Once a development expenditure, the MPAs discretionary fund in the politically-divided Sindh province seems to have redefined the notion of political economy where the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is allegedly gaining political mileage out of the taxpayers’ money.
Sindh Finance Bill for fiscal year 2013-2014 puts the issuance of Rs 40 million uplift funds at the chief minister’s discretion.
The new bill came after the Supreme Court, finding then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf guilty of misusing the MNAs discretionary funds, outlawed the budgetary head in its suo motu notice case hearing on December 5, 2013.
What made the opposition members keep their hopes alive for receipt of the fund were the special letters the Sindh government had issued them soon after taking oath last year.
Pakistan Muslim League-Functional member Nusrat Seher told Pakistan Today, “We (MPAs) had received government letters titled Tameer-e-Pakistan, seeking our proposals on development schemes. When we submitted our proposals after months of hard work, the Planning and Development Department told us that the chief minister had banned the plan.”
Opposition parties accuse the PPP-led coalition government in Sindh of following in the footprints of former PM Ashraf by dolling out millions of rupees to its “blue-eyed” legislators.
The opposition members, especially those from PML-F and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have been completely ignored, Seher said, adding that only 59 lawmakers have so far received the development funds. “Strangely, PML-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart Irfanullah Marwat is one of the fortunate MPAs who have received millions,” Seher said.
Shafi Muhammad Jamot and Humayun Muhammad Khan of PML-N are also believed to have been able to get a government notification issued for the release of funds.
The opposition members minced no words in flaying the Sindh government for discriminating against them and releasing the uplift funds to PPP senators, MNAs and even party office-bearers.
“Our voters are disappointed. It is political victimisation,” said Khurram Sher Zaman of PTI.
Seher said the government had only renamed the MPA Priority Program as Development Priority Program in the finance bill.
“They have mostly given the fund to their blue-eyed boys, including MNAs and senators,” she said.
Prominent beneficiaries of the fund named by Seher and Zaman include Senator Saeed Ghani, MNAs Faryal Talpur, Shazia Atta Marri, Nafeesa Shah, Mehreen Bhutto and PPP’s Karachi chapter office-bearers Abdul Qadir Patel and Najmi Alam.
More than 20 PPP MPAs, prominently from Larkana and Benazirabad are said to have been put at the discretion of MNA Faryal Talpur, former president Asif Ali Zardari’s sister, in terms of release of the uplift funds.
“They have enough money for senators like Ghani and even office-bearers Patel and Alam, who are being given funds from the Annual Development Programme, but have no funds for us,” said Zaman.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which has recently rejoined the provincial government, also has a lot to complaint about. Lamenting that the fate of many development projects’ in the PPP’s political strongholds was hanging in balance, MQM legislator Khalid Ahmed said his party had not received any uplift funds so far.
Talking to Pakistan Today, he said, “We have just joined the government. This happens with the opposition, you know.”
However, according to sources, the government had approved Rs 15 million on account of development fund for the MQM.
Seher recalled that opposition parties, then led by the MQM had brought over a dozen privilege motions in the PPP-dominated house to highlight the issue.
Lawmakers from the MQM, PML-F, PML-N and PTI had complained that the provincial government had breached their privilege by first asking the legislators to submit details of the proposed development projects they wished to be carried out in their respective constituencies and then having backed off.
“Law Minister Sikandar Mandhro, after sitting on our privilege motion for almost a week, told us that his side would oppose the move in the house,” said Zaman.
While Sindh Assembly Information Minister Sharjeel Memon and Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza were not available to clarify the PPP’s stance, PML-N’s Marwat made no effort to dispel the widely-held impression that he had a “special relationship” with the PPP-led Sindh government.
“After the SC’s verdict, no discretion rests with the PM or any CM. The government, in its letters, asked us to submit proposals that many of us did, but in an incomplete form,” Marwat said, adding that even some 34 PPP lawmakers had yet to get the uplift project funds.
The PML-N leader said the fund was not “lapsable” thus would be provided to all as per availability.
Marwat also defended the government over the matter of members of the Upper and Lower House being financed from the provincial kitty.
“What is wrong with it? Are those members not elected from Sindh? The money is not going out of the province,” the PML-N lawmaker contended.