The government on Friday approved grants of over Rs16 billion for discretionary spending on the road and electricity schemes being recommended by its coalition partners amid increasing political noise in the country.
The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet approved supplementary grants of Rs8 billion for the Ministry of Housing and Works and Rs8.1 billion
for the Power Division by taking out money from the Cabinet Division’s pool, where it had been parked for the same purpose.
The cabinet body also approved Rs300 million in additional grant for the foreign trips of VVIPs, an amount that appears extravagant in the present economic conditions.
Headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the ECC approved a debt rescheduling deal of $26.2 million with Japan under the final phase of the Covid-19 debt rescheduling initiative by G20 countries.
The cabinet committee approved the supplementary grants amid increasing scrutiny by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of the government’s expenses due to concerns over fiscal expediency.
The coalition government has increased the discretionary budget for
the development schemes of parliamentarians to a record Rs87 billion in order to spend an average of Rs500 million in each of the 174 constituencies of National Assembly that voted for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
The money is being spent under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) programme, a name used to fund the small electricity, gas, community welfare and road schemes.
The ECC approved Rs8.1 billion for the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) for the execution of development schemes in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), according to the finance ministry.
It approved another Rs8 billion for the Ministry of Housing and Works, stated the ministry.
Parliamentarians of Punjab will get Rs3.6 billion, Sindh lawmakers will receive Rs5.6 billion, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa MNAs will get Rs1.1 billion while those of Balochistan will receive Rs6.6 billion.
The ECC gave its nod for a $26.2 million debt repayment deferral deal with Japan, bringing the total rescheduling to $3.7 billion under three phases of the G20 debt relief initiative.
G20 finance ministers, in their meeting held in April 2020, announced a debt relief for the International Development Assistance (IDA)-eligible countries to mitigate the socio-economic impact of Covid-19, known as the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
Debt relief under the initiative came through the suspension of principal and interest payments due from May to December 2020.
Under DSSI-1, 32 debt rescheduling agreements with 19 creditor countries have been signed. DSSI-I yielded debt relief of $1.6 billion.
As part of DSSI-II, 35 debt rescheduling agreements have been signed with 15 creditor countries, yielding a debt relief of $1.1 billion and under the final extension 36 debt rescheduling agreements have been signed with 15 creditor countries, providing a debt relief of almost $947 million.
The ECC approved import of 33,000 tons of urea at a rate of $551 per ton, which was $71 more expensive than the last government-to-government (G2G) deal with China for import of 125,000 tons.
The Ministry of Industries had submitted a summary for the award of third international urea tender opened on December 1, 2022. The ECC after deliberation approved the lowest bid of Swiss Singapore Overseas.
However, last month the ECC also sanctioned import of 35,000 tons of urea fertiliser from Socar under a government deal at $685 per ton.
But the federal cabinet directed the industries ministry to explore other cheaper options for December delivery, as an alternative to the G2G offer made by Socar for the procurement of 35,000 tons of urea at $685 per ton.
Besides, the ECC approved a Rs349.4 million grant in favour of the Ministry of Foreign affairs, incurred on the evacuation of Pakistanis from Ukraine due to the war with Russia (Rs49.4 million) and the foreign trips of VVIPs (Rs300 million).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already exhausted the allocation of Rs150 million for the VVIP visits, as an expenditure amounting to Rs171.5 million was incurred up to October 20, 2022, the ECC was informed.
To cater for the future VIP visits during the current financial year, the ECC gave a budget of Rs300 million to the foreign ministry.
Earlier, Rs49.3 million had been spent on the evacuation of students from Ukraine in March this year and PIA has now claimed that expense too.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2022.
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