Since my last article about the role of members of the national assembly (MNAs) and members of the provincial assemblies (MPAs), the number one retort that I read was, 'why do these elected officials have development funds?'
Irrespective of the details that I laid out in that piece, the question seemed to be about development funds. The critical part that pushed me to write this piece was the sweeping assumption by many that, somehow, every single MNA or MPA gets development funds which they use for corruption.
Here I am again to tell you that is not the case. This also is a myth generated by the electronic media mostly to oversimplify the notion of what legislators are supposed to really do.
So, what is the development fund and how does it get allocated?
To start with, development funds are not issued to all MNAs or MPAs. There is a process for the allocation of these funds.
The first point is to understand where the development fund comes from. The answer to that is the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP), a very small portion of the federal budget.
Out of the PSDP comes the development fund. Now you may ask well, if it is coming through the PSDP, how can it go to the individual MNA or MPA?
Here is the next kicker: development funds do not get issued to the individual MNA or MPA; they get assigned to a project.
Most MNAs start their term by coming up with projects aimed at uplifting their constituency. Such projects may include the establishment of a college, university or skill training institute, or infrastructure-related initiatives.
They take this project to the Planning Commission to fill out a PC-1 form. This form is essentially a proposal for a project with details of how and why a project needs to be done and the resources needed.
Half the battle is to get the PC-1 form approved by the Planning Commission. The process can take anywhere between a year to three years: once it gets the Commission’s approval, it is then sent to the Ministry of Finance that must sign off on it since they must approve if the money is there for it or not.
Upon approval, it is sent to the Cabinet Division that sends it to the Cabinet meeting, who then must approve it to send it to the Prime Minister.
When the Prime Minister finally signs off on it, only then the money comes out of the PSDP to finance a project for the said constituency.
A similar process happens at the provincial level too.
The key thing to remember here is that, while people tend to look at MNAs and assume they must be minting money, they forget that, after the 18th Amendment, the federal government basically only has 48 percent of the total money while provinces get 52 percent of it.
Out of the 48 percent at the federal level, most of the money is channeled towards debt servicing and the military. Whatever money is left at the end, after all these expenditures, is for the PSDP.
So, in reality, a large number of MNAs never even get their projects approved to get some development funds. MPAs have a better shot at getting some money for their constituencies.
That is why, if you notice, the provincial governments have recently shelled out huge amounts of money on districts before the elections in an attempt to increase their chances of retaining or winning power because they have a lot more finances than the federal government for this.
At this point, many of you must be demanding to know how the elected officials earn money from all of this.
The short answer is — they do not.
That legislators make money from all of this is a myth. What normally happens is that elected officials use the perception of bringing projects to their constituencies to gain favours from local businesses.
They try to create a system of patronage for themselves where they can benefit through the perception of being influential enough to land projects in their districts.
The perception of power helps the legislators to make phone calls that can help out with smaller things like transfers or even recruitment at lower levels of government, but nothing huge.
That being said, senior leaders have more sway in landing projects.
For instance, the chances for Gujranwala or Narowal to get a piece of a mega-project is much higher than, say, Muzaffargarh.
The key to remember is that such instances are limited to senior leaders and not your average MNA or MPA.
In a province like Punjab, with over 300 ruling party MPAs, the chances that an average MPA will be able to get anything done, i.e. get a project for their constituency, is very low.
In essence, as a myth, the development funds are a powerful tool for MPAs and MNAs to yield power locally but, in reality, that is not the case.
Most MNAs and MPAs spend their tenure trying to get the PC-1 filled out and sent to the Ministry of Finance rather than raking in money through illicit means.