The government has allocated Rs24 billion for development schemes for parliamentarians of its party and allied parties. The hefty allocation aims to win local elections being held in two provinces in the current year, but is in contrast to the manifesto of the ruling party, which called it political bribe when it was in opposition.
The development funds, which Prime Minister Imran Khan called the “root cause of corruption in the country and political bribe” before coming to power, aim to win him municipal elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan this year. The move came after the Election Commission of Pakistan decided to start fresh delimitations across the country for the elections. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government wants to introduce a new system which can resolve problems of the people at grass-roots level. The allocation of development funds means the ruling party wants to win the polls at any cost, even at the cost of its image and manifesto.
It is said the ruling PTI and its allied parties at the Centre and provinces, including the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Sindh, Pakistan Muslim League-Q in the Punjab and other groups in Balochistan, have convinced the prime minister to provide funds to their candidates to ensure a landslide victory for his party and coalition partners. His recent visits to Balochistan, Sindh, the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa focused on a strategy to win local polls.
With the allocation of Rs24 billion, the total spending on parliamentarians’ schemes would be Rs29 billion this year. In its last year, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had spent Rs32.6 billion under the Prime Minister’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Achievement Fund. The PTI is also using the same pretext to provide development funds to its legislators. It is said Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) belonging to the PTI had warned the prime minister that if funds were not released for their schemes, the government might lose the local polls and the next general election. The PML-N government had spent over Rs130 billion in about three years in over 100 constituencies and yet it could not win the last election. Following in the footsteps of the PML-N, the PTI government has also set up a steering committee, headed by Special Assistant to PM on Political Affairs, Naeemul Haq, for approving development schemes recommended by MNAs for their respective constituencies. In the PML-N tenure, the job was performed by the then Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Sheikh Aftab Ahmad. The schemes are being forwarded to committees at district levels, a mechanism designed by the PML-N, to hide real motives of the spending.
Under the decision, MPAs of the PTI and allied parties in the Punjab will submit proposal plans up to Rs100 million for development schemes for the current fiscal year. Opposition members claim Rs12 billion have been reserved for members of the ruling party and its allies but no proposal is being accepted from them. Each MNA and members of the Senate of the ruling party and its allies would receive Rs150 million for development projects. Analysts say the allocation of funds is a fallout of the PTI’s policy of taking “electables” into the fold before the election. The “electables” obtained 4.28 million votes and won 23 National Assembly seats for the PTI in the last general election. They helped the PTI form the government in the Centre and the Punjab. Experts say their politics revolves around development funds and they forced the prime minister to take another U-turn on his promise. With a thin majority in the Centre and the Punjab, their nuisance value has increased and they are in a position to blackmail the government.
Experts say the government is supposed to release development funds to heads of local governments instead of providing it to the parliamentarians, if it wants to empower local institutions. Instead, the government is engaging parliamentarians under the same old practice by allocating them funds for the development of local areas which is not their mandate. The last local bodies elections were held in the Punjab and Sindh in 2015 and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had swept them in their respective province. In the situation, the PTI cannot empower members of rival parties through development funds. The situation could have been different if its candidates had fared better in the last local elections.
The irony is that the PML-N had provided meagre resources to its local bodies representatives in the Punjab because its MNAs and MPAs needed huge funds for themselves. The PTI has further curtailed the funds. Experts say the policy to allocate funds for legislators is violation of the Article 140-A of the Constitution which states that “Each province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.” However, the PML-N councilors, Nazims and district Nazims failed to convince their own party about devolution of political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority. The PTI has introduced a better local government system in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which it rules. It wants to replicate the system in the Punjab with some adjustments. It wants to win in the Punjab at all cost to enforce its system.
It is a fact that the provision of development funds has muddied national politics and tarnished the image of politicians in the country. It allows legislators and contractors to devour public funds in a legal way. The PTI government will have to abolish the system to break the cycle.