CHIEF Minister Pervez Khattak must be good at gerrymandering — in financial terms. You have to hand it to him. He is good at it. For how else would he have continued to come up with cooked-up budgets for the third consecutive time albeit with disastrous consequences for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

Thanks to Mr Khattak’s never-ending spending spree, KP’s throw-forward liabilities have gone through the roof. At the time when the Awami National Party-led coalition government was leaving office and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf was taking over, it was Rs151 billion — the project completion period being 1.9 years. That was in 2013-14.

Fast forward to 2016-17, the throw-forward liabilities stand at a whopping Rs491bn — the project completion period correspondingly having gone up to 4.9 years — the permissible project completion period being 2.9 years.

It would not have been a problem, had the CM’s penchant for spending been matched with resources, or the spending done in a prudent manner — at least that’s what one would have expected from the PTI. But no, that’s not the case.

Under Mr Khattak’s stewardship, KP seems to have been afflicted by a malaise called the TMAS, that is, token money allocation syndrome.

Look at total number of projects under the Annual Development Programme for 2016-17 — 1,516 projects in all. Out of them 1,237 are ongoing and a paltry 279 projects are new. Even a few of 279 new projects have been allocated full amount to complete by the end of the next financial year. The rest will add up to the dump yard called the throw- forward liabilities the future generation will have to suffer and pay for.

Mr Khattak’s stubbornness to keep discretionary funds for his so-called ‘Umbrella ADP’, yes there is an ‘Umbrella ADP’ too, and his proclivity for spending thin on street-and-sewer-type projects, driven by his belief that such projects fetch more votes than the mega projects, has led to multiple problems — the TMA being the major problem — resulting in the spiralling throw-forward liabilities that, hold your breath, nearly equal the total outlay for 2016-17.

Even scarier is the ever-ballooning pay and pension that now constitute 69 per cent of the artificially inflated total current revenue expenditure budget, thus leaving a mere 31 per cent for the development sector. If this trend continues, in the not-too-distant future, the province might resort to borrowing to finance its ADP. The first sign of this trend is visible in the ADP for 2016-17, Rs12bn for which will come from borrowing.

Considering the shrinking amount available for development, one would have resorted to prudent spending, spending the meagre available resources on macro development that would have had a wider impact aimed at bringing the under-developed areas on a par with the developed regions and worked towards improving socio-economic conditions of people.

Barring the few mega projects that is the only redeeming feature of the KP budget for 2016-17 — the standardisation and improvement of all higher and secondary schools, provision of staff and equipment to all hospitals at the district and tehsil headquarters, Swat Expressway, rehabilitation of 50,000 acres of barren land and Gomal Zam command area scheme irrigating 192,000 acres of land and integrated tourism development schemes — thanks to Imran Khan’s perseverance and persuasion to make a difference this time, the development in KP has largely been lopsided, Nowshera being the top beneficiary of the CM’s largesse.

But even this seems doubtful to accomplish if one looks at the receivables. KP over-pitched its budget for 2015-16, by over Rs50bn, forcing it to cut down its ADP and revise it downwards from Rs174bn to Rs118bn. The story isn’t different this time too.

A quick look: net hydel profits for 2015-16 were projected at Rs17bn but revised estimates for the year put the figure at Rs 9bn. The projected figure for 2016-17 has been shown at Rs18bn. Provincial own receipts (tax) for 2015-16 were projected at Rs22.5bn, revised estimate was Rs14.3bn, and projected figure for 2016-17 puts the figure at 18.171bn. Provincial own receipts (non-tax): Projected figure for 2015-16 was Rs31.8bn and revised estimate (the sum collected) Rs11.16bn. The projected figure for 2016-17 puts the figure at Rs31.33bn.

The list is long. Even in forestry, where the government expected to raise Rs7.8bn during the previous financial year but was able to raise a mere Rs500 million, it has again estimated to raise Rs6bn in 2016-17. Under the head of miscellaneous receipts, including housing, the government expected to raise Rs14.3bn, but actually made Rs0.683bn. Still in the budget for 2016-17, the amount has been jacked up to Rs13.08bn.

But this isn’t it. The most ridiculously funny addition is the “Recoveries of Investment of Hydel Development Fund” in the revenue budget for 2016-17, projected at Rs15bn whereas the total HDF recoveries in terms of investment on hydel generation projects, according to the budget document, stand at Rs2.2bn and not Rs15bn.

The total HDF is Rs23.184bn and, as per the law, the government cannot spend the HDF on anything else but the development of hydel generation. This legal glitch prevented Mr Khattak from spending Rs15bn, he has so eagerly earmarked in the current budget, still the budget for 2016-17 shows the amount has been spent, leaving behind Rs10.44 billion in the HDF kitty.

Juxtaposed against the revised and overly ambitious estimates for 2015-16, there is an overall shortfall of Rs44.635bn. This means if Khattak has its way with the spending spree, KP may brace for another cut on its ADP for 2016-17. Not a pretty picture for the chief minister and the PTI, which has been hoping to project KP as a model province to be able to win the next general elections.

The problem is that Imran Khan is stuck with Pervez Khattak and the chief minister is stuck with the PTI chairman — between politics of hand pumps, street and sewer versus the real change that KP has been waiting for three years now.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2016