NAB to investigate ‘Sim Sim Hamara’ fraud allegations
By: Syed Irfan Raza
ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau has decided to investigate allegations of fraud in the $20 million US-funded TV programme for Pakistani children.
The NAB will probe allegations against the country’s prominent stage drama company, Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW), and its informal literacy programme, Pakistan Children’s Television (PCTV). The US-funded programme known as ‘Sim Sim Hamara’ was being shown on Pakistan Television (PTV).
The channel began telecasting the programme in April 2001 and it was stopped in June this year because of allegations of fraud. The decision to open the probe was taken at a meeting of the NAB’s Executive Board presided over by its Chairman Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari on Wednesday.
“In this case, RPTW and PCTV were alleged to have committed fraud, forgery and embezzlement of about $1 million from USAID-funded projects in Pakistan while procuring video, sound, design, animation equipment, etc,” NAB’s spokesman Zafar Iqbal said.
The NAB also decided to conduct a prevention study under its awareness and prevention division for workable recommendations to streamline the existing system of the RPTW in terms of running such projects.
The USAID is reported to have parted ways with the $20 million programme after allegations of financial misappropriation. However, RPTW is committed to continuing its informal educational project even after it has faced criticism both in the US and Pakistan. The company’s head, Faizaan Pirzada, has reportedly denied that any fraud was committed and called for an impartial inquiry into the issue.
The USAID had provided the fund to run Sim Sim Hamara, a Pakistani version of Sesame Street, to target 35 million children. The children show was aired on PTV Home in Urdu language. It was based on a word and a number and discussion on them by various characters to promote culture, tolerance, friendship, respect and valuing diversity of life.
It was planned to run for three seasons till May 2014. But the USAID halted the programme at once after receiving an unidentified call levelling allegations of fraud and a ‘family-run business’ on RPTW. The owners of RPTW said neither the US agency nor the audit team had informed them about the charges.