Supplementary grants

Published July 9, 2024

THE ex post facto parliamentary approval of huge unbudgeted expenditures of Rs9.4tr — up by 389pc from Rs1.9tr sanctioned a year earlier — during the last two fiscal years underlines how the government is abusing the powers it derives from the Constitution to deal with possible budgetary shortfalls, and unexpected new expenditures or cost overruns.

This practice of altering the original budget by obtaining retrospective approval of fund re-appropriation or new expenditures made during a given fiscal year, without parliament’s nod to supplementary budget statements, is not new. But the rapid growth of these unauthorised expenditures affirms that the fiscal authorities have lately been interpreting Article 84 rather liberally to bypass parliamentary and public scrutiny. This is despite the fact that the constitutional provision is meant to give the government access to funds for unforeseen financial needs in times of emergencies or contingencies to ensure the unhampered functioning of public services.

A story on the excess expenditures by three successive governments between May 2023 and May 2024 through supplementary grants reveals that subsidies and the power sector, water division, defence and civil armed forces and related agencies stand out in exceeding budgetary allocations or securing finances for unbudgeted expenditure and initiatives.

Many expenditures for which the government sought retrospective parliamentary approval have little to do with emergencies or contingencies. Several expenditures, such as additional funds for CPEC security, military pensions and other retirement benefits, the Green Corporate Initiative of the armed forces, Pakistan-Iran border fencing, K-Electric and public power generation plants, etc, could have been anticipated when the original budget was passed.

The abuse of a constitutional provision meant for unforeseen financial needs betrays bureaucratic disdain for parliament and public opinion, in fact, even democracy. It is also a sort of violation of a 2013 Supreme Court observation that “the amounts as approved in the budget passed by the National Assembly have to be utilised for the purpose specified in the budget statement.

Any re-appropriation of funds or their utilisation for some other purpose, though within the permissible limits of the budget, are not justified…“ The recent re-appropriation of funds for needless payment of ‘honoraria’ to PMO officers, as well as for parliamentarians’ development schemes and renovation and construction of judges’ residences at a time when the government has implemented additional taxes of Rs1.7tr underscores the urgency for restricting the government’ powers under Article 84 to alter the approved budget, except in extreme cases.

Even when an expense is made in emergency situations, it should be immediately brought before parliament for debate and approval to ensure the integrity of the budget, avoid unnecessary additional expenses and reduce digressions from the approved original spending framework. These changes are crucial to ensure tight fiscal discipline and contain budget deficits.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2024

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