Encounters with Auditors
By N.A. Bhatti

A candidate for an accountant's vacancy was asked whether he was familiar with the double entry system of accounting.
"Double entry? I am expert even in the triple entry system!"
"What's that?" asked the puzzled interviewer.
"Simple, Sir. I maintain one account for the boss, showing profits; one for the company's shareholders showing no profit, no loss; and one for the auditors showing a loss!"
He was hired.
It is sometimes rumored that armed forces accounts are not subject to audit. This is not true. However, sometimes, audit objections (or 'observations' as they are euphemistically termed nowadays) are raised to show that the auditors have really worked diligently to earn their livelihood.
For instance, there used to bse an account maintained on Pakistan Navy warships, called the ACES Fund Account. ('Amenities, Comforts, Entertainment and Sports Fund Account'). Out of this fund were purchased items like musical instruments, indoor games, sports equipment, playing cards, newspapers, magazines and such items designed to make the tough life on a warship more tolerable, especially when it was out at sea for long periods.
When the auditors came on board PNS 'Sind' where I was serving, one of their observations was that no money appeared to have been credited to the ACES Fund Account for the sale of old newspapers.
The Petty Officer concerned explained that as soon as the newspapers were delivered on board every morning, the sailors made off with pages of their own interest. Some snatched the outer sheet containing the main headline news, some went for the Sports page, some for the City Page; some grabbed whichever part they could lay their hands on and rushed off to the 'heads', (the Navy's term for 'latrines'). There they read at leisure after which they used it for 'you-guess-what'. Naturally there was nothing left for sale to any kabari (junk dealer).
The fussy auditor's observation was: "Please quote the authority under which newspapers may be used in the ship's heads."
PNS 'Sind' responded: "Please quote authority under which newspapers may not be used in the ship's heads."
This temporarily foxed the auditors but kept the observation pending until their next visit. This time the ship answered laconically: "Done is done. Noted."
The audit team left happily with six tins of duty-free 555 cigarettes as a 'gift' from the crew who retained the option of taking newspapers to the heads! Audit observation settled!
A wackier case was that of an old ship taken out for its final voyage before being decommissioned and sold as scrap. The commanding officer made the mistake of anchoring above a rocky sea bottom. The anchor got stuck in the rocks and resisted the powerful capstan from hauling it up, resulting in the steel cable parting and leaving the anchor on the bottom. This was considered poor seamanship. Some way had to be found to save the commanding officer's reputation by cooking up a 'Loss Statement'.
The auditors apparently never realized that there was anything amiss when they were given the reason for the loss: 'Eaten up by termites'. Fancy a ton-and-a-half chunk of solid iron being eaten up by termites! But the auditors swallowed the cock-and-bull explanation.
And now for an experience when I found myself 'promoted' from 'auditee' (there's no such word but what's the alternative?) to auditor of domestic accounts. Chaudhry Sahib is normally quite a jolly fellow but when I called on him a few days ago, he was pacing up and down in his lawn, looking worried about something, so I tried to humor him with a bit from Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
"Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So cold and palely loitering?"
He breathed a cold sigh and led me into his study. His work desk was littered with paper sheets, chits, scraps, printed receipts, invoices, estimates, paper, paper, paper in "all its forms and manifestations", as they repeat ad nauseum nowadays whenever they talk of terrorism.
"I see! Whose fault is it?" I demanded.
"Your Bhabi's !"
He then picked up a register with the words Domestic Accounts inscribed on its front cover and thrust it into my hand.
"I hereby appoint you as our family's honorary auditor!"
"But look, I have never poked my nose into..."
"I am not ready for any but-shut! Start your audit observations pronto!"
"Chaudhry Sahib, I think..."
"Life is too short for thinking. Don't think, just act!"
"OK, OK, but what are these scattered papers?"
"Vouchers, what else?" he replied.
Since no 'voucher' bore adequate details, I stuffed all of them into a large brown envelope lying on the table, flung them into the waste paper basket and gave my decision: "Audit observations settled!"
Then I started on the Cash Book. The first page was neatly ruled and the columns given proper headings like 'Date', 'Receipt', 'Expenditure', 'Details' and 'Amount'.
"Your Begum appears to have been very meticulous in maintaining her accounts!" I remarked.
Page 2 of the Cash Book was also up to the mark. However, the handwriting appeared to be a bit sloppy. Page 3 wasn't even ruled properly and the columns on Page 4 even bore no headings. The dates fizzled out on Page 5 after which there were no entries for the past three years!
Just then Begum Chaudhry entered. She had been witnessing the drama all along.
"Meray bhai!" she began. "With inflation rocketing sky-high and our purchasing power diving, do you think it is humanly possible to maintain a domestic account? They told us years ago that we have broken our kashkol (begging bowl) forever but it appears to be made of tungsten steel and is as strong and healthy as ever. And who suffers? Now tell me the utility of maintaining domestic accounts. Do you think that...Anyway I just dropped in to remind you not to buy the chicken and fish yet! We can't afford them for this month at least. And postpone the car's servicing till next month. And cancel those plumbing repair orders."
"I agree with Begum Sahiba! After all she has a Masters degree in Economics," I said, tearing up the Cash Account book and flinging it into the waste-paper basket.
"Audit complete. No observations", I announced.
This was an unprecedented audit in which the account to be audited was consigned to the trash. The Chaudhrys don't maintain domestic accounts any more. Neither do we. Of what use are domestic accounts when daily life is a hand to mouth struggle to survive?

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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