South Asia

Pakistan: Where did billions of rupees in COVID aid go?

Published : December 11, 2021 13:58 IST

Opposition parties say the lack of motivation from the government to probe the missing funds point to corruption. Photo: Akhtar Soomro/REUTERS

The government has rejected corruption allegations but opposition lawmakers and hospital staff remain unconvinced.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has recently hit back at claims that corruption is behind the billions of rupees in financial irregularities, following an audit of cash intended for Pakistan's coronavirus response. The report released last month by the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) claimed that irregularities amounted to 40 billion Pakistani rupees ($226 million, €200 million).

The report, delayed by almost six months, showed irregularities in procurement, payments to ineligible beneficiaries, cash withdrawal through fake biometrics and the procurement of substandard goods by the state-owned Utility Stores Corporation of Pakistan (USC). The auditors attempted to scrutinize the whereabouts of 354.3 billion Pakistan rupees in cash but did not receive all the records, the report showed.

The release of the audit by the Ministry of Finance was one of five criteria to be fulfilled in order to receive a $1 billion International Monetary Fund loan by January 2022. The report has sparked outrage among opposition politicians and hospital staff who allege corruption against the government led by PTI.

No account for missing wages and PPE

Senior nurse Juliana William told DW that she has been underpaid for months. She has been working on the coronavirus ward at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, the largest hospital of Pakistan's federal capital Islamabad, since February 2020. But she has only received payment for around five-and-a-half months. She told DW that this experience was not an exception. According to William, more than 300 doctors, nurses and paramedics have been waiting for over a year to receive their wages. This was despite assurances from the government authorities.

Rahim Khan, a doctor at the National Hospital in Quetta in southwestern Balochistan province, told DW that medicines were being purchased at exorbitant rates. He added that at his hospital, doctors had to fight to get personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gowns, as well as other essentials. Additionally, Khan claimed that food provided to patients was overbilled. Khan told DW that he suspects that corruption lies behind the missing resources because the grants provided to the government by international organizations failed to materialize.

Dr Muhammad Imran from Lahore, who belongs to Young Doctors Association, concurs. "Throughout the crisis we kept on demanding for PPEs and other essential equipment," he told DW, adding that nothing was provided on time despite the massive aid that the country received.

Opposition lawmakers allege 'massive corruption'

Uzma Bukhari, a leader from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Party told DW that the people were affected by large-scale corruption. "The government made bogus claims of helping poor people during the contagion but in reality such help was never extended," she told DW. "This is a case of massive corruption where cronies were rewarded, contracts were doled out without tenders and prices of medicines and other items were exaggerated," she told DW.

Former deputy chairman of the Senate and Pakistan People's Party politician Saleem Mandviwala alleged that irregularities amounting to around 25 billion Pakistani rupees may have been funneled away through the Benazir Income Support program that faked biometric identities. For him, the lack of motivation from the government to probe the missing funds pointed to corruption.

PTI rejects claims

PTI lawmaker Musarrat Jamshed Cheema has rejected the allegations. "Our program has been appreciated by several international bodies, so there cannot be any fake identities [such as those alleged by Mandviwala]," she said. Irregularities could mean that set procedure was not followed, she suggested, but this did not mean there was corruption. During the height of pandemic, if the rules had not been followed then the government could not have arranged PPEs, medicines, ventilators and other essential items that were eventually delivered, she asserted.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor