Govt-bureaucracy ties bristle with tension

Asad accuses civil servants of disregarding PM’s directive on uplift schemes


Shahbaz Rana March 24, 2021

ISLAMABAD:

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar has censured bureaucracy for ignoring Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directives to undertake community schemes that are recommended by parliamentarians amid an overall low development spending that remains at only 42% of the budget.

An overwhelming majority of the PM’s directives remain buried in files of the planning ministry, revealed the proceedings of a meeting chaired by the minister recently.

Not only that, this year’s Public Sector Development Programme also faces significant execution problems, said the sources.

The ministries remain unable to utilise funds that the planning ministry has already authorised, even for crucial projects like Covid, Diamer-Basha dam, Greater Karachi Water Supply scheme, Kacchi Canal project and Naulong dam project.

Umar showed his annoyance over ignoring the directives that Prime Minister Imran Khan had issued for initiating the process on schemes recommended by parliamentarians, said the sources.

“Umar dared that had there been any other prime minister, the bureaucracy could not have mustered the courage to overlook the directives,” a top official revealed to The Express Tribune.

“An elected representative can best identify the development needs, based on the feedback from the constituency,” said Umar while talking to The Express Tribune.

He said all such directives pass through normal approval and scrutiny process. Before coming into power, the PTI was opposed to the projects being initiated under political considerations.

Umar is not the only person in Imran Khan’s cabinet who has issues with the way the bureaucracy is working. Even Prime Minister Imran Khan suspects that the bureaucracy was deliberately letting the PTI government down.

In a recent cabinet meeting, the prime minister said that he came to the conclusion the bureaucracy was failing his government ‘by design’, a cabinet member confirmed to The Express Tribune.

Where the cabinet has complaints against the bureaucracy, the civil servants too seem unhappy with the PTI government.

“It goes to the credit of the PTI that the civil servants are being judged along pro-PML-N and pro-PTI lines,” said one of senior most federal secretaries while talking to The Express Tribune.

The sources said that Umar has decided to take up issues of low spending despite higher releases and development priorities of the ruling party in the remainder period with Prime Minister Imran Khan and the federal cabinet.

Umar asked his ministry to submit details of the total directives that were issued by the prime minister and the details of how many of those were still pending.

The projects are included in the development programme either on the recommendations of the ministries concerned or on the proposals made by the parliamentarians.

However, the PTI government, like its predecessor, has devised a parallel set-up to approve politically-motivated schemes.

A committee headed by Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak approves politically-motivated schemes, which are not vetted under the laid down procedures.

Umar reviewed the PSDP 2020-21 and the PSDP projects of all the ministries and divisions were discussed in detail during the review exercise, said the Ministry of Planning on Tuesday.

The minister directed the planning division to work with ministries to ensure that they fully utilise their funds, it added.

He also said that additional funds should be allocated to fast-moving progress to facilitate their early completion. For this purpose, the planning division should encourage and facilitate re-appropriations to and from different projects.

Low Spending

For the current fiscal year, the government has allocated Rs650 billion for development spending but the actual money that has been spent was hardly Rs270 billion or 42%, according to the sources.

The planning ministry had authorised Rs479 billion for spending in this fiscal year. The sources said that Asad Umar would take this issue up with the cabinet .

The Power Division has so far spent only Rs1.2 billion against its annual allocation of Rs12 billion. The Interior Ministry has spent Rs2.3 billion against annual allocation of Rs14.8 billion and the Planning Ministry too could spend only Rs6.1 billion against Rs27.1 billion annual budget .

The spending by the Housing Ministry amounted to Rs1.7 billion against the budget of Rs9.6 billion. The National Health Ministry too could spend only Rs2.6 billion against its budget of Rs11.8 billion.

The Water Resources Ministry fared poor, as it spent Rs18 billion against an allocation of Rs66 billion. The Covid programme of Rs70 billion stood fully unutilised.

There is nil utilisation against Rs6 billion meant for ML-I project of Pakistan Railways. The spending under Diamer-Basha dam project was mere Rs1.3 billion as against Rs16 billion annual budget. Only Rs321 million was utilized for Lowari road tunnel project against annual allocation of Rs2 billion.

Some of the ministries had sought additional funds and the permission for re-appropriations. The NDMA has demanded Rs29 billion, Education Ministry (Rs4 billion), Climate Change ministry (Rs6 billion) and Water resources ministry, Rs9 billion.

The minister directed to release Rs40 billion to the ministries in the next couple of weeks.

The minister also directed that the provincial governments may be asked to expedite finalisation of the healthcare upgrade schemes so that the available financial resources embarked under the Covid programme can be transferred to them.

The minister stressed that the available financial resources should be fully utilised by the projects, said the Planning Ministry.

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