Sindh govt and Hesco fight over unpaid bills

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The Sindh government and the Hyderabad electric company are at daggers, drawn over unpaid dues.

The government says it owes the company just Rs2 billion but the Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (Hesco) says the bill is closer to Rs30 billion.

The conflict came up on Tuesday in front of the Public Accounts Committee of the Sindh Assembly that is looking into the government books and audits these days. Sindh Finance Secretary Kamran Baloch told the committee that Hesco “was not cooperating with the Sindh government”. The difference in estimates is because of “excessive billing”, he said.

The company issued bills without checking the electricity meters properly, said Baloch. “A joint survey team has been formed to investigate the disparity but Hesco is not cooperating [with it].” The survey is being carried out on court orders. The Sindh government was allowed to hold off on paying the bills till a verdict is passed.

The district-wise survey would compare current bills against the older ones to compare if people were being overcharged. A consultant firm completed the survey in two districts and a government cell is also keeping an eye on this issue.

Money problems

Baloch said that the Sindh government was facing a crunch which would affect the annual development budget (ADP) planning.

The finance department is in quite a fix, the secretary admitted. “We have already diverted Rs15 billion to Rs20 billion from the ADP towards flood relief and rehabilitation.” Help from the federal government is not very likely either. “Therefore, we have to plan our budget according to available resources,” he explained. He warned that the provincial administration would not be able to include some “important development schemes” in the fiscal budget because there were just not enough resources and the centre was slow to hand over funds.

‘Finance dept’s audit too swift’

Audit DG Najmul Sadiq Siddiqi said there was no record of equipment, machinery, uniforms and other merchandise worth Rs31 million in the finance department’s stock register. Baloch assured that he would provide the documents soon.

Although Siddiqi was satisfied with the department’s audit, PAC Chairman Jam Tamachi Unar was not.

When Unar asked for copies of the department’s audit report, the DG was unable to give them to him. “It seems that the audit team has accelerated the process of verification, but I don’t know how it is being done,” the disgruntled chairman observed.

Transport department

Unar directed the PAC secretary to write to the Sindh chief minister and ask him to minimise the duty on the import of buses. Transport secretary Iqbal Ahmed Bablani said that the department was going to ink an agreement with the Malaysian government to run 500 buses. “We are waiting for government approval. The company will build modern terminals and depots in the province,” he said.

The chief minister has approved Rs20 million for terminals in Thatta and Badin districts. “I have proposed around 14 schemes, but only two schemes have been approved so far. We’re waiting for the CM’s go-ahead for the other projects,” he said.

Responding to the DG Audit’s comment, he said that he does not have the authority to act against buses running without route permits and proper registration. “We have no magisterial power to take action against unfit vehicles.” He said that the police were not helping either.

Transport has been divided into different sections. Driving licences and vehicle fitness permits are the traffic police’s responsibility, but they are “not doing their job properly”. People hold us responsible for these problems, even though we play no role, he pointed out. The department has actually asked the chief minister to hand over the control of fitness and licensing. The law department and even the chief secretary has supported this request.

So far, all the department can do is issue show-cause notices for unfit vehicles and direct the DIG Traffic to take action, but this has not yielded any results, he said. Unar asked PAC officials to write to the CM and ask him to revive the commissioner system in the province “so that the issue can be resolved amicably”.

 

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