PESHAWAR: In a surprising unfolding of events, the multi-million project initiated by the World Bank for enabling health-reforms in KPK province (MDTF) – has caused the dismissal of Shaukat Yousuf Zai – the Health Minister and Arbab Shehzad – the Chief Secretary. The project has now been surprisingly awarded to two well-known NGOs.
According to a News-Report; The much-trumpeted World Bank project, ‘Revitalisation of Health Services in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,’ through which Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Secretary General Jehangir Tareen was publicly accused by some elements of supporting People’s Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI) and forcing the health department to award the contract to PPHI, has now been awarded to Merlin International and Integrated Health Services (IHS).
A Provincial health department official commented on the situation; “This new development has raised a serious question mark on motives of some elements in PTI and Health Department who created a smokescreen by unfittingly accusing Jehangir Tareen so that the contract can actually be awarded to someone else,”
The events become more intriguing as the website of Merlin International (www.merlin.org.uk) states that it has been acquired by ‘Save The Children’ – a UK-based NGO that is being perceived in Pakistan as actively involved in recruiting Dr Shakeel Afridi for the CIA. Dr. Shakeel Afridi was allegedly involved in conducting a phony vaccination campaign in Abbottabad during May 2010 to trace Osama bin Laden.
The Health department official further stated that; “This award of multi-million dollar contract to the controversial NGO such as ‘Save The Children’ in Lower Dir, a sensitive district in the Malakand region close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, has raised serious question marks over the development. The poor health workers and polio teams in the country were already paying a heavy price for the dirty role of Dr Shakeel Afridi and the country and particularly the KP could not afford any such misadventure”.
Shockingly, the Project Coordinator of the controversial MDTF health revitalisation project – Dr Shahid Hayat, who is an employee of the KP Health Department, was also unaware of the fact that Merlin was now a part of ‘Save The Children.’ “I will have to check with the legal team on if such a transaction is permissible by law as I am completely unaware if Merlin is actually Save The Children,” he said.
Shahid Hayat, while holding the media solely responsible for making the project controversial made another startling revelation that due to the media controversy surrounding the project relating to misuse of funds and short-listing of the target districts, the incumbent World Bank Country Director Rachid Benmessaoud had decided to close the project.
The Project manager briefed a Media personnel, stating that; “Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, had to offer a personal guarantee to the country director of the World Bank to convince the World Bank to review its decision. The chief minister gave personal assurance that the funds would be utilised transparently,”
Dr Shahid, however, passed the buck to the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) when asked to offer a guarantee that another ‘Abbottabad type’ of incident would not happen under the MDTF project. “I will further check but Merlin International had been cleared by the EAD,” he said. He assured that he would take up the matter of Merlin International being acquired by ‘Save The Children’ at the ‘correct corridors.
When contacted, the spokesperson for Save The Children in Pakistan, Ghulam Qadri confirmed that they had acquired Merlin International worldwide. He said Merlin International would start implementing the project and when it formally became part of Save the Children, then Save the Children would take over it from Merlin International.
He rejected the allegations of Dr Shakil Afridi that he had run the fake immunisation drive in Abbottabad on behalf of Save the Children. “We have been working throughout the country and never violated law of the land as our basic purpose is to serve the humanity,” Ghulam Qadri said.
When Dr Shahid Hayat was asked to comment on the role of the PPHI in allegedly forcing the Health Department to award this contract, the project manager made another startling revelation that the PPHI through an official correspondence had informed the health department last year that it was not interested in the project.
Senior members of the Health Department believe that; the sudden chain of events in the controversial multi-million dollar MDTF healthcare project has not only stunned many but also raised serious question marks on the process that has been followed to award the contract, moreover if the revelation was correct that PPHI had proactively written to the provincial health department last year that it was against the design of the PC-1 of the project. “There is a serious need to re-evaluate the transparency of the process used to award the contract to NGOs,” an official said.
A PTI leader in Peshawar claimed that it was the same project that was being perceived as the bone of contention between PTI leader Jehangir Tareen and Health Minister Shaukat Yousafzai, as well as between CM Pervez Khattak and former chief secretary Arbab Shehzad. However, after the fact that the project has now been awarded to Merlin, its a “totally different ball game”, as he termed it.