KARACHI: A National Accountability Bureau (NAB) team on Thursday raided the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), checked its financial records, questioned officials of the health facility, gathered relevant documents and returned after more than five hours raising doubts over financial affairs of the largest specialised public-sector hospital and inviting strong reaction from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on the anti-graft body’s action.
Although there was no official word from the NAB, the sources privy to the development said that the bureau officials entered the institute’s building in second half of the day and visited several sections of its administrative unit. The NAB officials, they said, also called senior management personnel of the NICVD and questioned them about different financial affairs of the institute.
“The [NAB] team stayed there for over five hours,” said a source citing different activities of the NAB officials while at the NICVD. “They checked different records regarding financial matters and human resource section of the NICVD. They put different questions before the NICVD officials and noted down their replies.”
His response was affirmative when asked about any documents seized by the NAB team while returning after completing their job.
The bureau more than two years ago initiated an inquiry against the NICVD over corruption allegations under Section 19 read with 27 of the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999. It had transpired during the inquiry that the executive director of the NICVD was in “possession of information/evidence whatsoever, which relates to the commission of the offence(s)”, a letter reads. While initiating inquiry in September 2018, it had sought complete record in original and certified copies of structural formation of NICVD, year-wise sanctioned strength and appointments made in different cadres, including regular, contractual, contingency and daily wages based posts, during last 10 years.
PPP describes the raid as ‘shocking’ move by centre to take over hospital
“The NAB had also sought details of appointments in different cadres during the last 10 years, pay structure of different grades, annual budget details and expenditure during the last 10 years, details of procurement, including drugs, machinery, etc, internal, external and third-party audit reports of last 10 years,” said the source citing details of the letter sent by the bureau to the executive director of NICVD at the beginning of the inquiry.
The NICVD later in a statement described the NAB raid as “unjustified” and source of stress among doctors and other staff of the institute.
“The NAB’s raid on the institute which provides free treatment is unjustified,” it said. “The NAB has not shared any prior information with the NICVD for any record. The NAB has always been offered cooperation whenever it sought any details. The NAB raid has caused serious stress among doctors and other staff members of the NICVD. The patients also feel uncomfortable.”
While largely offering free of cost services to thousands of cardiac patients from all over the country every year and claimed as a ‘success story’ by the ruling PPP under its health reform programme in the province, the huge financial resources of the NICVD and its highly paid executive staff always come under question from political rivals.
Serious allegations from PTI
The parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in Sindh Assembly, Haleem Adil Sheikh, is one among other leaders of the opposition parties who has levelled serious allegations against the financial affairs of the NICVD.
“A retired person was appointed as head of the NICVD on political grounds, who was receiving Rs6.5 million salary per month but did not bother to attend the office regularly,” he said in his recent press conference.
“The NICVD is under debt of Rs16 billion at the moment. An amount of Rs40,000 from each angioplasty procedure which was performed at the NICVD [is] deposited into a special pool, which was onward distributed to the accounts of ED NICVD and other officials. This is taxpayers’ money but the way they use it, is illegal and injustice. The NICVD Welfare Trust has been established, which is illegal because no government hospital or entity could form trust with its own name. The NICVD Trust is established but there is no accountability of the trust.”
PPP condemns the raid
However, the NAB action attracted strong reaction from the ruling PPP which condemned the raid calling it a move from the centre to “hijack” the “best public sector hospital” from the Sindh government.
“NICVD is one of the best public service hospitals in Pakistan which is now being targeted,” said Parliamentary Leader of the PPP in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman in a statement. “It is shocking that a hospital has been raided by NAB. Hospitals are not even attacked during wars. Has the government lost all sense? What is the purpose of this NAB raid when the administration has been providing all the information?”
She said that “Nab-gardi” was endangering peoples’ lives as the OPD and emergency sections were closed. Instead of following the model of NICVD around the country, she said that the [federal] government wanted to hijack it from the Sindh government but the PPP would not let the government close the NICVD.
“Is this how they will investigate, by shutting down a hospital? Accountability should not come at the cost of risking innocent lives,” she added.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020