Islamabad: Remarkably enough, Ehsaas Emergency Cash—despite being the biggest social protection package in Pakistan’s history, and an intervention involving huge disbursements to the...
Islamabad: Remarkably enough, Ehsaas Emergency Cash—despite being the biggest social protection package in Pakistan’s history, and an intervention involving huge disbursements to the tune of Rs179 billion in the most difficult circumstances, has come out clean in the Auditor General of Pakistan’s report on the expenditure incurred on COVID-19 by the federal government.
There is not a single reference to malpractice and corruption in the Ehsaas Emergency Cash audit, which included various agencies involved in the response to COVID-19, including NDMA, relevant ministries, USC, as well as BISP, which executed the Ehsaas Emergency Cash.
The audit report evades important facts; it does not say upfront that there was no corruption, no malpractice, no mis-procurement, and no procurement violations despite the expenditure of Rs179 billion in one go. The audit should also have mentioned that there was no violation of rules and no financial mismanagement, no loss to the exchequer, no wasteful expenditure, no overpayments, no unauthorized retention, no violation of the law, and no instances of “nonproduction of records” identified within BISP in relation to the execution of Ehsaas Emergency Cash.
On a close reading of the 10 ‘audit paras’ (audit observations) regarding Ehsaas, which were outlined in the audit report and the clarifications by BISP which were published later, the 10 audit paras can be classified in four categories.
In the first category, audit was questioning Cabinet decisions regarding inclusion and exclusion filters. For example, they raised that people receiving Zakat and tax filers were included in EEC, not realising that these filters were not exclusion filters approved by the Cabinet. The Cabinet, in its wisdom, made the right decision of giving relief those whose livelihoods had been affected during lockdowns.
In the second category, audit makes technical observations about data, and the inclusion of government servants and pensioners. In their response, BISP explains that they have access only to federal and provincial government servants’ data and not to data of pensioners and autonomous agencies, despite several reminders and letters. In fact, audit should applaud Ehsaas policies because under that, for the first time in the country’s history, more than 850,000 undeserving people were exited in 2019. Far from that, audit tries to muddy the message by poorly worded observations, making similar observations needlessly about poverty score and linkages of spouses in the NADRA database. These are technical limitations which have been extensively written about in a report (https://bit.ly/3dbvUG1).
Non-disbursement of COVID 19 cash transfers to 1.3 million enrolled/registered beneficiaries is not an irregularity; in fact, Ehsaas deserves recognition for its prudent use of resources. Where there are contractual obligations of banks and BISP gives clear evidence of accountability of partners, audit should have accepted BISP’s stance.
As such, not a single audit observation points to malafide and corruption by BISP in the execution of Ehsaas Emergency Cash. Unfortunately, a systematic effort appears to have been made to mispresent and undermine the remarkable execution of Ehsaas Emergency cash; this fastest, transparent and apolitical deployment of resources averted Pakistan from a humanitarian catastrophe during COVID-19 and averted millions of tragedies.