ISLAMABAD: The PML-N government has doled out Rs94 billion among its lawmakers in a bid to secure wins in more than 100 constituencies in the next general elections, violating Supreme Court judgments barring discretionary spending.
Sources in the Cabinet Division said that in some cases, the allocations ran into billions of rupees.
The decision to distribute funds was taken by just a few people, including the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Capt (retd) Safdar, who is also the son-in-law of the former PM, to bolster the party’s position in as many as 106 constituencies, said the sources.
The Cabinet Division and the Planning Ministry are providing the needed support. The Finance Ministry sanctions the money.
At least Rs55 billion was given over the past nine months, according to documents and government officials.
Another Rs26 billion was diverted towards parliamentarians’ projects by slashing allocations of other projects, including those designed for least developed areas of the country.
After Nawaz Sharif’s exit, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was reluctant to allocate money at supersonic speeds but he had to agree during a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in August, said the sources. The meeting, also attended by Speaker of the National Assembly, resulted in the release of Rs32.6 billion within days, they said.
The money, they said, was given under the PM’s programme for achieving Sustainable Development Goals that the federal cabinet had approved last year.
On the face of it, the programme is aimed at improving social indicators.
As much as Rs94 billion had already been released since July 2015. SDGs is just a ruse to dodge the apex court orders regarding discretionary spending, said Dr Ikramul Haq, an advocate of the Supreme Court.
For fiscal year 2015-16, the government had allocated Rs20 billion for the SDGs programme and the actual spending remained at Rs20.9 billion. In the second week of June last year, Rs900 million had been given, documents showed.
In 2016-17, the government set aside Rs20 billion for parliamentarians’ schemes in the budget but the actual releases surged to Rs42.5 billion.
The Ministry of Finance confirmed that Rs42.5 billion were released for the SDGs programme but said that the Ministry of Planning and Development arranged Rs22.5 billion additional money by diverting funds from other development schemes. The Finance Ministry denied that it gave any additional funds through supplementary budget.
The diversion of funds is again in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment that stopped such re-appropriations.
But Planning Ministry spokesman Asim Niazi insisted that the actual spending for the SDGs programme from the PSDP was Rs27.5 billion in 2016-17 and the Planning Ministry diverted just Rs7.5 billion from another federal project.
A Planning Ministry official insisted that the remaining Rs15 billion were provided by the Finance Ministry.
For the current fiscal year (2017-18), parliament had approved Rs30 billion for SDGs programme, but the Finance Ministry sanctioned Rs32.67 billion till September this year. As much as Rs2.67 billion was provided via supplementary grants, the Finance Ministry confirmed.
The whole exercise is spearheaded by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmad.
Sheikh Aftab told the Prime Minister that without upfront releases of Rs30 billion, the PML-N could not win elections in certain constituencies, said the sources. Sheikh Aftab also told the PM that MNAs were complaining about lack of funds.
After the meeting, the money was transferred to Punjab government accounts and to other assignment accounts of Power Division for electrification schemes, to Petroleum Division for gas schemes and to Ministry of Housing, said the sources.
During the meeting, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar informed the PM that the Punjab government had not kept its word regarding providing Rs200 million to all MNAs, said the sources.
The meeting also discussed the possibility of diverting funds from other special initiatives of the PM, Energy for All and Clean Drinking Water for All, if lawmakers needed more than Rs32.6 billion this year, said the sources.
Secretary Cabinet Division Nadeem Hasan Asif refused to comment. He stated that the SDGs steering committee could give comments in this regard.
The Cabinet Division’s job was restricted to providing secretariat support.