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End the dam fund

Updated January 21, 2019

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WITH the Supreme Court under a new chief justice, one hopes that the utility of the so-called dam fund will be reassessed.

When the initiative was first launched in July last year, there was a sense that it fell outside the normal boundaries of jurisprudence, and there were questions regarding whether the then chief justice of the apex court should oversee a donation campaign to raise funds for a mega dam.

Read more: Building dams not judges’ job, says CJP

Still, it appeared a harmless enough endeavour; after all, donations were being solicited and people were not being forced to contribute.

But then, the salaries of government servants and army personnel were subjected to deductions for the dam fund, contributions that could be described as involuntary. In some instances, the donations were also criticised for being linked to the outcome of legal proceedings.

Apart from this, we saw a massive media campaign advertise donations in language that invoked the future of our children as well as salvation in the hereafter — depending on whether contributing towards the dam figured on our list of priorities.

Read more: Pemra 'advises' channels to allocate ad spots, hold fundraising telethons for dams

The attorney general told the court that the media, at the goading of Pemra, had given Rs13bn worth of free airtime to the fund — for which the total contribution has come to around Rs9bn.

The public also witnessed the former chief justice appear in televised marathons asking for money, with the prime minister putting his weight behind the effort — meanwhile, there were also strong suggestions that any criticism of the dam or the fund could be construed as treason.

In fact, many of the questions asked by the public went unanswered. For instance, which authority would be responsible for monitoring the people’s donations?

The list of all that has happened — including the effort put into cajoling and coercing the people to give money — in the name of the dam fund is astonishing.

Only days before his retirement, the former chief justice gave a TV interview in which he said that the poor, the pensioners, and the infirm had also contributed to the fund. “Sick people cut back on their medicines to be able to contribute,” he said, in an apparent salute to the valour of those who gave their money. Efforts were also made to reach out to expat Pakistanis.

But at the end of the day, the amount collected has been dismal: there are only Rs9bn in the dam coffers, less than 1pc of the project cost — the amount is too large to leave lying around, and yet it is nowhere near substantial to even help the project along.

This is hardly surprising, considering the initiative, rather than being based on a sound plan, was driven more by emotions.

Crowd-sourcing has not worked, and the whole affair has reached absurd proportions. The new chief justice should now bring it all to a dignified end.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2019