THE clashes outside the Balochistan Assembly on budget day were unfortunate. But they had been waiting to happen. The growing political polarisation in Pakistan means that the party at the centre or in the province will do anything to inflict damage on its opponents. And what better way of hurting one’s opponents than denying opposition lawmakers uplift funds for schemes that affect the voting preferences of people in their constituencies? What else could harm their electoral prospects more than the failure to bring their constituents safe drinking water or get a street or two paved? After all, these considerations go a long way in determining voting patterns in our society. Thus, it is not surprising that governments try to spend money on small, public works schemes through their own legislators or their potential candidate from a particular constituency. The current process of choosing and implementing local development schemes is fraught with corruption, and in many cases adds to developmental throw-forward in the shape of incomplete projects. Yet that is the reality of our politics.
What happened in Quetta was just another reminder of the growing political split across the country and the widespread misuse of taxpayers’ money for boosting the electoral prospects of the ruling party or parties. Sadly, no party is above this kind of politics, which punishes people for voting and electing their opponents. Nor is this a new phenomenon in Pakistan. We have seen opposition parties frequently raise the issue of governments blocking the release of funds for uplift schemes in the constituencies of their lawmakers. When in opposition, the prime minister had expressed his disgust with federal and provincial controls over the uplift portfolio and promised to devolve the job of development spending — at least a big part of it — to where it belonged, ie the local governments. He has not kept his word. His party was unable to implement this in KP where its government made it legally mandatory a few years back to transfer some 30pc of the entire provincial development portfolio to the local governments. The major factor behind the failure of the experiment was opposition from the party’s own legislators who would not want to lose this important tool to influence the voting choices of their electorate. Without the creation of a financially and administratively empowered third tier of government, ugly episodes like the one witnessed in Quetta will continue.
- Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2021*