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July 8, 2018

A different tune


July 8, 2018

In the legend of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, the Pied Piper had an acclaimed personage in the town of Hamelin by virtue of his magic flute. He first played the flute for altruistic purposes – a mystical tune that drove away all the rats from Hamelin.

However, the second time he used his flute, it proved to be vastly different. This time, the Pied Piper played a euphonious tune, which the children of Hamelin couldn’t resist. As they followed him, he eventually led them to a cave and locked them inside.

Since its inception, the Imran Khan-led PTI has been proclaiming an anti-status quo vision, which party members claim will drive Pakistan out of all crises. The vision branded as ‘tabdeeli’ claims to be centered on equality and social justice, accountability, good governance, institutional development, preference towards human development in lieu of infrastructure focus, and much more.

In 2013, the tune of tabdeeli played by Imran Khan sounded melodious to the people of war-torn Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They elected the party in the hope of seeing a real portrait of the vision.

It is useful to consider some aspects of the PTI’s five-year rule in KP. A EU-funded study carried out by the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation provides food for thought with regard to the PTI-led government’s focus on social justice and equality. According to the report, Nowshera, the former KP chief minister’s hometown, received Rs5.47 billion of development funds in 2017-18 in contrast with Rs6.86 billion shared by six chronically poor southern districts of KP – Bannu, DI Khan, Hangu, Kohat, Lakki Marwat and Tank.

If we apply a probing lens, the development fund per person in Nowshera amounted to Rs3,602 per person in 2017-18 as compared with Rs1,230 per person for the most underdeveloped belt of KP. Similarly, Abbottabad, Battagram, Haripur, Kohistan, Mansehra and Torghar districts of the Hazara belt cumulatively shared Rs5.9 billion in development funds. This amounted to Rs1,108 in development spending per person in 2017-18. Furthermore, the inter-district allocations across the districts of southern KP and the Hazara districts also reflected stark inequalities where one fails to spot a nexus between development spending and socioeconomic needs.

An equitable Provincial Finance Commission Award remained another ignored area as the Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act 2013 failed to address it.

If the NFC’s resource-sharing criteria had been applied, the southern districts and the Hazara Division’s share of the development fund would have been Rs43.68 billion (21 percent of development funds) and Rs40.35 billion (19.4 percent of development funds), respectively, in the 2017-18 budget. The PTI needs to provide answers in this regard to the people of KP’s southern districts. Under the NFC criteria, the region’s share would have been Rs36.8 billion higher than development spending in 2017-18.

In line with the PTI’s promises, the tabdeeli mantra should have translated into an equitable and socially just provincial resource allocation criteria that matched the socioeconomic needs of the province. KP’s hoi polloi were also promised a system of accountability. At the outset of the government’s tenure, the Ehtesab Commission was established to achieve this target.

According to a Fafen report, the bill was amended six times during the PTI’s tenure. Over the years, the dominion of the commission was gradually diluted to the point where the power to investigate ongoing schemes was taken away from the director-general. In 2016, five Ehtesab commissioners expressed reservations over the amendments, claiming that they were inconsistent with other provisions of the act and were eventually pushing the accountability mechanism towards redundancy.

In 2014, Transparency International Pakistan voiced concerns over the violation of PPRA rules in awarding contracts of the 84MW Gorkin-Matiltan Hydropower Project in Swat and the 69MW Lawi Hydropower Project in Chitral. It wrote a letter to the then KP chief minister on April 11 in this regard. Another letter was written by Transparency International to NAB, urging the bureau to take notice of allegations made by a commissioner of the Ehtesab Commission with regard to misconduct within the body.

With regard to transparency and accountability, 54.69 percent of the total development outlay of 2017-18 comprised ‘block’ or ‘umbrella’ funds. Block funds compromise transparency and give limitless discretionary powers to politicians and bureaucrats to tamper with funds in the stated block at their discretion. While this percentage was a reduction from previous years, above 50 percent is still an abnormally high percentage of funds that are placed on discretion.

KP was also promised good governance and institutional development. However, the provincial government eventually ended up amending Section 5(1) of the PEDO Act 1993, which pertained to the appointment of a CEO to save the government’s appointee from getting sacked. Treasury benches in KP claim to have introduced significant legislation in empowering local governments and LG institutions. But the government failed to honour the fiscal decentralisation commitment of 30 percent to LGs. Around Rs0.56 billion of this fund was reportedly diverted by the then KP CM as a public interest fund while Rs0.28 billion were diverted by KP’s former finance minister.

The PTI’s tabdeeli vision ought to have lowered the debt burden. But statistics and media reports indicate that nearly loans worth Rs3 trillion were added to the province’s debt portfolio in five years, with Rs41.88 billion from the Asian Development Bank set aside for the BRT project alone. During the previous tenure, loans amounted to Rs21 billion in five years.

The BRT project reflects a contradiction of the party’s reiterated stance on human development rather than infrastructural development. Initially planned at Rs57 billion, the BRT is said to cost Rs68 billion – now being 98 percent of total funds for the province’s transport – and will lead to interest payments to the tune of Rs15 billion priced at LIBOR along with a 0.1 percent annual maturity premium and a 0.15 percent commitment charge. PTI leader Asad Umar claims to have built the metro with Rs8 billion, whereas the BRT project is currently the country’s most expensive mass transit project.

The Pied Piper’s first play of the flute in Hamelin had brought joy. The 2018 general election will decide whether the tabdeeli tune was the Pied Piper’s second tune or not.

The writer is a chartered accountant.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: Shahzad_91

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