ISLAMABAD: PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has said that the federal and provincial governments will contribute Rs350 billion ($4.11 billion) to the National Flood Relief Fund from their budgetary allocations for the current fiscal year.
The figure is higher than the initial estimated amount of $3.5 billion that Pakistan would need to rebuild the flood-battered infrastructure and revive agriculture destroyed by the worst flooding in the country’s history. “The governments will give money from their pockets before turning to people (for help),” Sharif told reporters on Sunday at the city’s largest hospital where he visited an ailing leader of his party.
Sharif’s statement came a day after Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani agreed to his proposal of setting up a commission of credible and respectable Pakistanis to raise funds and oversee relief activities.
There are reports that the federal government has already decided to slash its development budget by half, a measure that would make available little over Rs150 billion for flood victims. The non-development expenditures are also likely to face a cut of 30 per cent.
Similarly, the provinces are planning to substantially cut their Annual Development Plans (ADP) by abandoning most of infrastructure development projects. All these measures, according to experts, along with a plan to levy a special tax could generate the amount Sharif mentioned on Sunday. Some observers view all these arrangements as an indication of two things: a lack of trust between the public and the political leadership and the government’s fears that not a lot of international help would be flowing in this time around.
Sharif said the proposed commission must be established as soon as possible because the “nation cannot afford any more delay”.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Gilani ordered Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh to evolve an institutional mechanism for setting up the commission without taking much time, according to a statement.
The commission, Sharif added, must be totally apolitical and its members should not have any political inclination.
Sharif explained that the commission would be made to undertake the task of rehabilitation of the flood-affected people and regions and that it would not be a permanent body.
As long as relief activities continue, all the official agencies would work under this commission, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2010.