Corruption in relief funds occurs again in Pakistan

Corruption in relief funds occurs again in Pakistan
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Highlights

The US' allegation of mismanagement in the flood relief fund has recalled the memories of blatant corruption the authorities indulged in whenever the country received international aid to provide assistance to the people affected by natural disasters. Be it the 2005 earthquake or the floods of 2010, Pakistani agencies were blamed for embezzlement as a major part of funds aimed at relief work did not reach the victims. The latest floods are no exception.

The US' allegation of mismanagement in the flood relief fund has recalled the memories of blatant corruption the authorities indulged in whenever the country received international aid to provide assistance to the people affected by natural disasters. Be it the 2005 earthquake or the floods of 2010, Pakistani agencies were blamed for embezzlement as a major part of funds aimed at relief work did not reach the victims. The latest floods are no exception.

A third of Pakistan came under water due to floods since mid-June that were caused due to fast glacier melting and flash floods, which razed thousands of houses, and destroyed standing crops on millions of acres of land while displacing numerous people.

While the Islamabad government struggled to cope with the situation and demanded help from the international community, the UN, European Union and many countries including the US, China, UK started sending financial aid to Pakistan.

As the reports of the misappropriation of funds surfaced, the US reacted strongly, hinting at corruption by the Pakistani government.

"This is something we take very seriously, not only in Pakistan but anywhere around the world where American taxpayer dollars are implicated and where there is an urgent humanitarian interest at stake, which is clearly the case in terms of response to the flooding in Pakistan," US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

When similar floods occurred in 2010, Pakistani authorities were slammed for corruption in relief aid provided by different countries and non-profit organisations.

An investigation revealed fraud to the tune of $220,000 through false invoices and manipulation of cheques. Over 2,000 people were killed while over 20 million were displaced due to the floods that had affected the entire Pakistan. Yet, the then Islamabad government had appeared lethargic and lax in its attitude while carrying out rehabilitation work. This had left many people languishing under makeshift tents while their homes and fields remained underwater for months.

Around 100,000 people were killed in the deadly earthquake that hit Pakistan-controlled Kashmir in 2005. The entire world, including India, had provided generous help for assistance and rehabilitation of victims. Shockingly, the nodal agency Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) was accused of misusing 60 per cent of the relief funds. Surprisingly, former Prime Minister and the then opposition leader Nawaz Sharif had raised doubts if the relief fund would be spent "honestly".

Now Nawaz Sharif's brother Shehbaz is at the helm, the situation appears the same as the allegation of corruption making rounds.

According to Oxfam International, flood-affected victims including vulnerable women, children, children with special needs, and marginalised communities are living on the streets. But the government has failed to provide access to clean drinking water, hygiene toilets, sanitation facilities, and security despite massive financial help from the international community. It underlines the rot in Pakistani systems that ate away victims' basic rights to access food, water and shelter amid natural calamity.

Journalists in Pakistan too have raised questions if the aid received from the international community is reaching the flood victims in reality.

"There are already quite credible reports concerning criminal negligence and abuse of authority to loot and misappropriate the funds and resources meant for the flood victims," wrote Shadi Khan Saif, a journalist. "It is, however, quite ironic to see the power-greedy elite looking at this calamity as an opportunity to accumulate more wealth."

Pakistan slipped 16 spots on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2021 by Transparency International, ranking 140 among 180 countries. People in Pakistan are reacting angrily.

"Pakistan is totally a failed state now, its past governments have done nothing but busy filling their bank accounts with loot and corruption money," said Changez Khan while expressing his views on the corruption report.

Another Pakistani national named Kulsoom Baloch said: "This isn't an issue of flood but an issue of corruption, looting, propaganda, favouritism."

Karachi-based contributing analyst and author Syed Fazl-e-Haider had earlier said corrupt practices were prevalent in the Pakistan system, which would "also plague relief efforts during the flooding disaster in recent weeks".

Now, the US allegation has confirmed his prophecy.

He said the successive governments indulged in corruption activities despite Pakistan's debt has reached 71.3 per cent of its GDP.

"It's hard to escape a conclusion that national development was not their priority, with the focus instead on plundering and looting the public exchequer," said Haider while writing for Lowy Institute, an international think tank.

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