Skewed priorities

Published November 24, 2023

WHEN it comes to the allocation of scarce resources during times of unprecedented adversity, elected representatives responsible for making the government’s spending decisions are expected to take much greater care to protect the public good before everything else.

Indeed, in any civilised nation, this would be considered a basic principle of responsible, moral leadership. Not so in Pakistan, where the country’s economic blight continues to be made much worse thanks to a leadership class whose self-centredness knows no bounds.

A report in these pages, published on Thursday, has shone a spotlight on how the former PDM-led government rigged the system to ensure its leaders would continue to benefit politically from public funds well after they had been replaced by the caretaker set-up in August.

It also seems that the interim set-up was more than happy to facilitate them, allowing the disproportionate spending of public money on discretionary projects to continue without checks and balances.

According to data released by the Planning Commission, our parliamentarians’ pet schemes consumed the largest chunk of total spending on the Federal Public Sector Development Programme in the July to October 2023 period.

The numbers are staggering when one considers the clear conflict of interest they represent. According to the data, these pet schemes had, by the end of October, already consumed more than 30pc of the Rs90bn budget allocated to them for the entire year.

For a clearer idea of how skewed this makes the government’s spending priorities appear, compare this to the PSDP programme for all of AJK, Gilgit-Baltistan and ex-Fata, which consumed only 15pc of its budget within the same period.

For even more context, consider that the disbursements authorised for all ministries, divisions and corporations in the same period amounted to just 8.6pc of their yearly budget. One would naturally ask why those controlling the nation’s purse strings felt these discretionary schemes needed such urgent attention.

The answer, of course, is elections. These schemes have traditionally been used as a tool by politicians hoping to build goodwill within their constituencies. Considering the gross failure of the PDM government in stabilising the economy, politicians have been desperate to show their voters they can ‘deliver’, which is why resort seems to have been made to this tactic.

However, during a time when the vast majority of the country is struggling under unprecedented economic difficulties, it is galling for the exchequer to be exploited as an election fund.

Major infrastructural projects have been shelved over the past two years owing to financing shortfalls; money cannot, in these conditions, be sunk into hyper-localised projects simply to get some people more votes. The ECP must take note and necessary action to prevent the abuse of public funds.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2023

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