From ‘Qarz Utaro Mulk Sunwaro’ to ‘Dam Banao Mulk Bachao’ to ‘Missing Necklace’, history of some noted relief funds set up in Pakistan

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By Sabir Shah

Pakistani Premier Imran Khan, whose Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital has set up a goal to collect Rs 17 billion in charity this year, has decided to establish the much-anticipated “Prime Minister Relief Fund for COVID19” for his needy compatriots Monday night, which thus means that since February 1997, the country has opted for numerous initiatives of this kind to meet certain goals, research shows.

Over 23 years ago, on February 23, 1997, the-then Premier Nawaz Sharif had launched the National Debt Retirement Programme (Qarz Utaro Mulk Sunwaro Scheme) to pay off the country’s Rs1,500 billion external debts.

The total amount collected under this head in local currency had rested at Rs2.805 billion. A State Bank circular had stated that the total amount collected in foreign currency was $178 million – $28 million donations and remaining $150 million Qarz-e-Hasna and term deposits. Almost all these deposits have till date been repaid, as per the State Bank of Pakistan.

According to Finance Division documents, the debt retired was Rs1.7 billion (regarded as the most expensive debt with a markup of 17.2 per cent) from a major chunk of money collected through the National Debt Retirement Programme, while the rest of the amount (Rs1.105 billion) was not utilized by the government for debt retirement.

Instead it was transferred to the federal consolidated fund, non-food account, on March 27, 1999. This amount was used to facilitate State Bank offices as well as commercial banks to refund Qarz-e-Hasna and terms deposits on maturity of two years.

On January 31, 2000, the Musharraf government revealed that subsequent to refund of Qarz-e-Hasna and term deposits on their respective maturities, the balance in the federal government account had stood at Rs997.5 million. This included Rs333 million donations, Rs338 million Qarz-e-Hasna and Rs 305 million in shape of term deposits.

In April 2017, the State Bank had directed commercial banks to facilitate the claimants/depositors, who approach their respective banks along with the original receipt/certificate for encashment of their deposits under the National Debt Retirement Programme. On July 10, 2018, the-then Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Mian Saqib Nisar, had established a Supreme Court of Pakistan Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund to raise money for the construction of these water storage facilities.

Later, the Prime Minister of Pakistan had announced to join efforts with the Chief Justice of Pakistan for this cause. Accordingly, the fund was renamed as “Prime Minister and Chief Justice of Pakistan Fund for Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dam“. On September 9, 2018, Wapda official had revealed that at least US$12 billion was required to build the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. While $5 billion was required to build infrastructure, another $7 billion was needed for power generation.

The Prime Minister and Chief Justice of Pakistan Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dam Fund has received over Rs11.75 billion so far, as per media reports. The countrywide contribution to the fund had stood at over Rs9.6 billion; while the remaining Rs1.7 billion plus was contributed by the expatriate Pakistanis, according to an update issued by the State Bank of Pakistan. In July 2008, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) was launched. It is a federal unconditional cash transfer poverty reduction programme in Pakistan. This programme happens to be the largest single social safety net initiative in the country with nearly Rs90 billion distributed to 5.4 million beneficiaries in 2016.

On December 26, 2019, the current government had decided to expel more than 800,000 persons from the Benazir Income Support Programme, renamed “Ehsaas Programme”, in a bid to save Rs16 billion and purge this public welfare initiative of non-deserving beneficiaries. These individuals included civil servants of the federal or provincial governments and those who hold more than 12 acres of agricultural land. The beneficiaries had included 153,302 people who traveled abroad once, 195,364 privileged spouses traveled outside Pakistan. The list also includes the names of 692 people who have one or more motorcycle/car registered, 43746 spouse registered/vehicle or having registered vehicle with their spouse, 24546 persons whose monthly mobile or telephone is more than Rs1000, some 115,767 persons whose husband’s/wife’s monthly mobile or telephone bill is more than 1000, 666 persons who have paid passport executive fee, 580 persons husband/wife paid passport executive fee. Regardless of the tax, 36,970 persons with one or more family members make the ID card paid by the executive fee.

Of these persons, 14,370 are civil servants/employees of Railway/Pakistan Post Office or the Benazir Income Support Programme. The total number of people excluded from this programme stands at 820,165. After the October 8, 2005 earthquake that had hit northern Pakistan, killing over 73,000 people, severely injuring many more and leaving millions without shelter, the government of the time had immediately formed the Federal Relief Commission (FRC), with a mandate to manage the entire spectrum of the relief effort. According to Maj-Gen Farooq Ahmad Khan, the Pakistani Federal Relief Commissioner in 2006, the devastation was spread over 30,000 square kilometres of treacherous Himalayan terrain. Most educational institutions were destroyed, killing over 18,000 students.

The majority of health care units and hospitals had collapsed, the communications infrastructure was unusable and all essential utilities were disrupted; in all, the affected area was strewn with 200 million tons of debris. Pakistan had received support in both cash and kind from many countries and global NGOs. This was the time when no disaster management organization had existed in the country to handle a relief operation on such a large scale, and the existing infrastructure was either very poor or totally destroyed. On July 3, 2007, the-then President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, had announced establishment of “President’s Relief Fund for Flood Victims”. The fund had been established to alleviate the sufferings of the flood affected people that year.

On August 17, 2007, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), an autonomous and constitutionally established federal authority, was established and mandated to deal with whole spectrum of disasters and their management in the country. During the 2010 Pakistan floods, which had affected approximately one-fifth of Pakistan’s total land area, another relief fund was established. These floods had directly affected about 20 million people, mostly by destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure, with a death toll of close to 2,000. Damage to structures was estimated to exceed US$4 billion, and wheat crop damages were estimated to be over US$500 million. The economic impact may have been as much as US$43 billion.

After these floods had wreaked havoc, the wife of Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyep Erdogan, had personally donated Turkish Lira 100,000 and also donated her jewellery including a precious necklace, which was very memorable and dear to her as it was given to her by her husband on their wedding. She gave the necklace to the Pakistani First Lady, Mrs Fauzia Gilani, wife of the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for dowry of a flood-stricken girl.

The necklace was bought in an auction and given back to her, but she had again donated it to the flood victims, when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani arrived in a camp near Dadu in Sindh, after it was found that eight girls from the floods victims were to get married. The necklace was auctioned again and was bought by the-then National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra) chairman, Ali Arshad Hakim, for Rs1.6 million and the amount was divided among eight girls. Ali Arshad Hakim gave this necklace to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and once again it came back to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

In June 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had issued a notice to the country’s former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to return a necklace, which the former Pakistani head of government did within a fortnight. During the 2010 floods, the-then Pakistani government was blamed for sluggish and disorganized response to the calamity. The perceived disorganized and insufficient response had led to riots, with looting of aid convoys by hunger-stricken people, according to archival research.

*This article has actually appeared in The News, written by Sabir Shah

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