LAHORE: The PML-N government has raised many ‘unnecessary’ objections to the transfer of about Rs2.3bn funds for completion of the Mother & Child Hospital in Lahore, apparently politicising the public health project because it was launched by the PTI government.

At the time of its launch, the project was declared as first-of-its kind facility having many super specialties like urogynecology and oncology and in the public sector, which was to provide the ‘test-tube baby facility’.

The foundation stone for the 600-bed facility in a 10-storey building at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital was laid by former chief minister Usman Buzdar in February 2020 and it was to be completed within two years. The project is near its completion now.

The funds allocated for the fiscal year 2021-22 were required immediately for the procurement of medical equipment, furniture and transport and the case is pending with the Planning & Development (P&D) department for final approval.

Mother & Child Hospital funds about to lapse due to P&D dept’s delaying tactics

An official, privy to the entire process, told Dawn the health department had repeatedly requested and sent several reminders to the P&D higher-ups through the finance department since March, expressing fears that the funds might lapse if approval was not granted for their transfer.

He said the P&D approved several other ADP health schemes but, each time, it reportedly raised objections to the mega health project at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, the attached health facility of the Fatima Jinnah Medical University (FJMU). He added that the P&D authorities first time raised objections to the allocated amount and returned the file asking the officials concerned to rationalise it.

Keeping the urgency of the matter in view, the official source added, the health officials rectified all the objections and returned it to the P&D department to seek its approval because the fiscal year was ending in June. They slashed an amount of Rs500m from the allocated budget and submitted the request but the P&D department raised another objection to the accessories of the ultrasound machines being procured for diagnosis of the test-tube babies. The officials removed all the ultrasound machines from the project and sent the case for approval yet again. However, the P&D department, for the third time, raised another objection and this time it was about the provision of In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), first such facility at a public hospital that was to be established for the test-tube babies. He said the P&D department had declared it a luxury, saying the Punjab government was unable to afford it due to the present (economic) circumstances. The officials concerned removed it too from the scheme to satisfy the P&D as they feared that any further debate on the issue might waste more time while the risk of lapse of funds was looming ahead due to time shortage.

It’s noteworthy that all the objections were not raised at the same time as should have happened if the objections were reasonable. The sources said that it appeared that the P&D authorities deliberately wanted to delay the matter by raising objections one by one, leading to the lapse of funds.

The matter has now been delayed again and the bureaucratic bottlenecks have put the future of the public-friendly health scheme at stake as the scheme is still awaiting approval of the P&D department, which looks hell bent on buying more time, the official said.

Following the grave situation, the Punjab health department, in its last letter issued recently again, warned that in the present scenario, there are threats that allocated funds would lapse.

The letter was addressed to the additional finance secretary and the health secretary briefed him on the seriousness and background to the scheme. The letter said, “I am directed to enclose herewith a copy of letter issued by the vice chancellor of the Fatima Jinnah Medical University Lahore on June 10, 2022 which stated that funds amounting to Rs2,381.3 million have been allocated against the ADP 2021-22 scheme, titled “Establishment of Mother & Child Block at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Lahore”.

Quoting the Fatima Jinnah Medical University VC, the letter said the project director of the MCH Block had completed the tendering process for equipment and furniture for the hospital as per PPRA (Amended 2014), the detailed procurement proceedings were placed before Finance & Planning (F&P) committee meeting held on June 3, 2022. It was recommended by the committee meeting that the demand should be placed before the syndicate for issuance of orders and advance withdrawal of funds required for establishment of LC at the Bank of Punjab as permitted by the Finance Department vide letter issued on Feb 17,2022. The account had been opened at the Bank of Punjab while the Free Tax Number (FTN) and Pakistan Single Window (PSW) consumer ID had already been issued.

The letter further states that according to the FJMU VC, the syndicate chairman, who used to be the health minister, had not been notified so far by the present government. The purchase proceedings were completed in March this year but they could not be placed before the syndicate because of the missing minister, reads the letter, which also expressed fear of the lapse of funds. The FJMU VC added that the revised PC-I was submitted by this office on March 31, 2022 and was forwarded by the administrative department to the P&D on April 15, 2022.

Afterwards, pre-PDWP meetings were convened for three times on April 27, May 17 and June 7 and a PDWP meeting was held on June 4 but the funds were still ‘under-consideration’ for approval by the P&D chairman.

“Keeping in view, to avoid the lapse of huge amount released for this development project, the VC FJMU has requested to approach the finance department for transfer of funds from Assan Assignment Account to commercial bank, the BOP for establishment of LCs,” the health department’s letter said and it sought permission for transfer for funds, lying in Assan Assignment Account for further transfer to account of Bank of Punjab for establishment of LCs against allocated funds.

Health Secretary Ali Jan told Dawn his department was gearing up efforts to get the required funds transferred to ensure timely procurement for the project.

“We have also engaged the CM’s Secretariat to get it done timely as we have no more time to secure the funds, which would lapse in case of any further delay,” he said.

To a question, he said the P&D department was dealing with the matter of approval of the scheme’s PC-I, which was revised when it raised certain objections many times.

“I am also joining the health secretary to hold a meeting with the secretary finance in the days to come for the transfer of funds,” Punjab health minister Khawaja Salman Rafique said. He told Dawn the mother and child hospital project was on the priority of the government and it will be completed on time.

Published in Dawn,June 17th, 2022

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