KARACHI: Something stinks in the food department of Karachi’s Liaquatabad Hospital and the stench was strong enough to catch the attention of Sindh’s health minister.
The provincial government-run hospital, it has emerged, has claimed more money for patients’ dietary expenses than what whistleblowers allege it has actually spent. Not only that, the amount it has claimed for just one month is more than three-quarters of its allocated budget for the entire year.
According to sources, the Liaquatabad Hospital is allocated roughly Rs20 million each year to cater to the dietary requirements of its patients. The amount, sources said, is expected to be utilised over the course of the entire year and any money that is not spent lapses at the end of the fiscal year.
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As the 2018-19 fiscal year drew to a close, the medical superintendent of Liaquatabad Hospital, Dr Muntazir Haider, put in a claim for Rs16.6 million. The entire amount, he insisted, was spent on patients’ dietary needs for just one month - May.
Sources said that Dr Haider justified the hefty claim by showing that patients were being provided expensive nutritious food items like fish and almond milk in hospital records. According to them, the medical superintendent also inflated patient numbers in the records to show the hospital was taking in between 300 to 400 invalid individuals a day.
Dr Haider’s claim appeared dubious to other members of Liaquatabad Hospital’s staff from the start, the sources said. They told The Express Tribune that the hospital did not admit more than 30 to 40 patients a day under his charge. As such, they claimed it was impossible that the hospital was spending the amount Dr Haider had claimed on food for patients. The sources also alleged that the superintendent was procuring the food items for the patients from a ‘favoured’ contractor.
As the claim Dr Haider had filed came to light, employees of the All Sindh Paramedical Staff Association moved several applications against the medical superintendent. In their applications, the whistleblowers insisted that in contrast to the amount Dr Haider had sought, Liaquatabad Hospital’s actual expenses on patients’ dietary needs did not amount to more than Rs100,000 to Rs150,000 a month.
The complaints ultimately caught the attention of Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, who ordered a thorough investigation into Dr Muntazir Haider’s claim. The minister has already formed a three-member inquiry committee to look into the matter and ascertain the facts of the case. The committee, according to a Sindh health department notification, comprises Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Khadim Qureshi, Deputy Health Secretary Irshad Khokhar and Malir District Health Officer Dr Ahmed Ali Memon.
Food expenses, however, are not the only things to smell fishy when it comes to the workings of Liaquatabad Hospital. According to the sources, favoured firms have been awarded other contracts as well, such as those for the repair of furniture, machinery and medical equipment used by the hospital.
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And even though the hospital’s ambulance service is not functioning at the moment, with many vehicles missing and patients forced to rely on Edhi and Chhipa services, the hospital has various vehicular expenses mentioned in its financial records and even has an auto-repair contractor on retainer.
Dr Haider himself, sources allege, has utilised more than a 100 litres of petrol a day for a month, incurring an expense of Rs723,000. Doctors and paramedical staff of the hospital, while speaking to The Express Tribune, urged the National Accountability Bureau and other investigation agencies to look into the medical superintendent’s alleged misuse and misappropriation of funds.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2019.