THERE can be little argument with the fact that Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits; as most economists of repute have observed, unless the state takes immediate and decisive steps for course correction, default and financial chaos will be our lot. Yet the PDM administration seems to be living in some alternative universe where the financial management of the state is concerned. Instead of belt-tightening, the government is lavishing funds on lawmakers, most likely with an eye on the elections. As reported, the cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee on Wednesday approved an additional amount of Rs20bn for lawmakers in the name of the Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Programme. Under this scheme, ruling coalition lawmakers get Rs500m each, ostensibly to implement civil works in their constituencies that will contribute to the SDGs. But instead of sustainable development, these lavish handouts will sustain many a political career among the ranks of government loyalists.
It is odd why a government that launched a much-trumpeted (and failed) austerity campaign earlier this year is doling out such large amounts of money when it only has a few more months — constitutionally, at least — in power, and when the coffers are empty. Perhaps if the national treasury were flush with cash, a case could be made for the distribution of funds. But with reserves slipping into dangerously low territory, the move is highly irresponsible and smacks of politics. Effectively, only lawmakers belonging to the PDM and parties allied with it will get the funds, which means that rather than focusing on development, the government is trying to ensure that with the transfer of cash, many an electable and ‘influential’ will stay loyal come election time. In addition, there are serious questions of transparency where the money is concerned, as there is no strict monitoring of how and where such funds are being spent. This means that lawmakers have been virtually handed over a blank cheque by the government, at the expense of the taxpayer. In fact, some experts have argued that discretionary funds for lawmakers’ development schemes should be abolished to help check our profligate ways. The PDM’s economic management — or lack thereof — has been disastrous thus far. The last thing the coalition should do is squander billions of rupees in political bribes when the economy is deep in the red.
Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2023
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