LAHORE: Mao once compared investigations to pregnancies and the conclusions to childbirth.
Research by The Express Tribune into an ‘investigation’ into an anti-bonded labour charity, now doing the rounds on social media, has found that this pregnancy ended with a miscarriage.
While the story online tonally suggests that the subject, Bonded Labour Liberation Front and its founder Ghulam Fatima may have embezzled, Hamza Rao, the author of Remember Pakistan’s ‘Harriet Tubman’ who got $2.3 million from Humans of New York? This is what she has done with it, claims he never alleged corruption or embezzlement.
“I simply raised some questions why there is no concrete advancement or development in the project,” he claimed while adding that he was not responsible for the conclusions readers draw from his write up. “I have seen rightists using it for their propaganda and some leftists are seeing it as their favour. I have not insinuated anything, I have only raised questions. These are very important questions, be it an NGO, madrassa, or any other organisation,” he concluded.
But where the money went wasn’t too hard to find. It went nowhere. A current bank statement for Ghulam Fatima’s account shows that over Rs208 million of the Rs240 million raised by HONY were still in her account at a local bank. Bank documents available with The Express Tribune show that Fatima has a savings account which was opened on October 12, 2015. It had a closing balance as at of Rs208,842,774 on March 18, 2017.
Fighting a fighter
Fatima told The Express Tribune that they have only spent only 12 per cent of the roughly Rs240million donation, and with this 12 per cent, they rescued and rehabilitated 740 victims, renovated an existing rescue centre on Lawrence Road, and initial construction work at the Freedom Centre on Raiwind Road. “Audit report for every penny is available with us that can be presented to anyone on demand as it is public money. No one even asked me for details of the funds,” Fatima asserted.
Fatima has been struggling against bonded labour since she was in class eight. “My father, Syed Dildar Hussain, was a trade unionist. I still remember when I went to brick kilns around Baghriyan in Green Town to educate kiln-workers owned by the Niazis. I also remember when I was beaten up by the kiln owners for the first time.
“My struggle against bonded labour has spanned 40 years. During the struggle, I saw my brother lose the use of his legs and becoming disabled. My own legs were broken. People keep trying to kill me. I have fought against the kiln owners day and night, she said, adding, “they are a very powerful organised crime network and [they or their people] are sitting in the legislative assemblies, the judiciary and the executive.”
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She said the allegations of embezzlement have stigmatised the entirety of her 40-year struggle. “These funds were raised by Brandon Stanton [of Humans of New York]. We never invited him. He himself came to Pakistan, met us, did his work, and later told us that he was going to launch fundraising campaign titled, “Help Fatima to End Bonded Labor’”.
She said the donors did not have an issue with the fact that the account was in her name. Explaining further, she said that about Rs210 million remains unspent and details of 12 per cent of the principal amount are available.
“So what is this talk of embezzlement?”
As far as the Freedom Centre building is concerned, Fatima said that they never claimed that the centre is complete, nor did they give a completion deadline. “Work on the site is in progress and hopefully it would be completed soon,” she asserted.
She termed the allegations against her “a nefarious design” and “propaganda” to malign her. She blames the kiln owners and landlords of being behind it.
An email was also sent to photojournalist Brandon Stanton. A reply is still awaited.
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