ISLAMABAD: At a time when the country is facing serious financial crisis and has imposed massive cuts on public sector development programmes, the government continues to dole out funds to parliamentarians in the name of development grants. According to official documents available with Dawn, the government released Rs13.426 billion under the head of public works programme-I to members of the National Assembly and Senate from July 2008 to October 2010.
During the first year of the PPP-led government’s tenure, every MNA and Senator was entitled to Rs10 million as development grant which has since been increased by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to Rs20 million.
A major chunk of the funds went to executing agencies as kickbacks and commissions. Members of the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, themselves recipients of the funds, have been complaining about massive corruption by the executing agencies.
A number of legislators have alleged that because of rampant corruption in the public works department development funds had failed to achieve the desired results.
Sardar Bahadur Khan Sihar, a PML-Q MNA from Layyah district, said he had to initiate an inquiry and send to jail an executive engineer of the highway department for building a low-quality road in his constituency. Only after a couple of months of use, cracks began appearing in the road.
“I was informed that the engineer, in connivance with the contractor, had misused the money,” Mr Sihar said, adding that the grant was sufficient for four development schemes — involving construction of roads, electrification, provision of gas and telephone connections.
An official at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, who is involved in the release of the development grants, said the percentage of commission for a contractor was determined at the time of inviting tender for a project.
He admitted it was such a complicated process that nobody could think of executing a project without greasing someone’s palms.
Anusha Rehman, a PML-N MNA on a reserved seat, experienced a similar situation when she tried to set up a mother and childcare unit from her development grants.
She said that despite her personal monitoring of the project, its director attempted to manipulate the tender.
“Without my mandatory approval he went for re-bidding the project at almost double the cost which I had approved in the first bidding,” she said.
Ms Rehman said she was so frustrated that she decided to get the project cancelled and stay away from such development grants.
Only recently a bizarre incident took place at the highly-secure Parliament Lodges when a contractor approached Bushra Gohar of the ANP to offer commissions from her development grant. But instead of accepting the proposal, Ms Gohar called police and put him behind the bar on charges of offering her bribe.
Probably because of strict monitoring of development grants released against her name, Ms Gohar has so far only recommended schemes worth Rs8.8 million against her allocated quota of Rs40 million.
According to the official record, most parliamentarians have secured development grants ranging between Rs30 and Rs40 million.
Political circles have questioned the grant of development funds to women lawmakers on reserved seats and senators who are not directly elected.
When asked about the issue, a PML-Q woman lawmaker on reserved seat said: “We are strictly ordered by the party leadership to only sign development schemes. Funds released against our names go directly to our elected colleagues.”
Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N is against the grant of development funds to the parliamentarians. He said the ideal way to carry out development works was through local governments which unfortunately were non-functional.
Mr Sadiq, a lawmaker from Lahore, said: “Parliamentarians’ basic job is to legislate and not to monitor the local-level development. Over the years we have witnessed how these funds are misused. All political parties should sit together and work out some legislation for effective utilisation of the public money.”