Despite an election commission ban, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has diverted another chunk of Rs1.2 billion – this time out of the flood donation fund – towards constituencies of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) senior leaders in a bid to lure voters just as elections approach.
This latest move is likely to lead to another controversy after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had banned the re-appropriation of development funds for discretionary spending by the premier in his choice of constituencies. The ECP had described such practices “pre-poll rigging” and consequently frozen the transfer of all funds.
The diversion of flood assistance will also irk donors, particularly foreign ones, who often complain of misuse of their money.
The recent transfer has been made out of the 2011 flood donations and major foreign contributors that year were the US, China, Japan and Iran.
The premier took the decision on a request sent by the Cabinet Division – the body overseeing the local and international donations – according to sources in the division. Sources revealed that the Cabinet Division sent the summary on the recommendations of a steering committee for projects to be funded from the PM’s Flood Relief Fund of 2011.
The steering committee consists of federal secretaries and representatives of the PM’s Secretariat, including Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi who also wears the cap of secretary for water and power.
The cabinet division secretary was not available for comment. The spokesperson for the cabinet division, Omar Hameed Khan, was also not available for comment.
In his latest move, the premier has approved Rs200 million for the constituency of National Assembly Speaker Dr Fahmida Mirza, Rs150 million for National Assembly Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, Rs250 million for Minister for Religious Affairs Khursheed Shah, a sum of Rs150 million for Minister for Defence Naveed Qamar, Rs100 million for Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, Rs100 million for MNA Munawar Talpur (husband of the president’s sister Faryal Talpur), Rs100 million for MNA Nawab Yousuf Talpur and Rs130 million for MNA Amir Ali Magsi, who was elected from Larkana.
Press Secretary to the Prime Minister Shafqat Jalil confirmed to The Express Tribune that Ashraf has given the go-ahead, sanctioning funds out of the PM’s Flood Relief Fund. He said schemes have been identified in the flood-affected areas for each allocation.
This may be all well and good, but the money is being set aside for flood schemes one and a half years after the devastation. This delay and coincidence of the upcoming general elections underscore the use of these donations for political purposes. Moreover, the funds have been allocated only to PPP parliamentarians and with the orders to use them within a month, highlighting the urgency given that the polls are just around the corner.
Meanwhile, the dedicated department responsible for carrying out flood relief work is in the dark about these developments. The PM’s Flood Relief Fund is being managed by the Cabinet Division and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) does not play any formal role in how it is allocated, said NDMA chief Dr Zafar Iqbal Qadir. He added, however, that the NDMA actively worked with Rs2 billion, sanctioned by the premier in the areas hit in 2012 by the natural disaster.
This is not the first time that Ashraf has used public money for political gain. After spending an annual allocation of Rs22 billion in just three-and-a-half months, the PM was given another Rs15 billion by the finance ministry that slashed the budget of ongoing projects.
Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim recently banned the re-appropriation of funds for discretionary spending by the PM after glaring irregularities were highlighted in the media.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2013.