GIVEN our patronage-driven political system, it is far from likely that the release of constituency funds for PPP and PML-Q legislators in Punjab will serve the actual purpose of development. The legislators, angered by the provincial government’s refusal to release the funds, had approached the prime minister for an amount of at least Rs100m each, but were offered only Rs20m. True, their anger is justified to the extent that the PML-N government has not been even-handed in the disbursal of funds, and has preferred to hand out more money to its own legislators and allies rather than to its opponents in the assembly.

But in a national milieu where development priorities are skewed and where political compulsions rather than goal-oriented efforts dominate, the practice of constituency development funding itself has been called into question. The general perception is that the politicians are up to no good and undertake only those projects that are likely to boost their electoral chances, and that the funds given to them are meant to ensure their loyalty. Moreover, there are regular allegations of corruption and nepotism in the implementation of projects, and a transparent system of accountability and of checks and balances essential to public-sector development is conspicuous by its absence.

These and other factors make for a convincing argument against the present system of fund allocation among politicians and for one that would involve some form of local government to identify local needs and implement well-thought-out development projects. Doubtless, it is difficult to uproot a system that has been entrenched in corruption and murkiness since it was conceived in the 1980s under Gen Zia, but a start has to be made in that direction. And this can only be done by keeping greater checks on the use of funds, probing dubious operations and investigating allegations of corruption and nepotism. What is equally important is a planning process that is cohesive and not haphazard as now. Schemes left incomplete because of political or monetary compulsions, the absence of connectivity in the development of adjoining constituencies or duplication of projects only cause further hardship to the people and waste precious taxpayer money.

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