Relief fund for flood victims: bogus registration of 0.2 million beneficiaries unearthed
ISLAMABAD: A special team of auditors has identified an alleged scam involving over 0.2 million beneficiaries who received relief goods/funds under the Sindh government’s flagship programme titled “Relief and Rehabilitation of Flood Affectees 2022,” spending around Rs41 billion on the welfare of over 14 million people affected by heavy floods last year.
Taking notice of a plea by a citizen who allegedly identified irregularities and wrongdoings amounting to billions of rupees in the Sindh Flood Victims’ Relief Programme, the Sindh High Court ordered a forensic audit of these funds.
A special audit team formed by the Auditor General of Pakistan to conduct a forensic audit submitted a report to the SHC Hyderabad bench, making startling revelations about over 23,000 bogus/non-verifiable fingerprints of beneficiaries, only from two districts of Sindh. The audit team had requested NADRA to verify the thumbs of over 33,000 beneficiaries from Dadu and Sanghar districts, chosen as a sample for the special audit. According to NADRA’s findings, only nine thumbs were verifiable from over 33,000 samples received by the audit team that visited flood victims in Dadu and Sanghar districts.
According to the report, made available to the Hum Investigation Team, there were errors in the registration of more than 5,500 CNICs and around 18,000 fingerprints that were not verified during the inspection. The audit team visited Qamber district, but most of the beneficiaries have not been traced there, revealed the report. The team further observed that 23 billion rupees were provided to the flood victims by the private committee, which was not in their mandate.
The audit team deducted a suspected misappropriation of funds worth Rs44.7 million by DC Matiari district. During an audit of the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Matiari, it was observed that an amount of Rs44.753 million was unauthorizedly drawn in cash through open cheques by Deputy Commissioner Matiari from a bank which needs to be investigated.
The audit team also unearthed irregular procurement amounting to Rs23.370 billion by a facilitation committee composed of private individuals. The team held that the role of the committee was to provide facilitation in procurement-related activities; however, the committee, composed of private individuals, controlled and carried out the entire procurement amounting to Rs23,369.698 million, instead of its assigned role of facilitating the procurement process.
On the other hand, the report revealed that drugs worth Rs1.5 billion have been bought at expensive rates. The report further stated that an alleged embezzlement of Rs450 million has been revealed in the fund by Deputy Commissioner Matiari. Overpayments of Rs420 million have been made to various contractors, and irregularities in substandard medicines, food, and other items worth several crores in other districts. The audit report also points out misuse of public funds and favoritism.
Former Sindh Minister Nasir Ali Shah stated in his exclusive talk with the HIT that providing emergency relief to the flood victims was itself a difficult process. He further stated that there were irregularities and deviations from the rules at some places, but overall the use of funds was transparent.
“Non-verification of thumbs may be a technical problem,” said former provincial minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah. “It was not corruption. However, in the rush or emergency, some rules could not be followed as the real purpose was to help the flood victims, and our government succeeded in it,” he told Hum News. He also admitted that there might be some individuals or companies exploiting the situation of this emergency. Some companies or contractors might have taken undue advantage while helping people, but there was also a check on them, trust me,” he said. But the government of Sindh has made every effort to ensure that government funds are not misused, and he concluded that we will cooperate with the institutions in further investigations as well.
The audit team recommended that thumb impressions of the recipients of relief items maintained by the respective district administration in all the affected districts of Sindh province may be verified through NADRA. PDMA Sindh may carry out a detailed physical verification of stores, stocks, and relief items at all warehouses within one month to ascertain the existence of the items and identify shortcomings and errors, if any, the team recommended. Moreover, the missing relief items as identified in the report should be recovered. The initiative introduced in District Umerkot in the shape of an Android App for the distribution of relief items among the affected should be replicated in all other districts with certain refinements like the inclusion of fingerprints of the affected, it added.