A sensitive issue?

What exactly did the government give up in order to divert the money to the ISI?


Editorial September 25, 2010

That the government is adept at obscuring its own financial mismanagement is perhaps the worst kept secret in Islamabad. Recent revelations by the Public Accounts Committee, however, suggest that both the scale and scope of this obfuscation is larger than imagined. Take, for instance, the previous government’s decision to transfer Rs5.5 billion to the ISI from the finance ministry’s budget in the months leading up to the 2008 elections. Not only is such a transfer of funds highly suspect in light of the ISI’s reputation for having intervened in domestic politics in the past, but one is perturbed as to why the federal finance secretary – who made this revelation – was not willing to shed any further light on the matter, using the pretext that he could not since it was a “sensitive issue”.

Governments and their various institutions tend to use precisely such phrases (others include “in the national interest” and so on) when they want to be economical with the truth. In this case, the amount was not even a relatively small one and hence the greater cause for worry, given the manner in which the senior bureaucrat who disclosed its transfer refused to dwell on it further. A key question that one hopes answers will be found for is that what exactly did the government give up in order to divert the money to the ISI? Given our past and present experience, it is quite likely that this meant a cut in social sector spending. The reason is that usually when budgeted allocations have been reduced to finance increases elsewhere, spending on social sector development is usually the first one to be reduced. Having said that, it is good that a body of the parliament is at least trying to unearth such instances connected to the military and the intelligence services since in the past these were considered holy cows.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2010.

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