Friday Apr 26, 2019
BANNU: A parliamentary committee appointed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly to probe alleged corruption and irregularities in the Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, backed the accusations following a visit to the sites of the forestation in Bannu and other areas.
The 20-member committee, which comprised members from the government and the opposition including Leader of Opposition in KP Assembly, Akram Khan Durrani, was formed after repeated protests by the opposition members in the provincial assembly against alleged corruption in the ambitious project, which was launched by the KP government in 2014 and aimed to plant about a billion trees to combat climate change and deforestation.
Committee member Akram Khan Durrani, following the site visit, claimed that not even 100 million trees were planted under the programme, as opposed to the much-touted one billion figure.
He told the media that the figure was inflated by the authorities, and billions of rupees worth of corruption was committed in the project. He further said that the labourers were paid wages of Rs5,000 which were inflated to Rs15,500 in the government records.
The opposition leader also questioned why the accountability departments had chosen to stay silent on the allegations of corruption in the Billion Tree Tsunami project.
The claims, however, were rejected by KP Minister for Information Shaukat Ali Yousafzai, who termed the allegations a "drama concocted by the opposition" to create controversy.
Yousafzai told Geo News that the committee members "purposefully" went to the wrong sites to assess the progress of the Billion Tree Tsunami programme.
"This is all a drama by the opposition. The government formed the [parliamentary] committee on the opposition’s demands. God knows which sites they went to. I want to tell them, at least go to the sites where the trees are," the minister said.
Asked about the alleged irregularities in wages, Yousafzai clarified that those involved in corruption had already been fired by the provincial government.
"The mistakes that were done, have been [rectified]. Those who were [found] responsible for the [irregularities] were fired. Over a hundred officers were removed from their posts. The recovery has been done."
Yousafzai said the opposition should have appreciated the provincial government’s prompt action against the perpetrators, instead of digging up files from the past.
He added that the Billion Tree project had earned praise from foreign institutions as well.
The Billion Tree Tsunami project was launched by the KP government in November 2014, and is due to be completed in June 2020.
Kamran Hussain, a manager of the Pakistani branch of the World Wildlife Fund, who conducted an independent audit of the project, told AFP last year that their figures showed slightly less — but still above target at 1.06 billion trees.
“We are 100% confident that the figure about the billion trees is correct,” he had said, highlighting the transparency of the process. “Everything is online. Everyone has access to this information.”
The programme has also been praised by the head of the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a green NGO, which called it a “true conservation success story”.
Pakistani authorities say just 5.2% of the country is covered by forest, against the 12% recommended by the United Nations.