A COMPREHENSIVE and detailed report by the auditor general of Pakistan on the utilisation of Covid-19 funds by the government has raised grave concerns about misappropriations. It has been reported that it was only under IMF pressure that the government agreed to release the report. This suggests that without this pressure, the government was not willing to share with the citizens these serious allegations which must be probed on a priority basis.

According to the report, the Utility Stores Corporation has the most to answer for in terms of its procurements, quality controls and other violations of standard procedures. Various other government agencies, including the National Disaster Management Authority and the Ehsaas Programme also need to come clean about the objections raised by the AGP.

The PTI government had allocated a substantial budget for Covid relief and had claimed that this money would be utilised to help the financially weaker segments of society cope with the fallout of lockdowns and other Covid-related economic issues. However, it now turns out, as per the AGP report, that these very large sums of money were not managed very well. In fact, if the report is not refuted with evidence, it would suggest financial misappropriation and embezzlement on a very large scale. It would also raise very disturbing questions about the way that government organisations are being run and how the political oversight concerning them is weak and incompetent.

The federal government needs to come clean on all these matters and provide a detailed explanation on each of the red flags raised by the AGP’s report. At the same time, it also needs to inform the citizens why it was attempting to keep this damning report away from them and released it only under pressure from the IMF. The numbers involved are too high and the allegations levelled too serious to be ignored.

Read: Cabinet rejects audit report on Covid-19 spending

This is why it is rather strange that the NCOC is also silent on the matter. As the main coordinating body for all Covid-related activities, NCOC must ensure that the AGP report is explained to the satisfaction of citizens. The NCOC has performed well and is held up as an example of success where most countries have failed to tackle the Covid threat. However, the AGP report also casts a dark shadow on the NCOC because it was after all the umbrella that covered all activities linked to Covid-19 and the government’s policies.

If these serious and specific questions of misappropriations in the AGP report are not addressed by the NCOC, they can threaten to undo the good work that the NCOC has done over the past two years. It is hoped the government will move swiftly to address every single concern in the report and take stern action wherever a wrongdoing is proved. There is no time to waste.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2021

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