Washington: The US has suspended funding for a USD 20 million project to produce Pakistan's version of the children's television series 'Sesame Street', amidst allegations of fraud against a Lahore-based puppet theatre.
The project was a co-production between US-based Sesame Workshop, and Rafi Peer Puppet Workshop in Lahore.
The decision to terminate the funding came after Pakistani newspapers reported that Rafi Peer was allegedly using the money given by the US to pay off old debts, and rewarded lucrative contracts to sources.
The State Department said it cut off money and began an investigation after receiving credible accusations of fraud and abuse.
"We did receive via that hotline what we believe were credible allegations of fraud and abuse by the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, which is the theatre workshop that manages the Sesame Street program in Pakistan. So we did launch an investigation into the allegations," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
"We've also sent the theatre workshop a letter that terminates the project agreement."
The initial agreement between United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop was for USD 20 million, of which USD 6.7 million has been spent as of the last fiscal quarter ending March 31.
"There is an investigation underway looking at these allegations. No one's questioning obviously the value and positive impact of this kind of programming for children, but this is about allegations of corruption," Toner said.
Noting that there is an investigation underway, adding the US will wait for the results of that investigation.
"We deemed that the allegations were serious enough that we wanted to suspend or cut off the program until we were able to complete this investigation," he said.
The show was supposed to run for at least three seasons.
Meanwhile, Sesame Workshop in a statement said that it was surprised and dismayed to learn about the recent serious allegations made against Rafi Peer.
"Beyond what we have read in the press, we do not know the specific details of these allegations. We trust that the facts will be fairly and fully assessed, and we will wait for the full report," it said.
"When Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop was selected by USAID in 2010 to work on Sim Sim Hamara, a multi-platform children’s educational media program, Sesame Workshop was selected and funded independently by USAID as one of the sub-award recipients on the project," it added.
"We are grateful for USAID’s initial investment which has allowed Sesame Workshop to provide its expertise in children's media to help Rafi Peer reach three million children, many of whom otherwise would not have access to any early childhood education.”
"It is our hope that the achievements of Sim Sim Hamara, and the gains we have made in the lives of children in Pakistan, will carry on," it said in a statement.
First Published: Wednesday, June 06, 2012, 10:52