One of Pakistan’s most under-developed regions – the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) – is set to be neglected further as its development budget has been cut by the federal government by one-fourth, or Rs4 billion.
Instead, the government has handed the funds to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to spend on his choice of constituencies ahead of the general elections.
The decision is likely to undermine efforts initiated to tackle militancy and eradicate poverty in Fata through development projects and is likely to cause delays in the completion of ongoing projects in the tribal areas.
The move is also contradictory to the National Economic Council’s decision that equitable development would be carried out across the country by ensuring better allocation of resources – as well as to the spirit of the president’s Independence Day announcement that Fata would be given local government in a bid to further empower the region.
Sources in the Planning Commission (PC) told The Express Tribune that, in order to provide more discretionary grants to Prime Minister Ashraf, the PC has cut Fata’s development budget by Rs4 billion. As against its annual allocation of Rs16 billion, the tribal areas will now receive Rs12 billion.
After consuming his entire annual allocation of Rs22 billion in just three-and-a-half months since coming into office, the premier had sought an additional Rs10 billon. The finance ministry had initially decided to give the amount as a supplementary budget, but later on asked the PC to create space within the Rs360 billion total annual development budget approved for the current fiscal year 2012-2013.
Of the Rs10 billion, the commission has so far given up Rs5 billion in favour of the prime minister’s discretionary budget – Peoples Workers Programme-II, and it has now been learnt that Rs4 billion was withdrawn from Fata’s development budget.
Of the annual federal development budget of Rs360 billion, the premier’s discretionary grant has now swelled to Rs32 billion, or 8.8% of the total budget.
Secretary Planning and Development Department of Fata Secretariat, Shahzad Khan Bangash confirmed to The Express Tribune that Fata’s funds have been cut by Rs4 billion.
The Fata Secretariat has flagged the issue to the parliamentarians belonging to the tribal belt, who have become agitated with the government’s decision and have decided to take up the matter with Premier Ashraf.
Bangash added that Khyber-Pakthunkhwa Governor Barrister Syed Masood Kausar will also raise the issue with the federal government.
Hameedullah Jan Afridi, an MNA from NA-46 in Khyber Agency, said the Fata Secretariat has apprised the parliamentarians of the ongoing development and have decided to take up the matter in the upcoming session of the National Assembly.
“The federal government begs for money from all over the world in the name of eradicating poverty and controlling militancy in the tribal areas, but when it comes to actually spending the money on the ground, the federal government discriminates [against] the region”, Afridi claimed.
The Planning and Development Division secretary, Javed Malik, was not available for comments despite repeated attempts to contact him. Three other senior functionaries of the PC spoke off-the-record and confirmed that Fata’s budget has been slashed.
They, however, maintained that the Fata Secretariat did not have the capacity to utilise the entire funds. The officials added that, if it consumed the entire remaining budget of Rs12 billion, the commission would provide more funds.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2012.
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