By Tahir Niaz –
The latest parliamentary scam
Amidst increasing concerns about corruption and its impact in general on development in the country, federal lawmakers have plundered millions of rupees from the national exchequer under the garb of medical treatment they are legally entitled to.
At a time when more than half of the country’s population is living below the poverty line and anti-corruption initiatives are being taken in energy, taxation, railways, etc, parliamentarians in Islamabad are found embroiled in a big money scam that includes the people working at the parliament house’s internal dispensary.
According to a report, the Pakistani lawmakers get expensive medicines issued in their names from the dispensary without a prescription from a medical practitioner, using their personal letterheads instead, as it is impossible for a low ranking staff worker to refuse official paper.
The practice has been going on since many years, until the audit department finally raised an objection earlier this year. “Some of the lawmakers even recovered expenses they made on plastic surgery, as there is no monetized limit to the amount they can spend on medical orders”, a source in the parliament house informs.
The parliamentarians aren’t the only culprits however, also profiting from the medical spam is the parliamentary staff. Some of the staff and others around them make earnest sounding requests to MNAs for signed letterheads to get medicine from the dispensary they otherwise won’t be able to afford. The overly charitable and the naïve hand over official documents stating the desired medication, the request quantities of which can later be fudged.
The staff, working in collusion with the dispensary orderlies, can order hundreds of boxes of expensive medical supplies, and then sell them on for hefty profits.
Sources say the scam came to light during the audit of the accounts of the ministry of health/Polyclinic Hospital Islamabad which runs the dispensary at the parliament house.
The sitting Speaker of the National Assembly, Sardar Ayyaz Sadiq quietly formed a five-member committee to probe into the matter and suggest recommendations so that no such pilferage occurs in the future. But sources fear that those who have willingly been in on this scam will just wield their influence to dictate the outcome of the probe.
The special five-member committee comprises Major Tahir Iqbal of the PML-N as the convener; Azra Fazal Pechuhu of the PPP, Asad Umar of the PTI, Ch. Asadur Rehman of the PML-N and S. A. Iqbal Qadri of the MQM. They have held several meetings so far but couldn’t get hold of the records of issuance of medicines to the parliamentarians.
The numbers being carted around relating to the scam are medicines worth almost Rs 60-70 million every year. The parliamentarians, their immediate family members and parents are entitled for free treatment but this service is also extended to friends and well wishers, through the same letterhead orders.
Nobody from the dispensary can refuse a sitting member of the assembly and they have to locally purchase the medicines which they don’t have in stock. “Keeping in view the volume of the plundered money in the name of medical treatment, it seems that the entire parliament is ill and they come here just to get treatment”, another source says.
The special committee also summoned the audit officials and the ministry of health to get more information but progress is proving slow. The committee has been mandated to not only probe what has happened in the past but also to suggest a transparent mechanism so as to avert such a ‘loot sale’ in the future.
“The proposed solution? Each parliamentarian will be issued a health card so as to maintain record of his medical treatment and the committee will make it mandatory for parliamentarians to submit a medical prescription for obtaining medicines in future,” sources say of the committee’s recommendations.
The committee is likely to submit its recommendations to the Speaker after the upcoming budget session.
The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad