ISLAMABAD: The federal government is considering withdrawing funding to the Rs88 billion nationwide health programme initiated three years ago to combat Covid-19 and other natural calamities owing to poor implementation progress by the provinces and other regional administrations.
Informed sources told Dawn that the ‘Covid-19 Responsive and other natural calamities control programme’ was approved in 2020 for implementation across the four provinces on a 50:50 cost-sharing basis and as federally financed projects in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
However, out of the federal share of about Rs46bn, the centre released about Rs38bn (almost 83pc) but the provinces could utilise no more than Rs10.5bn, accounting for only 27.6pc of funds released or about 23pc of the total federal share. Therefore, the relevant authorities in the Ministry of Planning and Development have suggested taking the matter with the prime minister for the withdrawal of unutilised funds from the provinces.
The flagship umbrella project was originally approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council in 2020 to provide support to the provinces to respond, reduce and mitigate the impact of the pandemic at an estimated total cost of Rs70bn. The project was then expanded to also include the upgradation of public sector health facilities across the country to Rs88bn to cope with other emergencies, epidemics and natural calamities and support health sector interventions.
Resource utilisation has been precariously low in Punjab, Sindh
As part of this, the components related to the strengthening of public health surveillance system both animal and humans was also included in the modified project along with coverage of improved water supply and sanitation facilities not only in provinces but with particular emphasis on supporting the less developed areas of the country.
As such, 14 sub-projects of Punjab, two each for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and one each for Sindh, AJK and Gilgit Baltistan were made part of the umbrella programme.
Informed sources said a recent meeting of the Central Development Working Party was told that as of February, the utilisation of funds released by the centre stood precariously low in Sindh and Punjab at 10pc and 25pc respectively.
The utilisation rate was the best in Balochistan at 80pc, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at 40pc. Strangely though, the federal government did not release funds for similar schemes in AJK and Gilgit Baltistan.
The report noted that the cost of 14 projects in Punjab stood at Rs43.97bn. Of the federal share of Rs19.73bn, the federal government released Rs19.59bn but only Rs5bn could be utilised in the country’s largest province by population. The situation in Sindh was even worse where only Rs1bn could be utilised against Rs20.8bn worth of a single project even though the centre released its entire share of Rs10.4bn.
On the other hand, KP utilised about Rs2.1bn against Rs10bn worth of two projects that included the federal share of Rs5bn which stood transferred to the provincial kitty.
Balochistan was able to utilise Rs2.356bn against its two projects of Rs10.9bn. The federal share in the case of Balochistan stood at Rs7.8bn and the centre had released Rs2.94bn to the provincial government.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2023