ISLAMABAD: Discre­tionary spending by parliamentarians under the Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Pro­gramme (SAP) accounted for more than a third of the total federal development expenditure in the first four months of the fiscal year, official data showed on Wednesday.

The disproportionate funding towards parliamentarians’ schemes under SAP, whose discretionary funds are considered a tool to muster political support, continues despite a change of government in August and raises concerns over equitable resource distribution, especially during an election year.

Since the vast majority of lawmakers in the previous assembly belonged to the Pakistan Democratic Movement-led coalition, the SAP spending seems skewed in favour of their projects.

This will be the third year in a row that the country’s under-funded infrastructure development will remain constrained by drastic cuts, even in funds allocated by the parliament. Last year, the development programme was marred by massive floods.

Data shows over 30pc of funds allocated for SAP schemes already spent, compared to 5.8pc for all other PSDP projects

Data released by the Planning Commission on Wednesday shows that of the total spending on the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) of Rs76 billion in the four months from July to October, the biggest chunk, Rs27.15bn, was channelled to parliamentarians’ schemes.

This spending amounts to roughly one-third of the total budget allocated for this head, i.e. Rs90bn.

The PDM government, before its term ended in the second week of August, had authorised the release of almost 70pc (Rs61.3bn) of the Rs90bn it had allocated in the budget for SAP schemes within the first three weeks of the fiscal year.

Of the total SAP spending so far, Rs14.4bn was used by August’s end. This rose to Rs27.15bn by the end of October under the caretaker government.

In comparison, the second-biggest PSDP expenditure of Rs26bn in July-October pertained to special areas like Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and the ex-Fata region and accounts for only 15pc of the Rs170bn budget.

By contrast, disbursements authorised for all the ministries, divisions and corporations stood at Rs74bn, or just 8.6pc of the Rs860bn yearly budget. These authorisations also included a major chunk of Rs37.4bn for the National Highway Authority (NHA) at the time.

Excluding the SAP spending, the federal development expenditure remained at Rs49bn against the yearly budget of Rs950bn amid rising interest payments and disruptions caused by the change of government in August.

The total development spending of Rs49bn amounts to a mere 5.8pc of the remaining annual budget of Rs860bn, excluding that of SAP.

SAP’s actual spending in the four months under review accounts for over 35pc of the total PSDP expenditure against its minor 9.5pc share in the overall PSDP budget.

The official data showed that excluding SAP expenses, the actual development expenditure by the three dozen ministries and divisions amounted to just Rs37bn, a mere 6.6pc of the Rs563bn allocation.

Two other major sectors — the NHA and power companies — used Rs11.6bn, only 5.5pc of their Rs212bn annual budget, despite significant foreign exchange inflows.

The NHA consumed Rs9.4bn (6pc of its Rs156bn allocation) and power companies spent Rs2.25bn (4pc of its Rs55.3bn budget).

The Higher Education Commission could only utilise Rs3.1bn (5pc of its Rs170bn annual budget), while the housing and works division spent Rs3.1bn (about 7.5pc of its Rs41bn allocation).

The Railways division was the only other area that utilised more than Rs1bn in the four months, spending Rs1.5bn against its annual allocation of Rs33bn.

No other ministry or division could cross Rs530 million in July-October, although some of them had large portfolio allocations — Rs111bn for the water sector, Rs25bn for the planning division, Rs13bn for the health sector, etc.

Under the disbursement mechanism announced by the planning division, the development funds allocated in the federal budget should be released at the rate of 20pc in the first quarter (July-September), followed by 30pc each in the second quarter (October-December) and the third quarter (January-March), and the remaining 20pc in the last quarter (April-June) of each fiscal year.

In the July-October period, the government authorised a total of Rs301bn for disbursement, including Rs239bn for 36 ministries and divisions and Rs61bn for the NHA and power companies.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2023

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