The auditor general of Pakistan has discovered over Rs 3.49 billion in irregularities during the three-year special audit of the PTI flagship 10-Billion Tree Tsunami Project (BTTP). While this is not the first time this initiative has come under the scrutiny of authorities, the revelations of overspending and fraud far exceed anything that one could have conceived.

According to reports, approximately Rs 1.25 billion in expenditures were declared irregular, wasteful, unlawful and unnecessary. The scale of irregularities is alarming considering how around 199 advance audit paras have exposed fake and excessive reporting by the staff, putting a question mark on the transparency of the project. For instance, for the land allocated for these plantations, the GPS measurement showed an over-claimed area which resulted in a loss of Rs 305.523 million to the national exchequer. Similarly, several forest divisions fictitiously claimed plantation activities in different areas, overlapping the areas under the BTTP. Furthermore, uncertified and ungraded seeds obtained from unauthentic sources not only caused Rs109.365 million losses to the government but also increased the failure chances.

This is not an instance of one or two individuals or a single department being guilty of improper conduct. In fact, as the auditor general has also stated, questions must be raised regarding the management and professionalism of the whole chain of command.

For a political party that has built its entire narrative and movement around the issue of weeding out corruption, these revelations are certainly not a good look. This is now another addition to the PTIs portfolio of scandals which include the Peshawar BRT, Malam Jabba, and the foreign funding case. Quite the track record during just one tenure for a party that claims a higher moral ground on every opportunity it gets.

The auditor general has recommended a high-level inquiry and it is imperative that those responsible are held accountable. There can and should be no favourites when it comes to financial accountability and uniform standards must be maintained. It appears that the PTI’s accountability drive conveniently missed its own ranks and it is high time that it answers for its deeds.