The Afghan government is still pushing for the implementation of its multimillion new COVID-19 relief package, the "National Dinner Table" program, despite the program's rejection by the parliament, saying it will ensure “full transparency” in putting the plan into practice to help those in need amid the coronavirus crisis.
The $244 million program was announced by President Ashraf Ghani last week on Saturday and was rejected by the parliament on Tuesday. The program, President Ghani said last week, will be implemented in two phases and he says it will reach 90 percent of the country's population.
The government will allocate $86 million in the first phase of the program and $158 million in the second phase. In both phases, food items will be distributed to needy families.
The program, in Farsi called Dastarkhan-e-Milli, comes after two other relief packages by the government that were marred by widespread corruption.
The Office of the First Vice President, in charge of the plan, said the funding for the program is from World Bank assistance and was diverted from some projects that have stopped and from the savings of other projects.
Rezwanullah Murad, head of communications at First Vice President Amrullah Saleh’s office, wrote on social media that they expect the parliament to not prevent the implementation of the program intended to reach those who are economically under threat due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are ready to provide any briefing and accounting to the MPs regarding the transparency of the program,” he added.
But some lawmakers said the new program is an attempt by the government to open a way for a bigger corruption opportunity.
“Our goal was that money should either reach the needy people through a transparent process or be invested in a public project,” said Abdul Wali Afghan, an MP.
“There was widespread corruption in the bread distribution process. Millions of dollars were embezzled only in Kabul. In provinces too. The parliament’s concern was that this money, too, will be embezzled again under the pretext of helping people,” said Gul Rahman Hamdard, an MP.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected many families in the country whose expenses were dependent on daily wages. Sayed Padshah is head of one of these families who says he is the breadwinner for his 12-member family. He has a cart and works in the city every day.
Padshah said he has not been helped by the government so far.
“There is corruption from low-ranking to high-ranking officials… We were only helped by some traders during the lockdown,” Padshah added.