Dam fund disappointment

Updated February 24, 2019

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“IF to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces.”

Shakespeare’s immortal lines are perhaps a suitable analogy for former chief justice Saqib Nisar’s Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dam Fund, an initiative born out of a fantasy to ‘save Pakistan’.

At the Lahore Literary Festival, when Mr Nisar was asked what he proposes as the way forward for the construction of the dams, given the gap between the required amount — a whopping Rs1.5tr — and the modest Rs9.8bn collected, he responded by saying the understanding was that the funds would be used to create awareness, and not for the actual construction of the dams.

Read more: Fund donations never intended for building of dam, only for awareness: ex-CJP

This will likely come as a rude awakening to those who donated, both voluntarily and involuntarily — from institutions like the armed forces and private banks, to poorly funded organisations like Pakistan’s football federation.

At the height of the campaign it appeared as if everyone was making donations. As chief justice, Mr Nisar had even contemplated invoking Article 6, which relates to high treason, against critics of the fund.

As prime minister, Imran Khan, too, commended the judge for “doing what civilian leaders could not do”, encouraging pensioners and expats to pledge precious capital for the initiative.

But alas, despite all the populist slogans and promises, what was championed as the answer to Pakistan’s looming water crisis achieved nothing beyond an expensive, omnipresent campaign.

Those who contributed their savings under the impression that they were making a sacrifice for a national cause will be disappointed to learn that their money will, in fact, not be used for the dams’ construction, and that the fund they contributed to may never reach its goal.

The entire episode serves as a warning for leaders of institutions to avoid overstepping their domain and exploiting well-meaning citizens by promising something beyond their intellectual and financial capacity.

As it stands, the dams remain a pipe dream and a cautionary tale for citizens perpetually on the lookout for a saviour.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2019