Thursday October 21, 2021

Billion Tree Tsunami Project faces over Rs410m loss

October 09, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Billion Tree Tsunami Project faced a loss of over Rs410 million due to mismanagement by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa forest authorities, revealed a special audit report.

The Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has submitted the report to Governor KP that has made shocking revelations about the losses, irregularities, mismanagement and weak control of expenditures. The forest authorities could not achieve 36% tree plantation target in seven foreign divisions of the province, says the report available with the correspondent. “Heavy loss occurred after higher rates were claimed for seedlings in departmental nurseries – department incurred losses worth Rs109 million after 226 closures closed in Chitral, 109 in Battagram, 27 in Tor Ghar, 36 in Agror Tanwal, 40 in Upper Dir, 19 in Siren, 59 in DI Khan – rate of Rs9/per plant will be paid to the private grower for bare rooted nursery.

However, for the same bare rooted plant grown in the departmental nursery Rs16.63/per plant was allowed to be drawn by the divisional forest officers, which they drew. Instructions were issued to the field offices for recovery of overpaid amount of Rs299.29 million,” revealed the report. The special report presented before Governor KP weeks before the National Accountability Bureau approved multiple inquiries and investigations in the Billion Tree Tsunami Project. Audit recommends recovery of aforementioned amount and the management in departmental accounts committee meeting held on 25th Feb 2019 was directed to recover the overpayment made for seedlings in departmental nurseries by the field offices. However, no progress was reported till submission of this report.

“Actual loss could be much higher as the amount does not include the payments made to ‘neghabaan’ because that record was not provided to the auditors who found that the expenditure record was scattered between forest and wildlife divisions,” revealed the report to be tabled before the provincial assembly soon.

And this vital component of the project also suffered from managerial mismanagement; while of the total 872.3 million plants, about 59% comes from closures followed by 13.65% from block plantation, added the report.

Auditors focused on two of total three phases of this project where the management allocated some Rs19 billion (Rs1, 912 million for Phase-I, Rs9, 826 million for Phase-II and Rs7, 709 million for Phase-III). Audit was carried out of first two of total three phases. The phase-I cost Rs1,912 million with completion period from 2014 to 2016 and phase-II cost Rs9, 826.4 million with completion period from 2015 to 2017.

“[The audit team] noticed failure of closures in considerably high numbers (35.14%) in seven forest divisions. Target for woodlots was 30,000ha (hectares) against which 19,986.5ha was achieved. Target for Reclamation of Waterlogged and Bad Lands stabilization was 450 ha for Phase I and 1950 ha for phase II. Data of the Project Directorate revealed an achievement of 290ha and 13,435ha for Phase I and II, respectively.”

Project documents, according to report, revealed that against the target for plantation (6000ha & 135,650ha for Phase I &II respectively) on private and communal land, the project authorities covered only an area of 8,204ha and 142,846ha. Rangelands and Pastures management was given in the PC-1 but the Project failed to pursue it without any plausible explanation. Free distribution of seedlings amongst the farmers was carried out but the record was poorly maintained for subsequent follow-up and monitoring.

During the audit, it was also noticed that the firm was paid Rs2.1 million in advance but despite several extensions the organization failed to produce final report. However, the organization failed to produce the final report till the end of this audit assignment.

Auditors observed that closures were 60% of the overall project; so failure of this component puts a big question mark on the results of the project. “Allotment of nurseries to the private growers was not transparent. Similarly, in departmental nurseries exorbitant rates were claimed for seedlings raised therein.

Several Forest Divisions charged higher rates for watch and ward services over and above the PC-1 rates. Seeds for the project were procured without certification,” added the report.

Project Financing remained erratic, budgeting was flawed and project accounting was not properly deployed as a tool of internal control. No operational plans were prepared for technical interventions like rehabilitation of degraded watersheds, rehabilitation of bad sites, reclamation of saline and water logged areas, stated the report.

Third party monitoring has been carried out through a well reputed international organization i.e. WWF. It has carried out regular monitoring of the project since its initial phase and declared this project as “excellent” with more than 85% survival percentage, forest authorities told this correspondent.

The provincial government has made special amendments to “the forest ordinance and policy in terms of forest development fund and other like rules for effective and successful implementation of the project,” they added.

Authorities are establishing enclosures over depleted natural forests through Village Development Committees and effecting payment through local communities.

“The Administrative Department took a stern action against the trouble makers so as to ensure successful implementation of the project,” said the project authorities.

The project was initially planned for 5 years with a cost of Rs28 billion. Later on it was redesigned at a reduced cost of Rs22 billion. Under the project, 118% of the target of one billion seedlings has been achieved at a total cost of Rs12.4 billion.