corruption in pension funds has resulted in many retired government employees not receiving their pensions on time, or not receiving them at all. This has caused financial difficulties for these individuals and their families, who rely on these pensions for their livelihood.
The government of Sindh has been announcing having taken some steps to address this issue, such as introducing biometric verification for pensioners and increasing the punishment for those found guilty of corruption, but with no results, as thousands of retired employees are wandering since long for receiving the retirement benefits. The Sindh government must take concrete steps to eradicate corruption in pension funds and ensure that retired government employees receive their pensions on time and without any obstacles.
It may be recalled that the Caretaker government of Sindh, soon after its installation, had admitted in an official statement that some 22000 retired employees were awaiting the payment of their dues, and had issued directives to the treasury offices to expedite the cases. The caretakers had also announced the schedule for holding public hearings at the district treasury offices across the province to curb the corruption and mitigate the grievances of retired employees but on ground no such public hearing was held anywhere, and the corruption continues as the retired employees could be seen visiting the treasury offices on daily basis.
Very recently, Caretaker Chief Minister had issued directives to the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team during a meeting to undertake inspection of the treasury offices in Hyderabad and other districts but the inspection team is yet to start its function.
“The retirement benefits are released only after forced payment of huge commission which ranges between 20 to 30 percent of the total amount,” a retired employee in Hyderabad, on condition of anonymity told Sindh Courier. He feared more issues if his name was revealed.
The employee, who had retired in September 2022, said, “My case of gratuity is pending for a year and the agents of District Accounts Officer, Accountant and the Auditor are demanding 30 percent commission.”
Some other retired employees were of the view that the corruption in the treasury offices is rampant under the patronage of high-ups of finance and audit departments, who receive their share from the extortion money. “It’s a chain and that’s why no action is taken against these culprits on the complaints of retired employees,” they commented.
According to the retired employees, whenever they approach the treasury offices, they are told that the government has not yet released the funds. “The retirement benefits are given only after a deal,” they blamed.
Similar reports are being received from Naushehro Feroze and other districts of Sindh. The print, electronic and social media has been constantly highlighting this serious issue but no action has so far been taken.
On April 6, 2023, the media had reported that the corruption of more than 400 million rupees was revealed in the treasury offices of 10 districts of Sindh. This corruption was done in the pension of retired government employees. No stern action was taken except suspending 14 treasury officers by the Secretary Finance.
According to the finance department, 14 treasury officers of districts Sanghar, Dadu, Badin, Hyderabad, Thatta, Umarkot, Ghotki, Tando Allahyar, Qamber Shahdadkot and Naushehro Feroze were suspended for corruption in the pension of retired employees.
Another recent report says that over the past three years, multiple corruption cases within the district treasury offices of the province have come to light. Report says that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has launched investigation into four officers of District Treasury Offices of Sindh. The officers under investigation are Zameer Hussain Khokhar (District Accounts Officer), Syed Imam Bakhsh Shah (Sub-Accountant), Ghulam Shabir Depar (Treasury Officer), and Raza Muhammad Abbasi, also known as Makhdoom Kaleem (senior computer operator).
Last year, the media had reported that the officers of the district treasury offices, including district Hyderabad and Dadu, were also reportedly involved in the distribution of billions of rupees through fake payments of pension benefits. Most of the fake payments were made during the period from 2007 to 2021. According to official sources, the issue came in the limelight when the provincial Anti-Corruption Department and federal government’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) got a hint of the anomalies and started an investigation into the matter. The NAB had also traced several fake bank accounts in 2021 that were used for the purpose of transferring pension funds through fake commutation bills.
Following this development, the matter was discussed between high officials of Accountant General Sindh (AG Sindh) and Accountant General Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) at the start of this year. There were also follow up meetings with officers of the Sindh Finance Department (SFD) on the issue. Finally, it was decided to conduct a forensic audit of pension benefits of at least 15 years, from 2007 to 2021, through an independent private firm.
However, the finance department later appeared to roll back on the unanimous decision, opposing the likelihood of the independent forensic audit, which was formally articulated in a meeting held on April 19, 2022. It was decided at the meeting that AG Sindh will be contacted and requested to arrange forensic audit by officers of the AGPR, instead of an independent, private firm.
It was nothing but an act of dodging accountability, as the Sindh government had opposed the idea of independent forensic audits on hundreds of millions of rupees distributed on account of pension benefits in the province.
According to an earlier media report of 2021, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) traced nine fake bank accounts used for embezzlement of pension funds by officials the Sindh finance department.
Besides detecting the fake bank accounts, the MAB also traced the system for embezzlement of government funds worth billions through ‘fake pension (commutation) bills’.
Report said that Rs.140 million had been deposited in the nine bank accounts from 2012 to 2017. The money was then transferred to the accounts of Naveed Bajari, the former additional district account officer of District Accounts Office – Hyderabad, and his family.
It emerged that Rs.30 million had been transferred to Dubai from the fake bank accounts. Following the revelations, NAB had issued call-up notice to Naveed Bajari to question him, however, he did not appear before the investigators. Naveed Bajari was an employee of Sindh Forest Department and relative of the prime suspect Salim Bajari in the pension corruption case.
Moreover, the probe team had also summoned other accused, Ashraf Ali Janwri and Altaf Mangi. Ashraf Ali Janwri had recorded his statement, whereas, DAO Aslam Abro provided pension records sought by the investigators.
The bureau had earlier sought records from the provincial forest department regarding the suspects in the case. A combined investigation team continued its probe into the pension scandal.
Massive corruption in pension funds
Same media report revealed that a high-level probe had exposed massive corruption worth over Rs2.031 trillion in Sindh Finance Department by defalcation of government employees’ pensions by the provincial treasurer office.
The massive corruption worth over Rs2.031 trillion was made in term of pensions of government employees as the money was transferred to the bank accounts of the residents of Dadu and Johi town of Sindh from the treasurer office.
The money was primarily transferred to the bank accounts of different persons belonging to ‘Dawach family’ during 2012 and 2017; as well as in some fake accounts and the bank accounts of a front man of a prominent personality.
After getting the evidence, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had issued notices to 54 accused including members of Dawach family. Some 30 accused had recorded their statements and submitted affidavits in the corruption case.
The huge amount of money had been released from the provincial finance department’s system with the help of a district accounts officer, said the report.
Same year, another media report said that a high-level investigation has exposed the corruption of Rs.10 billion in the District Accounts Office (DAO) in Hyderabad, Sindh.
Following the inquiry, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Karachi chapter sought a five-year record of its pension payments.
In August 2020, the Sindh Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) had launched an inquiry into an alleged large-scale corruption case involving the DAO, Hyderabad. The initial investigation had led the ACE to discover the corruption of Rs.2 billion in the treasury department.
The money had been withdrawn using fake IDs over four years. Additionally, pensions had been released to unauthorized individuals under the names of employees in 15 departments including agriculture, education, finance, health, and police.
Following the revelations, the NAB also investigated the case and uncovered more corruption in the DAO.
According to officials from the NAB, thousands of private individuals had been registered as retired government employees for whom other bills including pensions were being paid through the DAO. Consequently, the money in question had been released under the names of hundreds of members of the Sheikh, Dharejo, Unar, and Syed families.