LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has launched a probe against government officers allegedly involved in misappropriation of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) funds and summoned 16 suspected officers to record their statements in this regard.
A special team of FIA under Punjab zone-I Director Muhammad Rizwan has been tasked to investigate the role of the government officials in “embezzling” the BISP funds during 2010-18.
An official told Dawn that the agency had initially summoned some 16 officers in BS-17 to BS-20 accused of misappropriating the BISP funds. “Accounts and assets, including foreign assets, of spouses of these officers will also be investigated,” he said, adding these officers had been called next week to record their statements.
The FIA would initiate criminal proceedings against BS-17 and above officers in the light of its probe which was likely to be completed in a couple of months.
Earlier, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had referred cases against more than 2,000 government employees who fraudulently benefited from the BISP to the FIA.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Accountability Shahzad Akbar said the government had also written to all chief secretaries and the Establishment Division for taking departmental action against, and recovering funds from, the government officers who benefited from BISP. This programme is aimed at providing financial support to the poor and destitute.
The FIA will register criminal cases against the government officers and the people who assisted them in withdrawing BISP funds.
The government analysis had revealed that as many as 140,000 employees or their spouses benefited from BISP funds meant for the poor. A major chunk of the 140,000 illegal beneficiaries were government employees from grade 1 to 16, while the rest (2,037) were officers from grade 17 to 22.
“This is a lack of transparency in the system and its regulations that this [fraud] went on for years and the officers continued to withdraw money,” Mr Akbar said.
According to Mr Akbar, the number of government employees in grade 17 and above whose spouses fraudulently benefited from BISP was nine in Azad Kashmir and 40 in Gilgit-Baltistan. As many as 554 officers or their spouses benefited from the programme in Balochistan, 342 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 101 in Punjab and 938 in Sindh.
A total of 39 employees in grade 1 to 16 and four officers in grade 17 and above who worked for BISP itself and benefited from the programme, have been fired. Similarly, 48 employees of the federal government were also sacked.
Launched in July 2008, the federally-funded BISP is Pakistan’s largest social safety net, catering to women and benefiting around 5.4 million people, according to data released in 2016.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2020