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Pakistan govt to probe corruption in income support project

Publication Date : 12-01-2014


The government has decided to get investigated alleged cases of financial mismanagement and corruption committed in the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

Enver Baig, who heads the BISP, discussed the nuts and bolts of the matter with National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chief Chaudhry Qamar Zaman this week.

Instances abound of violation of public procurement rules, induction of employees on the basis of personal whims, poor book-keeping and flouting of procedures laid down for use of public money. The misuse of authority has forced the current management of the programme to get these cases investigated by the NAB.

“The magnitude of financial mismanagement and corruption have forced us to enlist NAB’s help. We will use its technical expertise for investigation and bring the culprits to book,” a BISP official privy to the meeting between Baig and Zaman told Dawn.

The official said the BISP management had decided to approach NAB to sift through documentary evidence which, according to preliminary findings, made clear that financial irregularities were committed.

Although government auditors pointed out unlawful spending and in some cases financial fraud in the BISP, “we decided to go for a third party probe to fix individual responsibilities”.

To a query, the BISP official replied: “Only NAB has the expertise to squeeze those involved in white collar crimes and bring looted money back.”

In most cases, violation of Public Procurement Regulation Authority (PPRA) rules was committed by the previous BISP management. For

example, the PPRA rules call for stringent and transparent procedures even for the spending of Rs500,000 (US$4,743), but in the BISP’s case billions were spent with impunity.

Advertising companies were chosen purely on the basis of favouritism and then billions were released to them and no records maintained.

“We have records in the BISP that over the last five years Rs 3.15 billion was paid under the head ‘media campaign’, but the office isn’t in possession of payment details,” said the BISP official.

In one instance, a company was awarded a contract worth Rs 1.467 billion for advertisement of the programme, but there was no explanation to justify selection of that company for the job.

In another case, highlighted by the in-house audit, a contractor was paid Rs 835 million in excess for delivering the BISP message to the poor.

These cases needed NAB’s assistance so as to determine how much of these transactions was siphoned off in commissions.

Yet another example given was that 24 consultants were hired for the programme, but no justification was given. They were paid big cash awards without rhyme or reason. Cars were purchased for favorite employees in violation of rules.

Attempts to get a version of Farzana Raja, a former BISP chairperson and member of the National Assembly, were not successful.

DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE: However, talking to Dawn, a PPP office-bearer who was associated with the programme, confirmed that few had benefited from the media campaign, but it would be difficult for NAB or any other investigation agency to prove the wrongdoing.

“There are no written proofs available against those who benefited from the scheme because usually commissions are given without any documentation.”

The BISP was established by the PPP-led government through an act of parliament in October 2008. An amount of Rs165bn has been spent, of which some 85 per cent came from the government exchequer.

The rest came from donors in the form of loans, which the government must repay with interest.

Two PPP prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf  are already facing charges of bypassing rules in spending public money before the NAB and now it will be Farzana Raja’s turn to do so.

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