Dean Nelson Responds

Aug 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Foreign Media
New Delhi based British reporter Dean Nelson

British reporter Dean Nelson

Mr Dean Nelson whose column in the British newspaper Telegraph we recently criticised, has responded to our post. His comment appears on the original post, and is published again in full at the end of this post.

It has also been brought to our attention that Mr Dean Nelson has been falsely accusing this blog of deleting his comment, of censorship, and of hiding his comment. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Regular readers, and most people familiar with how blogs work, know that comments are automatically placed in moderation queue for review. This is a standard practice to prevent obscene, threatening, or spam comments from being published. All honest comments, even those critical of our posts, are published in full, as regular readers can attest. Mr Dean Nelson is welcome to review previous posts and comments to verify this fact.

Regarding Mr Nelson’s complaints, though, we feel we must point out the following:

Dean Nelson’s article carried the sensational headline, “£300m earthquake aid ‘misused by Zardari’”. Nothing in his article, however, supports this accusation. Nowhere does he suggest how Zardari is responsible for misusing funds. Nowhere does he suggest how Zardari is responsible even for diverting funds. Nowhere is there even an allegation from his anonymous source that Zardari is responsible for any budgetary matters related to ERRA or New Balakot.

Actually, with claims of budgetary matters it would be more realistic to hold the Prime Minister responsible who, as Chief Executive, could be held responsible for funding cuts. But even then, where is the evidence that the PM had anything to do with this? Actually, we will demonstrate that the opposite is supported by the facts.

The fact is, Mr Dean Nelson accuses Asif Ali Zardari of personally misusing 300 million in foreign aid for victims of the 2005 earthquake. He provides no evidence to support this claim, making the headline itself defaming and potentially libelous.

As for his claim that “the most important evidence of all” is the absence of New Balakot, I invite the respected journalist to do more than simply visit the site and then make wild assumptions. A quick review of recent news provides the following information that suggests much more plausible alternatives to Mr Dean Nelson’s theory of Zardari misusing the funds:

1. Dawn: New Balakot project: Bakrial residents refuse to surrender land

“It is injustice on the part of the provincial government to displace us by acquiring our residential and agriculture land to settle the earthquake affected people of Balakot,” Zahoor Ahmad, head of the committee constituted by the people of Bakrial to defend their lands, told Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Hazara Division, Mohammad Suleiman on Thursday.

“We will not vacate our land and houses until our agriculture and residential lands were not excluded of the New Balakot project,” he warned.

Work on the project was suspended some eight months ago after the death of a man during a violent clash between police and the residents over evacuation of their houses causing huge financial loss to the government.

2. Dawn: Work on New Balakot City resumes after 8-moth break

Relocation of old Balakot was agreed in consultation with the then provincial government and local politicians, who decided to provide land for rebuilding the new town free of cost at Bakrial, while the land in old Balakot remained property of the owners. The idea was to shift the people to new location for their safety.

Things, however, turned complex after the provincial government sought money for land acquisition from the federal government.

Erra fought for the case and in addition to Rs61.25 million paid to people of old Balakot under rural housing subsidy and a prefabricated house worth Rs400,00 to affected families, it got Rs1.5 billion approved to be paid as compensation for 11,463 kanals where a new city was to built, hosting nearly 5,000 families.

The amount of Rs1.5 billion was paid for land acquisition in November 2006 and Erra had been negotiating resumption of work and demanding land free of encumbrances from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for the past nine months.

Even now Erra has received partially cleared land, where the reconstruction has commenced.

3. Daily Times: ERRA starts rebuilding Balakot City

The relocation of the old Balakot City was decided in consultation with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government while local politicians had agreed to provide land for the new town, free of cost at Bakriyal, while the ownership of land in old Balakot City would remain with the property owners. But the reconstruction came to a halt due to the unwillingness of the provincial government to provide land free of cost. ERRA had planned to shift the residences of the people to a new location. But the reconstruction had to be halted when the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa demanded money for land acquisition. ERRA Deputy Chairman Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam recently held a meeting with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and discussed the issue in detail and highlighted the decisions taken in the council meeting chaired by Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

As is clear, there have been multiple obstacles to the completion of the project – something not unusual for such expensive and expansive projects in any country, especially when such a project involves the reallocation of land. In this instance, landowners and residents of Bakryal have been protesting since 2007.Does Mr Dean Nelson believe that Asif Ali Zardari has been orchestrating some conspiracy since before he was even elected?

Despite these setbacks, it is clear from these reports that the provincial and national governments were working together to resolve difficult issues to everyone’s satisfaction. Nowhere is there any suggestion that Asif Ali Zardari had anything to do with the delays, much less the misuse of funds.

As for claims that funds were inappropriately diverted to some other project, again there is not evidence to support this accusation.

According to a Daily Times report of 6 April by Ijaz Kakakhel, budget allocations were reduced across all sectors.

Keeping in view an emergent financial situation, the sources said the government has informed all federal ministries / departments and organisation to prepare priority lists for their respective developmental schemes under total PSDP Rs 290 billion for 2010-11.

With total Rs 290 billion federal component of PSDP, Rs 10 billion is likely to be allocated for Earthquake Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), which makes total value of PSDP Rs 300 billion. Last year’s (2009-10) allocation for federal component of PSDP was Rs 421 billion and Rs 25 billion for ERRA. The proposed PSDP allocation of Rs 290 billion is 31 percent lower than the last year PSDP 2009-10 allocation Rs 421 billion. The proposed PSDP 2010-11 allocation for ERRA Rs10 billion is 60 percent lower than last year allocation of Rs 25 billion.

