Saudi rice charity stirs controversy

Published May 12, 2021
Prime minister’s special assistant Tahir Ashrafi said the charity was not new as the poor in Pakistan had been receiving it in the past as well. — Reuters/File
Prime minister’s special assistant Tahir Ashrafi said the charity was not new as the poor in Pakistan had been receiving it in the past as well. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: Saudi rice charity for Pakistan following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the kingdom set off a new controversy as the distribution started on Tuesday.

King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, a Saudi aid agency, had announced a couple of days back that it would provide 440 tonnes (19,032 bags) of rice under its Zakat al Fitr project for distribution in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

The aid is being distributed through the provincial governments among 114,192 recipients in nine districts — Lahore, Faisalabad, Sahiwal and Khanewal districts in Punjab, and Lakki Marwat, Tank, Bajaur, Lower Dir and Dera Ismail Khan districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The announcement of the charity consignment that immediately followed Mr Khan’s trip caused it to be linked to the visit. People, therefore, saw it as an outcome of what the government has been dubbing a highly successful visit.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in a statement, said PM Khan achieved nothing except 19,000 bags of rice in charity from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the form of Fitra and Zakat.

“The price of rice bags got in charity is comparatively lesser than the expenses incurred on the tour to the kingdom by Imran Khan along with a couple of dozen of friends and ministers,” he added.

“Imran Khan became the prime minister after 22 years of struggle just to get rice sacks for an atomic power country?” the PPP chairman asked.

Others on Twitter lashed out at the government for getting charity from Saudi Arabia.

Talking to Dawn, prime minister’s special assistant Tahir Ashrafi said the charity was not new as the poor in Pakistan had been receiving it in the past as well.

However, he added, this time the Saudis, instead of giving it to individuals and groups, was distributing it in collaboration with the government.

He explained that the decision for this year’s distribution had been taken at least a month ago. He recalled that the same aid agency had a few weeks back sent supplies for Covid-19, but no one had then criticised it.

Mr Ashrafi said the critics were “a disappointed lot”.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2021

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