PESHAWAR: Over three years long perfect alignment between Islamabad and Peshawar is on the rocks with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa accusing the centre of withholding development funds for tribal districts.
The provincial government cast the first stone in the war of words with the federal government on the matter.
A day after the criticism of federal government by Chief Minister Mahmood Khan over ‘funding denial’, provincial finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra alleged during a presser here that the centre was withholding over Rs17 billion fourth quarter development funds for tribal districts.
He added that the federal government hadn’t released money for the inclusion of tribal districts in the province’s free healthcare Sehat Card Plus programme.
Jhagra also demands immediate release of healthcare allocations
The minister said the funding denial came despite the provincial government’s repeated requests against linking the tribal region’s development with politics of the rest of the country.
He also took a dig at opposition parties in the province, including Awami National Party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and MNA Mohsin Dawar for keeping mum on the matter.
Mr Jhagra said those parties had constantly criticised the PM Imran Khan government for not paying attention to the development of tribal districts.
He said despite tough global challenges, the PTI-led federal government steered the country’s economy in the best possible way and saved the people’s lives during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Holding of elections in tribal areas, mainstreaming of the region and an increase in its development allocations were the major achievements of the PTI government. Record funding was made for the province under the PTI watch,” he said.
The minister said the tribal region’s funding totalled Rs32 billion before its merger with the province but it was increased to Rs77 billion in the current budget.
He also said the pre-merger development budget was Rs21.5 billion, which went up to Rs54 billion.
Mr Jhagra said former federal finance minster Shaukat Tarin had made a commitment a few months ago for addressing the province’s funding gap by June through a special arrangement besides electricity-related issues, but the installation of ‘imported’ government in the centre had affected the business of the government.
He said the federal government had funds for three quarters of the current financial year.
“The federal government has thus far released Rs36.9 billion development funds to the province, which has spent Rs38.2 billion,” he said, adding that utilisation against releases was more than 100 per cent.
The minister said the federal government had not paid fourth quarters Rs17.1 billion fourth quarters’ funds of tribal district after the arrival of the ‘imported’ Shehbaz Sharif-led government.
“If these funds are not released, then development work in tribal areas will come to a grinding halt,” he said.
Mr Jhagra said those funds belonged to tribal areas but it was the responsibility of the federal government to release them until the finalisation of the next National Finance Commission Award.
“I am going to write to the finance division and will follow the matter up,” he said.
The minister asked the people to take note of the silence of other political parties over the issue.
Criticising the visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to North Waziristan tribal district, he said the country’s current rulers would love to dash to the region but were not ready to release development funds for tribal region.
The minister, who also held the health portfolio, said the centre was funding the Sehat Card budget for tribal districts and both KP and centre had agreed to merge the Sehat Card Plus programme of the provincial government.
He said after detailed deliberations, the federal government had agreed to transfer the project funds to the province, which in turn would ask the State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan to include tribal districts in the Sehat Card scheme of the province.
Mr Jhagra asked the federal government to immediately release those funds allocated for a free healthcare initiative in the province.
“I have forced to do this news conference as if these decisions are not taken as the normal government business, then they [KP] will have to raise their voice through media,” he said.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022