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NHS ministry depts under fire after NAB raid, Drap CEO’s appointment

Updated January 01, 2019


Corruption cases against officials has triggered debates about the importance is giving to health. — File photo
Corruption cases against officials has triggered debates about the importance is giving to health. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: Two of the Ministry of National Health Services’ (NHS) ancillary departments have come under criticism in the last 10 days, raising eyebrows among health sector figures and triggering debates on social media about the importance the government is giving to health.

Senior ministry officers have also been reluctant to speak on either of these cases, and have asked not to be named in this report.

The first incident occurred last week, when National Accountability Bureau (NAB) raided the home of the head of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), Dr Saqlain Gilani, and recovered over Rs18 million.

The raid was conducted by a team from the bureau’s Rawalpindi branch. It also recovered $9,000 as well as other foreign and local currency. It was believed that the recovered money was a kickback Dr Gilani took from a company that was contracted for an EPI campaign.

Dr Gilani secured bail before arrest from the Islamabad High Court the next day. The NHS ministry, meanwhile, said an inquiry committee would be established to investigate the matter, but the committee could not be formed. The ministry also did not suspend or remove Dr Gilani from his post.

A NAB official who asked not to be named said the bureau recovered the money from Dr Gilani’s residence, but decided not to arrest him after he obtained pre-arrest bail.

“However, during the next hearing we will ask the court to allow us to arrest the suspect and investigate him. It is strange that the suspect has not contacted us to handover the money to him,” he added.

Dr Gilani told Dawn it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the matter as he has obtained bail before arrest, but added that: “I can only say that I am innocent and will be declared innocent by the court. I will share all the details with the media after the completion of the case.”

The second controversial incident was the federal cabinet’s decision to confirm the appointment of Sheikh Akhtar Hussain as CEO of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap).

In Sept 2017, pharmaceutical company owner Samiullah Khan Durrani filed a complaint with the IHC (which is available with Dawn), which alleged that Mr Hussain had had himself declared dead in order to close cases against him.

Mr Durrani had said Mr Hussain was involved in embezzlement, and was involved in two NAB references against him filed in 2001 and 2004.

The 2004 reference, signed by then NAB chairman retired Lt Gen Munir Hafiez, said there was an allegation of embezzlement of Rs51 million against Mr Hussain. In the 2001 reference, signed by then chairman retired Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool, there was an allegation of embezzlement of Rs1m. Mr Hussain was declared deceased in both references, and according to practice cases cannot proceed against the deceased.

The last PML-N government gave Mr Hussain acting charge as Drap CEO despite much criticism. The PTI government has now confirmed his post.

According to a letter issued by the NHS ministry on Dec 27 that is available with Dawn, Mr Hussain has been appointed Drap CEO for three years with the approval of the federal government.

Pakistan Medical Association Secretary General Dr Qaisar Sajjad said the association has concerns regarding issues of corruption.

“Accountability should be transparent and across the board. We don’t think that we can make a new Pakistan with such steps,” he said.

Senior NHS ministry officers refused to comment on the issue and asked for their names not to be mentioned. One of them said NAB and the court was dealing with the case regarding the recovery of money and the ministry was not involved. He also said the allegations against Mr Hussain were baseless.

The ministry has also issued a statement claiming the allegations against Mr Hussain are baseless. The ministry said the IHC has declared him to be innocent as his name was included in the NAB reference due to a typographical error, which was also why he was declared dead.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2019