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Global donors concerned over corruption in Pakistan’s flood relief

Global concerns over corruption quickly follow when it comes to disaster relief rushed to Pakistan, perhaps more than most nations. The United Nations, the United States and those who rallied when floods ravaged the South Asian nation this summer are protesting by the time autumn has set in. 

Governments, relief NGOs, top officials like UN Secretary-General, celebrities and disaster management experts rushed to help Pakistan with USD 160 million when 72 of its 160 districts went underwater due to massive floods and rains. Now, they are worried that their humanitarian effort has got embroiled in graft, misuse and possibly, wholesale siphoning of funds. 

The worry is compounded as Transparency International (TI)’s Pakistan unit catalogues corruption cases and copies its report to governments, other NGOs and relief organisations. The TI has scaled down Pakistan by a steep 24 notches in a single year, placing it at 140 out of 161. The announcement by the Pakistan Government that it was digitizing relief to prevent graft may have helped, but the apprehension is that the horses have already fled the stable. 

This is Pakistan’s old story. The scene was no better in 2005 when floods ravaged the country, albeit on a smaller scale than now. The difference is that this time, floods and flood relief are off the radar quickly and graft and misuse have filled in. 

But similar to 2005, and which has Pakistan in its usual denial mode, is the role of faith-based charities like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) that are actually off-shoots of terror outfits and use calamities and relief work to gain public acceptance and legitimacy. The JuD is a convenient child of the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT) and after much verification, both have been proscribed at home and by the UN and the US. 

However, successive Pakistani governments are helpless against the penetration of militant cadres in society and also find it convenient to use them against any non-religious outfits that protest against economic and political injustices. It helps the state to pitch one against the other. The story repeats itself frequently and is currently at play in tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. 

A grim reminder of the terror activities of these outfits, when mixed with calamity relief has come in the form of a global celebrity to arrive, despite threats to her life. Pakistan-born Nobel peace laureate Malala Yusufzai is touring Sindh province, ostensibly keeping away from the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where she was born and grew up. But the threat to her security remains. 

Malala, now living in England and married, was an outspoken critic of faith-driven militancy who broadcast against outfits preventing girls from going to school. She was shot one morning in her school bus but miraculously survived after being flown to England. Her killers who persist with their campaign, have brazenly told her to return to Pakistan, and not preach from England. 

The six-month-old Shehbaz Sharif Government is at once fighting floods, political instability, economic distress that has forced it to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Both the UN and the US have released funds to facilitate relief and are now worried about graft. 

On charges of corruption, “this is something we take very seriously,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in Washington on October 12. The problem is serious and the TI-Pakistan has sent copies of the letter to Sharif to several international organisations and bilateral agencies that include, besides the TI headquarters, TI-Germany, the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, USAID and even the European Commission’s humanitarian department, reported Pakistani newspaper Business Recorder. 

Visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had launched a global appeal seeking $160 million from the world to provide flood relief. International partners have already pledged $500 million while Pakistan believes it needs more than $10 billion for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged housing and infrastructure. 

Impeding the relief work is the fact that Pakistan continues to ban international NGOs from working in the country or allowing them to directly provide humanitarian aid to the flood victims. The ban had been imposed after suspicions emerged that NGO workers had leaked out information on Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden’s hiding place, leading to his elimination in 2011. 

Pakistan’s benefactors are thus worried that their funds and relief work for a calamity are being impacted by inefficiency and by the deliberate placing of obstacles by the beneficiary.