An anti-corruption raid on Wednesday at Tharparkar’s District Health Office (DHO) has revealed the corruption and mismanagement that caused and worsened the Tharparkar drought and the subsequent loss of lives.
The raid revealed suspected embezzlement and misuse of a grant worth Rs50 million from the Sindh government that was meant to be spent ‘for nutrition and therapeutic needs’. Over half of this amount - Rs26.4 million - was spent on the procurement of furniture, and Rs15.4 million on the purchase of drugs that have been kept at the DHO office for several months.
The government apparatus in Tharparkar has long been blamed for mismanaging the drought that claimed the lives of over 200 people, including children and infants. Hundreds of children died in the first three months of this year, with most of the deaths being attributed to malnutrition and a lack of health facilities at public hospitals.
The belated declaration of drought on February 28, the hoarding of subsidised wheat and the long delays in its distribution and failure to address drinking water problems, were other factors that contributed to the situation and the bureaucracy also took the rap for all of them.
According to the finance ministry’s letter - dated March 3 - the health department was ordered to ‘initiate relief operation in drought-affected areas in the Tharparkar district’ with these funds.
“We have seized evidence of corruption,” said an anti-corruption official, Khuda Baksh Laghari. Expressing his outrage at the suspected misuse of the funds, he lambasted the officials for misappropriating the money given for the children’s health ‘as if they were spoils’. “We will take action against the officials when the investigation is completed,” he added.
The DHO bought medicines from seven pharmacies based in Karachi and Hyderabad but allegedly did so by violating public procurement rules. The cheques against the purchased medicines were issued on May 20, 2014, but the medicines were not distributed among the hospitals, Laghari added.
According to the records seized by the official, the government hospitals that were given the grants also misused the funds. The DHO gave over Rs4.2 million to Civil Hospital, Mithi and Rs884,923, Rs459,338 and Rs303,069 to the taluka hospitals of Deeplo, Nangarparkar and Chachro respectively.
The Deeplo hospital’s head, Dr Manzoor Memon, said that he received the sum in two instalments, which he mostly spent on repair of the hospital’s vehicles and ambulances.
The records of the Civil Hospital, Mithi show that more than Rs1 million were utilised on the purchase of fuel, Rs81,295 on daily wages, Rs79,600 on water tankers, Rs76,766 on uniforms for the staff and Rs19,286 on auto repair and maintenance. A company named Bahadur Ali and Sons was given Rs323,749 but no reason was mentioned as to why they were given the money.
A sum of over Rs1 million was spent on drug purchase and Rs1.4 million on maternity services. Interestingly, the expenditure on nutrition could not be found in the records. A hospital clerk, Bhawani Lal, was also given Rs147,000 against expenditures that were not specified.
The relief inspector assigned by the Sindh High Court, civil judge Fayaz Rabbani, has been pointing out corruption and inefficiency of the official machinery for several months. “Such instances are found not only in the health department but also in the relief work,” said Rabbani. “I have submitted my findings in writing to relevant authorities but no action has been taken so far.”
DHO Jaleel Bhurgari could not be contacted for his version. However, he told reporters that he did not misuse the funds. “I have handed over the records,” he said. “I have no fear because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Circle officer Laghari was accompanied in the raid by judicial magistrate Nadeem Zafar Hashmi.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2014.
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