ISLAMABAD: Over Rs19 billion federal Covid-19 funding is understood to have ended up going to the proposed mother and child health centres in Punjab with officials claiming that the centre’s act of reallocating that money in the post-devolution regime doesn’t have the mandatory nod of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), a constitutional body that helps provinces sort out their issues.
As revealed by the documents available with ‘The News’, a Rs70 billion initiative for the country’s better response to coronavirus and other communicable diseases had got the thumbs up from the Central Development Working Party, the Planning Commission clearinghouse for provincial development projects, during a meeting on December 2, 2020.
Under the Covid-19 Responsive and Other Natural Calamities Control Programme, whose approval came on the recommendations of a committee of experts, the centre was to bear half of the cost of the improvement of health facilities in district and tehsil headquarters (Rs45 billion), improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene services (Rs12.5 billion), better public health surveillance (Rs7 billion), upgrade of livelihood infrastructure (Rs5 billion) and establishment of the project management unit (Rs500 million), while the rest were to be borne by the provinces.
The projects costing up to Rs50 million and of short gestation period of up to one year were to be initiated.Officials of the Finance Ministry, which released the money, told ‘The News’ on condition of anonymity that though the project was meant to strengthen secondary health facilities in district and tehsil headquarters to effectively and efficiently manage coronavirus, the then top bosses of the Planning Commission acceded to the demand of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar’s administration for the diversion of over Rs19 billion of that total funding to put up mother and child health centres in Sialkot, Rajanpur, Layyah, Attock and Bahawalnagar districts, a trauma centre in Pattoki THQ Hospital and a surgical ward in Chunian THQ Hospital, and increase bedding capacity of some THQ hospitals and rural health centres in the province.
They said not only was that move against the original concept and scope of the initiative but it also violated the rules governing the countrywide health systems since their devolution to provinces in 2011.
The officials said in the current de-centralisation regime, only the CCI could decide about the provision of the centre’s funds to a devolved subject, including healthcare, but the Finance Ministry transferred the federal Covid-19 funds in the Public Sector Development Programme to Punjab without taking the matter to the CCI for the mandatory nod. They also revealed that a follow-up to the reallocation of those funds revealed their ‘negligible’ utilisation by the Punjab health authorities and that the MCH centres continued to be on paper only.
The officials insisted that Punjab’s secondary healthcare facilities continued to have a suboptimal capacity for response to current and future emergencies. They said the funds meant for effective response to coronavirus and other communicable diseases through the establishment of intensive care units and procurement of ventilators and other equipment by the THQ and DHQ hospitals appeared to have gone to waste.
When contacted, spokesman for the Finance Ministry Birj Lal Dosani said the funds could be diverted by the finance minister-led Economic Coordination Committee only. He also said the matters related to the CCI were handled by the Cabinet Division and not his ministry.