When the government wants something done, more often than not, it gets done and soon enough. So how come is it that 30 months on, a generous contribution of $1.5 billion made by Saudi Arabia lies unutilised in the Pakistan Development Fund (PDFL), a so-called institution that exists, on paper, to finance development projects. This comes in the midst of a constant flow of news that conveys Pakistan’s continuous, and at times reckless, spree of borrowing from every avenue that exists and has the ability to lend. The PDFL was set up with Saudi Arabia’s assistance in early 2014, but the appointment of a full-time CEO remains pending although Finance Minister Ishaq Dar remains its chairman. One can’t help but wonder at the purpose of creating a company more than two years ago, blessed with $1.5 billion — apparently with no strings attached — and a simultaneous addiction to going back to international lenders to finance development projects. Is the government only going to earn interest on those $1.5 billion? Or was the purpose only to boost foreign exchange reserves for a temporary period? At the same time, some projects of the much-touted China-Pakistan Economic Corridor continue to face snags due to financing issues. Add to this the authorities’ constant raising of tax rates and you have a government that has tapped every possible source of revenue, while at the same time sitting on $1.5 billion and not utilising this sum.
There is also the news that the government will borrow roughly Rs200 billion and park it in a newly-established company to pay tax refunds. The money is being borrowed so as not to touch the FBR’s sacred revenue. At the same time, a super tax on corporate companies continues to exist and power consumers face higher tariffs to finance transmission pipelines. But when it comes to meaningful development projects — especially in education and healthcare — there is little will to spend on those. Is it fair that all citizens, directly and indirectly, continue to pick up the slack for the failure of state-owned entities by paying higher tax rates on fuel and not get much back in return in terms of development or help for the vulnerable segments of society? Why the government hasn’t utilised the $1.5 billion to ease the plight of taxpaying citizens remains an open question with no answers forthcoming.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2016.
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