Power abused

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Public money and elections

With the elections just around the corner, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is being overly generous to bolster his standing in his constituency – from the public coffers. He was elected from a high-risk Rawalpindi Division where in 2008 the PPP had managed to scrape through by the skin of its teeth while traditional rival PML-N had won most of the seats with a thumping majority. Add to it the results of the latest by-elections in Punjab, the panic on Raja’s part is quite understandable. What is not is the volume of splurge, for Rs 42 billion is no peanuts.

Reportedly, the prime minister has received Rs 32 billion within the last few months to spend on selected constituencies. He has now sought Rs 10 billion more. While building roads and bridges and public amenities is per se not objectionable, preferential treatment to a handful of constituencies in a district of a division definitely amounts to depriving the rest of the country of the fruits of development. When the PML-N government initiated the rapid transport project in Lahore it was criticised for spending too much in just one city of the province. What the PPP PM is doing is no different. In a way, it is even more objectionable because funds are being diverted from vital projects and strategically important regions. Reportedly, the Planning Commission will place a cut on development budget allocated for different sectors, and it includes education and water and power, to accommodate PM’s rather skewed development demands. Both the sectors are crucial and already starved of funds. Spending all this money in the Punjab and that too in a small area, by the prime minister of the country, would be resented.

Among those who have strongly criticsed the demand for further funds is Aftab Ahmad Sherpao – apparently for perfectly valid reasons. Rs 4 billion was withdrawn, according to Sherpao, from the development budget of FATA – a region badly in need of schools, health centres, roads and bridges. Appropriating around 30 percent of its Annual Development Programme to the PM’s People’s Works Programme to help the party in power in its election campaign is unacceptable, he maintains. Sherpao has asked the CEC to take notice of the spending.

First Yousaf Raza Gilani and now Raja have used their position to spend billions of rupees in the Punjab and that too in just two regions. This would not only create dissatisfaction among other legislators in Punjab but also raise eyebrows in other provinces. Thanks to the declining level of governance in the country, there is not enough administrative capacity to ensure the utilitisation of the mega allocations honestly and efficiently within months. Thus the likelihood of a portion of the funds being pilfered or wasted too cannot be ruled out.