Sim Sim Hamara: The show must go on, says Peerzada

Published: July 21, 2012

Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Faizan Peerzada is bewildered by corruption allegations.

Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Faizan Peerzada is bewildered
by corruption allegations. Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Faizan Peerzada is bewildered
by corruption allegations. Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Faizan Peerzada is bewildered
by corruption allegations. Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Faizan Peerzada is bewildered
by corruption allegations.
LAHORE: 

The Urdu rendition of “Sesame Street”, “Sim Sim Hamara” was introduced in Pakistan last December as one of USAID’s most interesting initiatives for the country. The $20 million collaboration with the reputable Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (owned by the Peerzadas) was made to promote a tolerant and vibrant view of Pakistan for children through a first-of-its-kind children’s show which encompassed a child-friendly curriculum supporting children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. However, USAID has pulled the plug on its funding, as corruption allegations surfaced that the money was being mishandled. Consequently, this also meant that around 150 people lost their jobs.

The Peerzadas staunchly rejected these claims and held a press conference with major media outlets last week to clear their name. While USAID is trying to quickly wrap up proceedings, chief of party Faizan Peerzada is defiant on both counts; first, on clearing his family’s reputation and second, on continuing the programme. According to a Gallup report, the show had a viewership of 20 million every month. “June was a critical month as we were going to go on air in Pashto and Balochi, while other dubbed versions were going to the heartland of Pakistan with a video van. How could you close such a show?” Peerzada beseeched.

He also added, “If after 38 years we wanted to do this (corruption), then I think we should have been in another business,” Peerzada said. He is still unclear about what exactly the allegation was. “There is this fallacy going around that we have embezzled $20 million. It is not possible,” he told The Express Tribune.

Peerzada clarified that USAID had initially cut the funding by $10 million, of which the theatre company would receive seven million dollars and the remaining three million would be for the “Sesame Street” franchise. He added that the initial amount that had been promised by the US agency was $12.97 million, of which about seven million would have been allocated to the workshop. Peerzada’s contention is that his organisation has only spent a total of five million dollars, so the allegation of an embezzlement of $20 million was not logical.

Additionally, Peerzada claims the process was checked on every level by USAID from the very beginning. According to him, procurements over $5,000 had to be processed by a USAID recommended consulting agency Jobs International Project Limited and then sent through Pakistan Children’s Television (PCTV) to USAID to be approved.  Peerzada’s argument is that with these set of rules at every step, the funds could not possibly have been misused. The monitoring system within the USAID apparatus has raised questions as to how corruption of this magnitude could occur if the project was being this heavily monitored.

Denying a report published in Pakistan Today, where a source has been quoted saying that the Peerzadas “turned the project into a family affair, awarding all key posts to close relatives,” Peerzada said that its authenticity has been questioned through a $10 million law-suit asking for punitive damages for defamation.

At the end, Peerzada suggested that “Sim Sim Hamara” was engulfed in the uneasy dynamics of Pakistan-United States relations, which may have caused funding to stop. “I strongly believe that it had a role, but I don’t want to take protection under this,” states Peerzada, who does not wish to gain sympathy on this basis.

Lamenting the halt of the workshop, Peerzada said he is adamant that the show must go on, even if they have to go commercial. “We have created an original programme which we will continue on our own time, we did not come with empty pockets to this project,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Sonya
    Jul 21, 2012 - 8:40PM

    If hiring relatives is the main allegation then all other USAID projects must also be closed for the same reason. There is a common belief in the development world that USAID is a politically tied aid and they are not really interested in the development of Pakistan. Spying by US agencies under the cover of development work has also made the work of the genuine agencies including UN very difficult. I suggest Pakistan cancels all USAID bilateral agreements unilaterally.

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  • Qasim Luk
    Jul 21, 2012 - 8:48PM

    I have dealt with the peerzadas as a sponsor for thier events, I must say they are old hands at corruption! they are well known for not paying their employees and vendors and for embezzling event management funds and taxes. ANY one who has worked with them will attest to this. They should be ashamed for ripping off the aid agencies and giving pakistan a bad name internationally. Yet they will put on the same media show in front of the news men, they think everyone is like their puppets, they can control opinion just with a few lies. Very shameful!

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  • zahid
    Jul 21, 2012 - 9:45PM

    I trust these guys. I do not think the Peerzadas are corrupt. Moreover, the show is one of the few positive things that the media can do for the local children in Pakistan.

