After Punjab, private companies in Sindh in the spotlight

Published: August 2, 2018
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Government to regulate company that provides healthcare in rural Sindh. PHOTO: FILE

Government to regulate company that provides healthcare in rural Sindh. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: After the Supreme Court’s directives to investigate the operations of government-funded private companies in Punjab, similar action could be seen in Sindh where such firms have operated with impunity under the direct patronage of senior government officials.

One such company is the Peoples Primary Health Initiative (PPHI), which runs 1,138 of the total 1,700 primary healthcare centres, dispensaries and maternity homes in 21 districts of rural Sindh. Besides, around 170 ambulances have also been given to the PPHI, but the villagers’ complaints regarding the non-availability of ambulances have yet to be addressed.

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PPHI started out as a public-private partnership between the Sindh Rural Support Organisation and the then provincial government in February 2007. Post 2014, it became a public limited company after it was registered as such under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance, 1984.

The company receives billions of rupees from the provincial finance department directly and its audit is conducted by a private firm. It is managed by a board of governors, headed by the former provincial chief secretary and current caretaker chief minister, Fazlur Rehman. Others on the board include former Sindh Police chief and minister in the provincial caretaker setup, Syed Mushtaq Shah, and Dr Nighat Shah, a daughter of former chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah.

Public Health Engineering and Rural Development Secretary Dr Riaz Memon served as the CEO of the company for the past seven years before taking up his new role. Dr Memon, a grade-20 officer, was paid a monthly salary of Rs0.8 million during his time as the CEO.

Investigations

In June, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had ordered government officers deputed to private firms in Punjab to return their salaries and other funds disbursed to them in the form of benefits. Sources claim that similar action could be taken against PPHI.

According to sources, the PPHI has failed miserably in its mandate to improve the healthcare delivery system in the province. Despite the claims of oversight and timely disbursement of funds, the performance of public hospitals has remained unsatisfactory.

According to a health department official, the PPHI is audited by a private firm even though it is getting funds directly from the Sindh government. The official, who asked not to be named, predicted that several irregularities and cases of embezzlement would be uncovered if the company were to be investigated.

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The CEO explains

For his part, Dr Memon told The Express Tribune that he was associated with the PPHI at different times and left it permanently in January 2018. He added that due to his deputation to the PPHI, he had not been promoted from grade 20 to grade 21.

According to Dr Memon, the PPHI was formed as an NGO after its predecessor – the Sindh Rural Support Programme. Later, it was converted into a public limited company. In its first year of inception, the PPHI was allotted a budget of Rs40 million. In subsequent years, this was increased to Rs50m, then Rs1.2 billion, then Rs2b. The PPHI’s current annual budget stands at Rs4.5b.

The former CEO said that with these funds, the residents of rural Sindh were being provided the necessary medical facilities. He added that when he had been serving at the PPHI, he was not given his government salary and also did not get his due promotion. On a question regarding his salary amount, Dr Memon said the salaries were fixed by the board of governors. 

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2018.

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