The article goes on to report that the government by way of the Prime Minister had requested that the PSDP budget be enhanced, but that such a move would threaten the International Monetary Fund program.

Mr Dean Nelson claims in his response that his evidence consists of,

“…minutes of meetings, correspondence, ERRA schedules, and the most important evidence of all: The absence of New Balakot as a promised new settlement.”

The delays in completion of the project are well explained above. Without having access to the documents provided to Mr Dean Nelson, it is hard to know what exactly is in them. But it sounds like Mr Dean Nelson spoke with someone at ERRA who is disappointed that they did not receive the full amount of funding that was requested. But what agency receives the full amount of funding that is requested every year in any country, especially during a financial crisis?

In Mr Dean Nelson’s own country, Finance Minister George Osborne announced £6.2bn budget cuts this year. Does Mr Dean Nelson believe it proper to infer from this policy announcement that the Queen Elizabeth has misused these funds? Such a claim would be absurd. So it is with Mr Dean Nelson’s claim that Asif Ali Zardari has misused £300 millions.

In the face of overwhelming and documented evidence to the contrary, one cannot help but wonder why Mr Dean Nelson chose to publicly accuse Asif Ali Zardari of personally misusing £300m in earthquake aid. Is it a manifestation of personal or political ill-feelings towards the president? Or is it a result of sloppy and improper reporting?

Furthermore, as Mr Dean Nelson himself admits in his response, Pakistan is currently suffering from a ‘trust deficit’ that threatens our ability to raise the funds necessary to address the current flood crisis which has been called the worst disaster in recent history. Does Mr Dean Nelson deny that publishing sensational and misleading accusations of government misuse of relief funds contributes to this image problem? Publicly accusing President Zardari of misusing £300m in disaster relief funds exacerbates a problem that is believed to be preventing Pakistan from receiving vital international aid. If it was true, it would be the fault of Asif Ali Zardari. If it is easily demonstrated to be not true, who is responsible then? That Mr Dean Nelson did not intend such is beside the point. Actions have consequences, and it is not unrealistic to contend that Mr Dean Nelson’s column may be a contributing factor to Pakistan’s difficulties in raising relief funds.

Mr Dean Nelson is correct in one respect, and we will admit as much. Our original post made too much of the fact of his station in Delhi. This is an irrelevant distraction and we regret our error in suggesting that his station in Delhi has any bearing whatsoever on the accuracy of the reporting in his article. We politely ask our readers to judge Mr Dean Nelson’s article and our subsequent review only on the merits of the facts presented.

We stand by our complaint that Mr Dean Nelson fails to provide any evidence whatsoever supporting his scandalous claim that Asif Ali Zardari misused £300m in earthquake relief funds. Mr Dean Nelson also fails to provide any substantive evidence to support a claim of malfeasance related to ERRA or New Balakot project. We believe that the evidence presented above more than handily refutes Mr Dean Nelson’s article, and we look forward to his correcting the record.

Mr. Dean Nelson had the following response to our original post:

Dean Nelson says: August 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I object to this ‘analysis’ of my piece on earthquake aid being redirected by the Pakistan govt to other projects.

I don’t know who supports your group, but if it has any understanding of journalism, especially in a country like Pakistan, then it will understand that sometimes sources need to be protected.

In these circumstances the journalist must make a judgement: Is the source reliable and authoritative? Do I believe the source? What supporting evidence is there for the claim?

My original source in this case had minutes of meetings, correspondence, ERRA schedules, and the most important evidence of all: The absence of New Balakot as a promised new settlement. I visited it and it wasn’t there despite it being scheduled for completion last month.

I’m satisfied my story is true, which is why it was published.

Beyond this story you make claims that I have some kind of bias against Pakistan or an agenda to dissuade donors to its flood funds. Why would anyone want people to withhold donations for people so clearly suffering? You don’t provide any evidence but a commentary piece on why Britain is courting India for trading gains.

In India I am as severely criticised as I am by you and other government supporters for my commentaries on Kashmir or for suggesting that Pakistan deserves better friends for allies.

Here are the links to them:

It is a sad reflection on the psychological relationship between Indians and Pakistanis that objective reporting on one is seen as siding with the other.

I love India and Pakistan equally, and I’ve been traveling in both for twenty years and reporting both for five.

They each have great strengths and serious problems, and I report on and comment on both.

There are many in Pakistan who have criticised the government’s handling of the flood crisis, and many governments around the world who have held back or given to the UN fund rather than the PM’s flood relief fund because of concerns about trust and transparency. Nawaz Sharif raised this point with the PM on Saturday when they agreed to create an independent fund to address these concerns and allow people to give with confidence.

I can’t see how reporting on these concerns or exposing redirection of aid funds is an attempt to dissuade people from giving.

For the record, I wish Pakistan nothing but peace and prosperity, and I hope the millions affected by the floods right now get ALL the aid sent to them as soon as possible.

I hope this addresses the points you’ve raised. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t contact me first before writing this ‘analysis’ to ask me why the source wasn’t named.

All I can tell you is that the source could not have been better placed or informed. Right now the source is very afraid. Pakistan doesn’t really have a whistleblower culture.

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