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PESHAWAR: Despite receiving funds from the federal government under the annual development programme, the Fata Secretariat has yet to disburse money to different departments to execute schemes in the underdeveloped tribal region.

The sorry state of affairs on the development side, especially the poor utilisation of funds, irked the Senate Standing Committee on State and Frontier Region (Safron), which was recently briefed on the use of the current ADP and ongoing development initiatives.

According to the minutes of the meeting, which held in Islamabad under the chairmanship of Senator Hilalur Rehman, the committee was informed that almost half of the current financial year had passed but the Rs4.8 billion funds for the second quarter had yet to be disbursed to the relevant departments for the execution of development projects in Fata.

Fata planning and development secretary Zubair Asghar Qureshi told the committee that the utilisation of funds totaled Rs3 billion against the Rs4.8 billion releases of the fiscal’s first quarter putting the utilisation at 64 per cent.

Safron minister threatens to quit if qualms about development work not addressed

Fata additional chief secretary Sikandar Qayyum, who is also the principal accounting officer for Fata Secretariat, was absent from the meeting.

In his absence, the P&D secretary briefed the body. He blamed the finance division for the prevailing situation on the development side and said the slow release of funds by the federal authorities for the secretariat delayed the disbursement and the subsequent utilisation of funds.

The minutes of the meeting said it took the Fata Secretariat five months to utilise a ‘mere Rs3 billion of the first quarter releases’, which alarmed many, especially when the current assemblies are about to complete their terms.

An official in the secretariat said the situation regarding releases from the finance division and disbursement to the departments had improved in the wake of the meeting.

The P&D secretary said as per initial development calendar PC-1s of the 499 new and unapproved schemes were to be submitted by the first week of September to Planning and development department Fata.

Further these development schemes were to be approved by fourth week of September and then within two weeks of approval of a scheme the tendering process was to be completed and contracts awarded for mobilisation of contractors.

However, on this count, too, the progress was abysmal and lacklustre.

Of the 499 new initiative schemes earmarked for approval in various sectors, only 208 have so far been approved by development forums.

The official note said the slowest progress in approval was recorded for education sector in which out of 98 (85 B-status and 13 R-status) only 22 schemes had been approved so far putting the number of those awaiting approval at 76.

The water supply was also a least priority in the water scarce region of Fata as only five schemes of a total of 31 new drinking water supply schemes stood approved by the Fata Secretariat.

This was followed by health sector (14 approved out of 52 schemes), irrigation (16 approved out of 38 schemes), and communication (26 approved out of 65).

In terms of tribal agencies, the worst performing was South Waziristan Agency (eight approved out of 74 schemes) followed by Bajaur (six approved out of 22 schemes) and Mohmand Agency (10 approved out of 31 schemes).

The chairman of the committee expressed anger at the production of incomplete data about the pending schemes due to the issues of site selection at the agency and district levels.

In terms of percentage utilisation against the first quarter releases for health, drinking water supply, social welfare and housing sectors stood at 45 per cent, 44 per cent, 41 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively.

“This indicated the lack of focus on basic service delivery and livelihood sectors at Fata,” said the official note.

The senators pointed out that had the Fata Secretariat secured the second quarter releases on time, which should have been secured by the mid-October, the utilisation against releases would be hovering around 20 to 30 per cent in all 16 sectors of the Fata development portfolio.

Senators Saleh Shah and Hidayatullah lamented that due to the ineffective checks on officials in Fata finance department, communication and works department and other relevant departments, the pace of fiscal expenditure was slow.

They hinted that the real reason for slow utilisation was bureaucratic red tape, which left with the contractors and public with no choice but to grease the palms of officials of the Fata Secretariat, relevant departments and political agents’ offices.

The most notable yet unusual were the remarks of state minister for Safron Ghalib Khan Wazir, who lambasted the Fata Secretariat and political administrations for their apathy toward the plight of Fata people.

He said he would resign under protest if the reservations regarding transparency and pace of development work were not addressed.

The forum also referred to two schemes worth Rs770 million approved by Fata Secretariat and decided to examine the package based initiatives at the subsequent meeting.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018