Corruption is an issue that has long plagued the country and one that every political party at some point in time has campaigned to end.
Little did one realise that dialing a nine-digit toll free number can lead to exposure of potential fraud cases – at least ones funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The recent stoppage of funds by USAID to the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop for Pakistan’s version of Sesame Street ‘Sim Sim Hamara’ was a result of one such call.
“A while back we received a phone call on our anti-fraud hotline and the person reported discrepancy in the “Sim Sim Hamara” project with credible evidence, as a result of which we started an investigation into the matter,” said Robert Raines, the spokesperson for USAID in Pakistan.
USAID immediately stopped funds for the $20million project, out of which $6.7 million had already been released to the Rafi Peer Theatre workshop. However, the agency is yet to label it as a fraud case.
”Since the matter is still under investigation we can’t conclude whether it is a fraud case or not and something substantial can only be said after the completion of the investigation,” the spokesperson said.
The Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, however, denied the reports as baseless.
“There have been false and baseless allegations that USAID funding for Sim Sim Hamara has been terminated owing to allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement,” according to a statement released on Wednesday. “No written information, letter or notice of any inquiry or other investigation concerning the said allegations has been received by us from USAID or any other organisation or entity till date. “
According to the website of the anti-fraud hotline, USAID and Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) signed a five-year cooperative agreement on September 22, 2010 on the “Anti-Fraud Hotline” project.
The objective of the project is to ensure transparency and prevent corruption.
“This hotline is an integral part of the anti-fraud mechanism. It is a critical tool for making sure that there is no fraud in our project and to make sure that our assistance reaches those we are trying to help in Pakistan, “ Raines said.
He further said that “Sim Sim Hamara” case was probably the biggest high-profile case reported so far on the hotline, adding that he hoped this would encourage others to report fraud cases.
Funding for PCTV also ends
Before the launch of “Sim Sim Hamara” in December 2011, the Pakistan Children’s Television (PCTV) was inaugurated by US Ambassador Cameron Munter in October, 2011. The project was a collaboration between USAID and the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop to facilitate learning through culturally- sensitive educational messages.
According to the PCTV’s website, the project was supposed to produce 78 Urdu-language episodes of PCTV’s flagship television series, “Sim Sim Hamara”. With USAID suspending its funding for the project, the future of other programmes that were supposed to be produced as part of the PCTV hangs in the balance.
“All I know is that we have only terminated the funding of the Sim Sim Hamara and that is it. I can’t say much about the future of PCTV,” Raines told The Express Tribune.
However, Faizan Peerzada, PCTV chief of party and representative of the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, said the withdrawal of funds for “Sim Sim Hamara” also means that USAID support for PCTV has come to an end as well.
“I know that Sim Sim Hamara and PCTV were launched as separate projects but they are actually one and the same. The two different names are misleading,” Peerzada told The Express Tribune.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2012.