Do you remember hearing about the honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, seeking an increase of Rs 10 billion in discretionary funds under the Peoples Work Programme II (PWP-II) because the Rs 22 billion allocated for it in the budget had already been sanctioned? Well, he’s gone ahead and spent that, too, plus an additional Rs 5 billion that has been approved by the Federal Finance Minister!
Even if this were not pre-election investment in future votes for the PPP, which it clearly is, the fact that a discretionary budget, the release of which is arbitrary and with minimal scrutiny of process, can be increased by nearly 70% – or that such a thing even exists in this day and age! – is an indication of what power politics in Pakistan is all about. Get into power and then stay there!
- When he first became Prime Minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, in an address to a large crowd at the Sarwar Shaheed Stadium in his home constituency of Gujjar Khan, announced Rs 6 billion worth of development projects for the area. These included upgrades to the Mandra-Chakwal and Sohawa-Chakwal roads, construction of a the Gujjar Khan underpass and several electricity and gas projects.
- When Yousuf Raza Gilani was Prime Minister, many of the projects he sanctioned were in his constituency of Multan and the surrounding areas of Southern Punjab. Budgets from these projects are now being diverted to fund PM Ashraf’s additional requirements.
Get it? All this spending is simply investment in future votes for political leaders and their future generations, recklessly using tax payers’ money without any sense of prioritisation or responsibility.
It doesn’t end there. We all know how kickbacks and corruption works in government contracts. It is not far fetched to assume that a significant percentage of the funds released are actually ending up in the pockets of contractors, bureaucrats, civil servants, criminals and local politicians instead of being spent on the projects they were meant for. And this is even before considering the probability that many of these projects may languish in a half-finished state or rapidly deteriorate due to neglect after leadership changes and focus shifts to the home turfs of future rulers.
Funding to provide this extra Rs 5 billion to the Prime Minister has come through cutting budgets from existing projects. Rs 1 billion has been cut from the Diamer-Bhasha dam, for which Rs 6.3 billion had been allocated in the PSDP budget. This project, crucial for Pakistan’s long-term energy needs, has already been delayed and this cut will only make matters worse.
Former PM Gilani’s Multan package has also taken a hit. Rs 500 million has been cut from the Multan-Khanewal flyover’s budget, which is 50% of the originally sanctioned amount, and funds for it’s interchange have also been cut by Rs 100 million. What impact this will on the quality of the flyover and the safety of those who use it, I dare not say, but it will certainly not make Mr Gilani a very happy man.
The Lowari tunnel and highway projects in KP, the Darwat dam in Sindh and emergency flood protection schemes have also had their funds slashed. All in all, planned and existing projects have given way to fund what is effectively the election campaign of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and the PPP.
Even if the Election Commission is not paying attention, I hope the voters are.