Caught in the middle: As coalition teeters, many in Punjab wait for Zakat

Published: February 25, 2011
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To exclude PPP, PML-N delays appointing Zakat disbursement committee chairperson.

To exclude PPP, PML-N delays appointing Zakat disbursement committee chairperson.

LAHORE: Over 200,000 families in Punjab have been waiting to receive financial help in the form of Zakat for the past one year, The Express Tribune has learnt.

The delay has been caused due to political disharmony between the coalition partners over the formation of district Zakat councils. The Punjab Ombudsman also wrote letter to the Punjab chief minister after it received thousands of complaints and directed the provincial government to constitute the District Zakat and Ushr Committee (DZUC) as early as possible for smooth and timely disbursement of Zakat.

District committees were last constituted in November 2007 and completed their tenure in October 2010 but disbursement of Zakat has been pending since 2009.

According to official sources, larger coalition partner Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is reluctant to constitute the DZUC because minor partner Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is demanding its due share in appointing a committee chairperson.

In order to keep the PPP away, the government constituted a committee headed by Sardar Zulfiqar Khan Khosa and members were parliamentarians from the ruling party (PML-N) and the unification group. The committee was directed to recommend names for a chairperson of the district committee.

The PPP lodged a strong protest over this and demanded that they be given a place according to the government’s sharing formula. Appointments were thus delayed.

However, the Punjab government had received Rs1.5 billion from the federal government to be disbursed for the year 2010-11. Of the total funds, 60 per cent are fixed for widows, the disabled and the poor as Guzara Allowance, 18 per cent for education stipends for deserving students, eight per cent for seminary students, six per cent for healthcare, four per cent for marriage assistance to unmarried women and four per cent for social welfare/rehabilitation of the poor.

A PML-N lawmaker said on condition of anonymity that committees would be constituted after PPP ministers are expelled from the provincial cabinet. Nominees of the unification group will be accommodated accordingly, he said.

The stance was reiterated by Punjab Labour and Manpower Minister Muhammad Ashraf Sohna, who said that the delay was being created to exclude the PPP. PML-Quaid’s (PML-Q) Mohsin Laghari said that it was unfortunate that the Punjab government, which made tall claims of good governance, was involved in such malpractice. “If the government fails in disbursing these funds among those who have registered for it, what will their performance be?” he said.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Zakat and Ushr Department Karim Buksh Abid said that committees would be formed shortly and currently, education stipends and healthcare funds were being disbursed. Dispelling the impression that the government had utilised Zakat funds to meet its current expenditures, he said that the funds had been kept in safe custody.

Punjab government’s spokesperson Senator Pervaiz Rasheed said the appointments will be made on merit, not political affiliations. “People with good reputations and a social service record will be nominated to head the DZUC so that Zakat can be disbursed transparently,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2011.

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