ISLAMABAD: With all the financial crunch and cuts in development expenditure, there appears to be no dearth of discretionary funds for political plans weeks before the conclusion of the current fiscal year as the government on Wednesday approved Rs20 billion more for parliamentarians’ schemes, taking it to a record Rs111bn.

Presiding over a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar also approved Rs4bn in additional funds for the armed forces and Rs10.75bn for a national immunisation, besides continuing gas supply to two Punjab-based fertiliser plants until Aug 31 this year.

The ECC also approved a payment of about Rs34bn for the Uch Power project under a renegotiated-tariff settlement deal, as was done with other IPPs (independent power producers) in February 2021.

An official confirmed that the ECC approved “Rs20bn in favour of Cabinet Division for Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Programme (SAP). In order to secure these additional funds, five ministries were directed to surrender their funds, including Rs10bn from the communications ministry, Rs5.66bn from the railways’ ministry, Rs3.43bn from the climate change ministry and Rs861 million from the Planning Division. This was done with the prior approval of the prime minister.

Additional Rs4bn okayed for armed forces, Rs10.75bn for immunisation

The Cabinet Division in its summary to the ECC said the government had allocated Rs70bn in the budget 2022-23 for running the community-based SAP to achieve the SDGs, and addressing the urban-rural social development constraints across the country.

The funds for the scheme were increased by Rs17bn to Rs87bn in October last year to ensure that all 174 members of the National Assembly belonging to the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement get Rs500m worth of small schemes — sewage lines, gas, water and electricity connections, and repair and maintenance of streets — in the name of Sustainable Development Goals.

Accordingly, the planning and development ministry surrendered Rs17bn from the funds earlier allocated in the budget for areas such as Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and parts of the provinces. The funds were subsequently enhanced by Rs3bn more to Rs90bn which has already been released/transferred to the respective ministries, divisions and provincial governments. Of the disbursed funds, a lion’s share of Rs46.125bn went to Punjab, followed by Rs29.155bn to Sindh and Rs7.73bn and Rs6.99bn to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, respectively.

The ECC approved a summary of the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) on payment mechanisms and agreements with Uch Power (Pvt) Ltd. After a detailed discussion, the ECC approved the proposal of the ministry for Novation Agreement, Master Agreement and PPA Amendment in line with similar agreements signed with other IPPs in 2021.

This would mean payment of outstanding dues worth Rs33.83bn to Uch Power as of Nov 30, 2020 in two instalments, both to be cleared before June 30 this year.

The ECC also approved Rs10.746bn supplementary grant to the Federal Directorate of Immunisation to procure vaccines and syringes for un-interrupted supply to the provinces to ensure immunisation of more than eight million children under 2-year age against 10 vaccine-preventable diseases as any interruption could lead to re-emergence of these diseases in the form increased mortality and morbidity.

The ECC also approved another major supplementary grant of Rs4bn to defence services to meet critical requirements like rations, utilities, medical services and POL supplies that went beyond allocations due to massive inflation.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2023

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