Rafi Peer Theatre vows to continue PCTV
By: Aliya Mirza
LAHORE: The Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) is committed to continuing its informal educational project, the Pakistan Children Television (PCTV), even after the US Agency for International Development (USAID) parted its ways with it on a $20 million programme levelling serious allegations of financial misappropriation.
The company has faced a media trial in the US and Pakistan and is determined to ensure that its 37-year-old reputation, integrity and services in the field of music, puppetry and art are fully protected through transparent inquiry and early release of the probe report.
“We are earnestly waiting for the inquiry report because we believe there are no misappropriations of funds. We also plan to continue the programme and raise funding for it because it will benefit millions of children in Pakistan,” said Faizaan Peerzada, head of the party RPTW.
“Interestingly on paper and in meetings with us they (USAID officials) had always been praising the services of Rafi Peer team. While in media they went exactly the opposite,” he remarked.
The USAID funded $20 million to run Pakistani version of Sesame Street, Sim Sim Hamara, to target 35 million children of Pakistan.
The children show was aired on the state-run Pakistan Television in Urdu language, every 30-minute weekly episode 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 until 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 the RPTW.
At a news briefing, US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said the USAID was informed about the corruption through an anti-fraud hotline.
“We launched an investigation into the allegations and subsequently sent the theatre workshop a letter terminating the project agreement,” Toner said. “No one is questioning the value and positive impact of this kind of programming for children. But this is about allegations of corruption,” he said. “We had what we believed was credible proof,” said Toner. “We thought it was prudent to terminate the programme and wait for the results of the investigation.”
Peerzada said that the US office of inspector general had held two meetings with him in April 2012. He said, “We were told that there was shortage of funds and political circumstances are not favourable and the USAID wanted to close the fund at the obligated amount of $10 million.”
Later on May 24, 2012 they again went to Islamabad and the verbal agreement was formally signed on a one-and-a-half page terms and conditions.
A copy of the letter no 391-A-00-10-01161-00 is available with Daily Times and has no mention of misappropriation of money. Instead the letter reads: “No future funding is available and USAID will not liable for any costs beyond the $10 million. RPTW shall submit a detailed close-out plan with existing obligated funds under the agreement…”
Peerzada said neither the US agency nor the audit firm had shared the charges with his company. “We were audited nine times for the project. The complete audit for first year was conducted by Nexia International, the auditing firm hired by USAID, and the audit for the project’s second year is underway.