ISLAMABAD: The government is meeting to consider the approval of billions of rupees worth of new projects under political pressure, despite cutting the development budget by half due to severe financial crunch.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), headed by Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh, is meeting today (Thursday) to consider over 22 development schemes, forwarded to it by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP), each costing at least over Rs1 billion.
The Ecnec considers projects which cost over Rs1 billion while all those under that amount can be approved by the CDWP.
In order to avoid criticism, the authorities are not disclosing the cost of these projects. “We do not prepare the meeting agenda and do not know which projects will be put on the table”, said Dr Asif Sheikh, the Public Sector Development Programme Specialist and the spokesperson of the Planning Commission.
Dr Sheikh is currently working on contract after retiring couple of years back. He has been in the Planning Commission for years and is responsible for the release of development funds against each project, thus it appears peculiar that he would be unaware of the costs. “I cannot disclose the cost of these projects”, said Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Dr Nadeemul Haq.
Initially, the government had announced Rs280 billion for development in the federal budget, but slashed it to Rs140 billion after the floods and the severe financial crisis. It also announced a freeze on approval of new schemes.
“Putting everyone’s projects on the agenda under political pressure is absurd, but we do not have any other option, as it is the decision of the present government,” said one of the top three officials of the PC.
The compliance with political demands puts into question the independence of the deputy chairman Planning Commission, who was reputedly a staunch opponent of approving schemes on political grounds.
The projects under consideration include the controversial procurement of 150 diesel electric locomotives from the United States, for which both the Chinese and American governments have been pressurising Pakistan, the national fluorescent lamps scheme (free energy savers distribution) and the revised expanded programme on immunization. There have been reports of alleged corruption in awarding contracts of these projects.
Despite handing over the population ministry to the provinces, the ECNEC is also considering the Population Welfare Programme 2010-15 with a cost of over Rs51 billion.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2010.