No funds for development yet!

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Anxiety prevails in the administrative departments over Punjab’s financial situation as the government has not yet released any development funds since the announcement of budget, Pakistan Today has learnt.

Punjab Assembly’s budget presented on June 17 announced an Annual Development Plan (ADP) of Rs 290 billion. However, despite such an ‘ambitious’ allocation the government has yet to release even the first tranche of the development funds to its administrative departments.

“It has been 40 days since the budget was presented. The development work is in jeopardy due to anxiety prevalent in the departments and senior officials regarding the release of funds. These funds were to be released in the first week of July,” a senior official told Pakistan Today on condition of anonymity.

The health and education departments are the most severely affected. “The government has published the ADP mentioning various schemes but the funds have not been released. All the contractors are writing to us for the funds but we have had to resort to delaying tactics. How can we tell them any reason when we do not know it ourselves,” the official added.

The federal government recently issued directions to the provinces to spend less on development, in line with the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Punjab will reportedly spend Rs 60 billion lesser than its initial yearly National Finance Commission (NFC) allotment.

However, insiders revealed that the Chief Minister’s (CM) Secretariat tightened its control over the province’s finances, taking leverage of the CM’s preoccupation with federal meetings.

“The planning and development (P&D) department sends its requisition to the finance department to release funds and negotiations then take place on the amount to be released in one tranche. However, this time the CM’s secretariat has become the boss, leaving both the finance and P&D departments toothless, probably for some mega-project,” the insider added.

In contrast, Finance Secretary Jehanzaib Khan said that the first releases are for salaries, non-development expenditure and for those contractors who submitted their cheques in the last days of previous fiscal year, adding that these cheques bounced. “The finance department always releases funds after getting requisition from the P&D department, which it has not received so far. Usually discussions are held over the percentage of funds to be transferred in one go. Additionally, the budget becomes operational for the department only after July 1, thus it has been only 27 days and not 40,” he added.

P&D Chairman Irfan Elahi told Pakistan Today that the delay in disbursement of funds is not unusual. “We will issue releases by Tuesday (next week), which is routine because the first transfers are done in any week of July,” he said.