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  • hmm
    Jul 21, 2012 - 10:31PM

    Peerzada should sue the USAID if they are innocent; as they say so.

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  • annoyed by stupidity
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:40PM

    This is such nonsense, this is not the first time USAID and Sesame have pulled the plug on international collaborations because of political reasons! I’m shocked that there is not more public support for the rafi peer group, who have proven again and again their dedication to pakistani arts and culture.
    I cant believe that something this important (childrens education) is being used as a political football by this so called ‘aid’ organization.
    also i hope they do sue USAID and i hope that they have a line of the nations top legal firms offering them help in this matter!

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  • sadia
    Jul 22, 2012 - 1:06AM

    well , I think IT WAS A FAMILY AFFAIR.

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  • aaliya
    Jul 22, 2012 - 2:52AM

    way to go ! the show must go on !!! Peerzada family keep making us proud.

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  • Uzair Javaid
    Jul 22, 2012 - 3:22AM

    Ok $20million in for puppet show. I see some great investment in for our children to act more like Shahrukh khan, keeping idols and Quran side by side which is literally and indirectly polytheism.

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  • immooo
    Jul 22, 2012 - 5:43AM

    At the first place if the USAID comes as a loan why we take it to return back big part of money to US franchises back(like Sesame Street here) and with the rest of the money we pay for their own schemes.

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  • Waqas
    Jul 22, 2012 - 12:28PM

    Agree with Qasim Luk on not paying their vendors part. I have worked with them too.
    Bad experience!

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  • b for bee
    Jul 22, 2012 - 6:38PM

    Uzair Javaid You might want to shut-up when you will see the magnitude of this production. They have just shared a video of ‘behind the scenes’.

    Let’s take you all to the journey of joy at Sim Sim Hamara. All in Behind the Scenes, meet who’s who!

    We hope to make you laugh, we hope to make you love, we hope to make you think:)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9uIgR7Lrfk

    Let’s accept that there is no doubt no one can produce a production of children educational show like they did. And it was benefiting for Pakistani children. If the allegations were right USAID by now would have produced something on screen. They’re just panic-ing because now they have got into the fear when RPTW can reach and educate so many children in Pakistani just in the first season of Sim Sim Hamara what are they going to do when they will reach by 25th! Let’s accept it, we have muddy politics and we keep getting so deep into it. If RPTW had support of you all people some years back they would have crossed Sesame level and you can see it from the video they just shared!

    Please act like a nation and grow up!
    Peace.

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  • Qasim Luk
    Jul 22, 2012 - 9:10PM

    The comments by “Sonya”, “annoyed by stupidity”, and “b for bee” seem to have been written by the same person, same writing style, same level of rabid support for the peers. The aid agency has given their charge list and it has been very specific, the peers have not only handed out position to unqualified or underqualified relatives, they have also given out exorbitant pays to these relatives and used the mobilization advances to pay off their older loans, effectively cash strapping this effort. They are also accused of “consistent” personal use of aid funded resources like cars, offices, and travel funds.

    Instead of making this a Pakistan Vs. U.S issue and defending the wrong actions of people like the peers, we should truly admit where we are wrong and hold them accountable. The last comment by the pro-peerzada poster said that the aid agency is doing this because they are afraid that the education will reach too many children, are you joking? look at the history of education development by sesamae street around the world before you spew such unfounded hatred, it is one of the worlds most dedicated education institutions, at the very least base the comments on some logic.

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  • Aliya
    Jul 23, 2012 - 12:57AM

    All i can say is nothing is stopping USAID to pull out of the project if they have already done it then y are the making such a fuss about it. The family excuse is not going to fly as the entire world knows that they are a family company and so did Usaid and if they are all sitting in office car going for work what you will say that the Peerzada family traveling in project cars …. hahah thats no reason to shut the program i think USAID is up against much bigger challenges in Pakistan then monitoring the Peerzada family. The project has gone through so many audits i think if there was a substantial charge against the peers it would have come out in USAIDs statements. Unfortunately this time round it looks like this is a deliberate attempt on putting down pakistanis and the good work happening in our country.
    PS: Qasim Luk which other Sesame project was able to self sustain its self 2 years before time? Please do some research on that this was a successful show and why a successful show would be sabotaged like this is what i question if USAID is dedicated towards education then they would have surely handled this matter an another matter because at the end of the day it has reach 120 million children so far and would continue to multiply.

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