The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday was baffled when the industries and production secretary compared the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) with the US’ multi-billion dollar retail corporation Walmart.

The state-owned enterprise’s comparison with Walmart was so shocking for the PAC that it urged the federal government to either close it down or improve its standard.

The committee was also irked when it was told that substandard goods were being sold at Utility Stores after submitting a report stating the contrary.

“Utility Stores have fooled parliamentarians and the people,” PAC Chairman Rana Tanveer Hussain said after some members suggested closing the stores on account of selling substandard items to the people.

The committee members maintained that the world’s “most” substandard ghee was being sold at Utility Stores.

They claimed that corruption was rampant at Utility Stores as only Rs10 billion of the Rs50 billion was released to them from the coronavirus funds — meant to provide relief to the poor.

While discussing the audit objections of the industries and production ministry at PAC, federal secretary Jawad Rafique Malik drew the ire of the committee when he said that the government was not just trying to improve the service of the stores but following the models of international grocery chains including Walmart.

“What are you saying?” PML-N’s Khawaja Asif interrupted the bureaucrat.

Baffled by the statement, the PML-N leader wondered if there was any comparison between the USC and Walmart.  He claimed that the sale of substandard goods was taking place under the nose of the secretary while he was busy comparing retail entities.

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Asif went on to say that the reason for the failure of the country was its bureaucracy.

The PAC chairman said the secretary was not fully aware of the affairs at the corporation “because of his recent foreign trip”.

Asif noted that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) only came after politicians as his family was asked to give details of their foreign trips, but the bureaucrats remained untouched.

Reiterating that the bureaucrats were a major hurdle to good governance, Asif said that the people bore the brunt of their corruption as they cost billions of rupees to the national exchequer every year.

“Utility Stores were set up 50 years ago following the leftist ideology, he noted.

“That ideology has disappeared from the region but the Utility Stores still exist.”

Malik replied that he was proud to be a part of the bureaucracy.

Shifting the blame back to the politicians, he said the lawmakers were responsible for giving the vision as the bureaucrats were only there to implement the policies.

During the meeting, the PAC was informed about the irregularities of about Rs4 billion in Covid-19 funds that were given to the corporation. Tanveer said the corporation should be used to serve the poor segments of society and not for commercial purposes.

Urging the authorities concerned to refrain from snatching subsidies given to provide relief to the poor, Tanveer directed the industries secretary to submit a proposal at the next meeting to revamp the corporation.

“Otherwise, the committee will recommend its closure,” he warned.

Recently, the findings of the Auditor General of Pakistan showed misprocurement, payments to ineligible beneficiaries, cash withdrawal through fake biometrics and procurement of substandard goods by the USC.