ISLAMABAD - National Bank of Pakistan fraudulently introduced grade 23 for retired judges which was a cover-up for the pensions disbursed to the ghost pensioners, Senate Standing Committee on Finance was told on Monday.

The committee was surprised to know that NBP issued pensions to the grade 23 retired officers, which does not exist. Officials of Auditor General of Pakistan briefed the committee that NBP had issued pensions to the ghost pensioners as they issued pensions to grade 23 retired officers. “Judges of the high court were awarded grade 23 in the documents and given pensions,” said an official of the AGP. He further said that judges did not have any grade; therefore, they have been awarded this grade (23).

The NBP in August this year had unearthed 600,000 ghost civilian and military pensioners. The AGP, which is investigating the issue of ghost pensioners, had said that they would finalise the audit report soon. The AGP had sought opinion of various stakeholders on ghost pensioners by December 30.

“We will hold a final meeting with the officials of the NBP on January 4. The AGP will share its report with the Senate’s committee once it is completed,” an official of the AGP said.

The director general of AGPR office informed the committee that 94 percent of the overall pensioners withdrew their pensions from the NBP. As many as 375,000 pensioners are drawing pensions through AGPR. All officers in BS 17 and above at the federal level would be converted to the Direct Credit System by March 31. Committee head Saleem Mandviwalla asked the relevant departments to formulate strategy to stop payments to ghost pensioners. He directed the officials of the concerned departments for submitting report on ghost pensioners, besides simplifying pension system and unnecessary delay in payments.

PPP Senator Fateh Mohammad Hassani said government had issued an ordinance to privatise the Pakistan International Airlines. The Senate committee showed reservations over the government’s move to bypass the parliament by issuing ordinances. Hassani asked the committee to consider the ordinance promulgated by government for privatisation of the PIA.

Senator Mohsin Aziz also criticised the government for issuing ordinance. “The government is promulgating ordinance every week.... (it) is against democracy,” he added.

The committee also discussed at length the performance of House Building Finance Corporation and First Women Bank. The officials informed the committee that they had formulated a special scheme for the widows. Under the scheme, the government would waive off the loans upto one million rupees of 5,000 widows, which would cost Rs800 million.

The meeting also discussed Income Tax (second amendment) Bill. The committee asked the FBR to present more details and turn over tax as well as its impact on overall revenue collection.

Mandviwalla asked the government to grant exemption to all sectors, as it was discriminatory to exempt specific sectors.

FBR Chairman Nisar Khan said government had reduced the turn over tax to 2% from 8% for 12 sectors. He said government could consider other sectors for exemption in next budget.