News Asia-Pacific

Monday 26 June 2017

UN relief request raises Pakistan corruption fear

Pakistanis displaced by floods reach out for milk during aid distribution yesterday at a temporary camp in Sukkar, Sindh Province,
southern Pakistan
Pakistanis displaced by floods reach out for milk during aid distribution yesterday at a temporary camp in Sukkar, Sindh Province, southern Pakistan

Bradley S Klapper in Geneva

A UN agency launched an appeal for relief funds to be sent directly to a Pakistani or Swiss bank account with none of the usual monitoring safeguards.

Washington has also demanded more transparency from Pakistan on how it is spending flood aid money.

The appeal is a sharp departure from UN protocol and has raised concerns in the international aid community as questions mount over rampant corruption in Pakistan.

The questions being asked focus on whether Pakistan may be preventing the money from going where it's needed most.

Obscure

The press release by the UN's obscure International Telecommunication Union asks donors to wire money to the National Bank of Pakistan or Switzerland's UBS to "assist the flood-affected victims" and rebuild telephone networks -- but offers no specifics on concrete projects.

ITU's request affects only a tiny fraction of the total aid for Pakistan. But it highlights corruption fears raised in particular by the US, which has provided the largest portion of the $800m (€632m) pledged for Pakistan's flood relief.

While urging more international donations, Washington's aid chief warned that the purse strings may be cut for Pakistan's long rehabilitation effort if the government cannot prove it is spending money properly.

"It will require a demonstration of real transparency and accountability and that resources spent in Pakistan get results," Rajiv Shah said.

The US State Department declined to comment on ITU's aid campaign. ITU spokesman Sanjay Acharya defended the appeal, which was made at the request of the Pakistani government.

Sensitive

"We cannot possibly say, 'No, we don't trust you'," Mr Acharya said. For the Pakistani account, he said: "It's their responsibility. We can't monitor that."

The request is sensitive because the UN is desperately trying to rally cash assistance for one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, while guaranteeing that each dollar will be accounted for.

Reports indicate that millions of dollars regularly disappear into Pakistani officials' pockets, and the country's politicians score among the worst in polls by corruption watchdog Transparency International.

In Islamabad, Information Ministry secretary Najibullah Malik said that all the aid money would be distributed transparently.

Irish Independent

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