PESHAWAR: The government has spent hundreds of billions of rupees during the past almost two decades in erstwhile Fata, but its poorly managed and ill-equipped infrastructure does not respond to the needs of the local population.
Budget documents obtained from archives centre in secretariat for the merged districts show that defunct Fata had received about Rs222.528 billion only through Annual Development Programmes from the central government between financial years 2002-03 and 2018-19.
The official documents say that size of the ADP for defunct Fata was Rs3.14 billion in 2002-03 and the figures have now reached Rs24 billion in 2019-20.
In addition to ADPs, several projects worth billions of rupees have been financed through Public Sector Development Programme, a federal government entity.
In the meantime, the secretariat for the tribal region launched Sustainable Development Plan 2006-15 with an estimated cost of Rs124 billion to intervene in all sectors. An amount of Rs99 billion was spent under this initiative but it failed to achieve its targets.
Senior officials sceptical about success of 10-year uplift strategy
The border region has been relying on direct funding from the federal government dating back to 1947 and aid from different donor countries during the last two decades, but living standard of its people could not see visible change.
The cash flow from aid agencies for development of infrastructure in former Fata witnessed remarkable increase after 9/11 episode.
In background interviews, officials admitted that donor agencies like USAID, German’s GIZ, Norwegian, Saudi Fund for Development, UAE government, Japan International Cooperation Agency, UN agencies and its partners had doled out funds for infrastructure development, specifically health and education in defunct Fata.
“Only the US government had donated around $780 million for development of infrastructure alone and the amount was transferred through outside source,” said an official while quoting unnamed US officials.
“People ask question as to why tribal districts remained under developed despite massive allocations from the federal government and donors.
The answer is very simple; lack of transparency particularly in the utilisation of ADP and donors’ money,” he said.
Despite huge inflow of funds from federal government and donors, standard of living in the region is extremely poor. Pakistan’s official Multidimensional Poverty Index, which was earlier published in the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015-2016, is an eye opener as it has found that over two-thirds of people in Fata (73 per cent) live in multidimensional poverty.
Two main sectors, education and health, are in shambles. Schools and healthcare facilities are under-staff and poorly equipped.
The tribal districts only have access to electricity for a few hours a day and vast swathes of the region has little or no communication coverage.
Ziaullah Bangash, the adviser to chief minister on elementary and secondary education, recently told the provincial assembly that number of out of school children in merged districts was around 800,000.
The directorate of education needs 7,000 teachers to fill vacant posts. Similarly health directorate for merged district has asked provincial government to appoint 500 specialist doctors to improve health delivery system there.
An official in elementary and secondary education department said that 700 schools constructed in former Fata during the last 10 years were still without teachers. These non-operational schools require 4,000 teachers. He said that directorate had recently advertised 2,500 posts to fill the vacant positions.
Like education, health sector is in bad shape. Infant mortality rate is 86/1,000; under five mortality rate is 104/1,000 while maternal death ratio is 395/100,000 in tribal border lands comprising seven districts and six sub-divisions.
The government owned 1,108 health facilities in merged districts including Category-D hospitals, basic health units, child healthcare centres and rural health centres are either under staffed or poorly equipped, forcing the local people to shift their patients to Peshawar or Punjab for treatment.
Official documents show shortage of senior doctors in different medical specialties in the government hospitals in defunct Fata. According to the documents, 79 posts of specialist doctors are vacant. Total number of vacant posts in health facilities in tribal districts is 815.
Tribal decade strategy’s mantra: After merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May 2018, the federal and provincial governments have jointly devised TDS to bring the merged districts at par with the developed areas of the country.
The federal and provincial governments have pledged to invest Rs1,000 billion during the next 10 years (Rs 100 billion per annum) in all sectors in the region under the new strategy.
TDS’s planners and senior officers, having vast administrative experience of the defunct Fata, are sceptical about the success of the strategy.
They believe that the relevant agencies don’t have capacity to utilise Rs100 billion in one year. The government has finalised 10-year strategy and relevant authorities are waiting for release of funds from the centre.
“I don’t believe that departments have capacity to complete projects worth Rs100 billion annually,” said one official. He said that various departments were unable to utilise Rs24 billion ADP in former Fata, because of lack of capacity and surrendered funds to federal government at the end of financial year.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2019