ISLAMABAD: Giving approval to allocation of $1 billion for vaccine procurement on Tuesday, Planning Minister Asad Umar said the National Economic Council (NEC) of the cabinet had decided to frequently hold its meetings every year for evaluation of not only the federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) but also the provincial Annual Development Plans (ADPs) to ensure effective utilisation of public funds.
Pakistan was initially depending on Covax, an international alliance which had pledged to provide free of cost Covid-19 vaccine for 20 per cent population of the country. However, supply was delayed as India, which had to provide vaccine to Pakistan, decided to divert all supplies for local use.
Head of the National Command and Operation Centre Asad Umar said earlier that the funds would be allocated for vaccine procurement as per requirements. Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Health Service has requested the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenue (AGPR) to pay Rs270 million to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and a private company for dealing with transportation of vaccine.
According to documents available with Dawn, the AGPR has been advised to pay Rs224 million to PIA for transportation of vaccine from China to Pakistan. An amount of Rs38 million will be paid to the PAF as transportation charges of vaccine.
Moreover, the AGPR has been requested to pay Rs1.22m to M/S DHL Global Forwarding Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd on account of airport handling charges of vaccine.
National Economic Council to hold regular meetings to monitor federal, provincial development plans
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, the planning minister said the federal government had been setting development priorities with the support of and in consultation with the provinces but decisions on federal PSDP could not be made by the provinces. “It’s federal PSDP and the federal government has been and would continue taking decisions about this,” he said with reference to Sindh Chief Minister’s criticism over alleged lower PSDP allocation for his province.
The minister denied that Sindh’s share in the PSDP 2021-22 was low saying the NEC meeting was informed on Monday that Rs90bn had been allocated for development projects in Sindh compared to Rs93bn for Punjab whose population was almost double. Such a complaint may be justified from (Punjab Chief Minister Usman) Buzdar but not from (Sindh Chief Minister) Murad Ali Shah, he said, adding that Sindh’s share would go even up to Rs130bn when projects funded through public-private partnership were also included.
He said the Sindh chief minister should recall that PPP had federal governments four times and provincial governments for six times but could not construct a single inch of motorway while the PTI government had provided Rs98bn for Sukkur-Multan motorway and was now funding Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway.
The planning minister conceded that a constitutional requirement for holding biannual meetings of the NEC had not been met during the incumbent government and perhaps for long. However, the NEC decided in its meeting on Monday to hold regular meetings in January and by end of May every year. He said the prime minister even wanted quarterly meetings of the NEC to review the national development plans which also included the provincial plans.
He agreed that development projects kept flooding in until the last moment and repeated meetings of the Central Development Working Party were called until last week to approve their feasibility studies and PC-1s for inclusion in next year’s budget which compromised the quality utilisation of public funds. However, he said the NEC had made it a binding condition that projects not approved by March 31 would not be included in the PSDP after next year.
Responding to another question, Mr Umar also agreed that allocations for development of merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had not been effective and ultimately resulted in diversion of funds. He explained that these funds were being utilised through the KP government and it had been decided recently at meeting presided over by the prime minister to put in place an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure visibility of projects. He said the federal planning secretary and the KP chief minister had been assigned the responsibility to address the situation.
Responding to a question, the planning minister said the Sindh chief minister was on the one hand complaining about insufficient funds for projects in his province and on the other complaining why the federal government was funding small projects in Sindh. “He should decide what is his case,” Mr Umar said, adding that the people of Sindh and Sindh government were two different things and the Centre would keep executing schemes for the welfare of the people.
He said the federal government would approve $1bn allocation through the ECC on Wednesday for procurement of Covid-19 vaccines. He said the government had already procured $250 million worth of vaccines because opening of businesses and restoration of normal life after ending ongoing restrictions was directly linked to effective inoculation campaign in the country.
He said the growth in country’s economy could not be taken to the next level without effective vaccination otherwise coronavirus would spread again upon ease in restrictions as had happened in Delhi where the number of patients again spiked a couple of days ago.
The minister dispelled the impression that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) had been stalled in recent years, saying this was one priority on which all political parties had a common stance and despite political differences the CPEC was progressing well and supported by all. However, the current phase of CPEC had more to do with industrialisation involving private Chinese investments unlike the first phase of financing provided by the Chinese government and state-owned financial institutions, he said.
He said the next year’s PSDP contained Rs87bn worth of development projects including Rs78bn in transport and communications sectors alone. Of this about Rs42bn was meant for road projects of western route alignment (of the CPEC) and Rs7bn for provision of gas and electricity to Faisalabad, Rashakai, Dhabeji and Bostan Special Economic Zones, he added.
The minister said the NEC had approved over Rs2.1 trillion consolidated development programme for next year which was over 36 per cent higher than last year’s Rs1.527tr. He said the Punjab’s Annual Development Plan was estimated at Rs500bn for next year against Rs310bn of current year. Sindh’s ADP would stand at Rs321bn next year against Rs194bn of this year while Balochistan’s development budget would go up from this year’s Rs89bn to Rs133bn next year. The development budget of KP would, on the other hand, decline from Rs274bn this year to Rs248bn next year.
Ikram Junaidi contributed to this report from Islamabad
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2021