The practice of granting development funds to the federal and provincial elected representatives began during Zia era and it was actually meant to keep them happy and compensate them for their efforts. As is the wont in Pakistan, no one questioned the negative connotations of such financial grant and it became an essential part of Pakistani political process. The PTI government initially showed a disinclination to grant such funds and that probably was a political ploy and such grant of funds was kept in reserve with the intention to use it as a political incentive when the time is right. That time apparently has arrived as the Senate elections are round the corner and the elected representatives are required to vote for it.
The circumstances of this grant were interesting as most of the participants in the meeting in which PM announced release of funds demanded development funds while some questioned the role of technocrats in the cabinet. It was also demanded that PTI stalwart Jahangir Tareen, who had vanished from the party scene after being accused of getting undue benefits during last years’ sugar scandal, should be brought again in the party’s mainstream and be made a member of a committee to be constituted for coming Senate polls.
Meanwhile, some women MNAs also demanded development funds but their demand was turned down by the prime minister on the pretext that they have become members of parliament on special seats and have no constituency so there is no place where they can spend the money. The demand made by women parliamentarians is symptomatic of the poison spreading far in the body politic compelling the female members to demand for something that they have no ground to ask.
The practice is extremely enticing as is apparent by PM’s decision though he must have known that doling out half a billion rupees in the current financial position of the country was probably not realistic and that he may not be able to do it. But there is another deeper issue about the matter and that is PTI’s previous stance on the issue and the nature of this deviation may have far serious consequences as it is financial issue. PTI will not be able to side-track the issue by pinning its hopes on justifying it on the pretext of development incentive.
The impression is already strong that it an attempt by the ruling party to keep intact its vote bank in the face of growing complaints within the party, especially in Punjab, against the government for ignoring the needs of the legislators to serve their constituents. It has also strengthened the belief that PTI is trying to hide its weakness and that it is not very confident that it could get the secret ballot replaced with a show of hands as the mode of voting in the Senate elections.
There is no denying the fact that successive governments in Pakistan have used development funds to keep elected houses. It is also manifest that such funds are allocated without any formal rules governing their utilisation and the result is that their major portion is squandered without any hint of accountability. The frequently witnessed result is that many development projects are either left incomplete or scrapped after a change in government without benefitting the people.
The compulsion on the government to release the funds are obvious as the opposition is moving ahead with its planned protests in an attempt to force the government to resign and pro-government lawmakers are demanding their share in development schemes. The government does not realise that by pacifying legislatures through financial means would encourage other forces to jump on the fray and increase their bids.
Amidst these raging debated about the funds release, things appears to have changed in Pakistan as the decision of the government to release them was questioned by Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa warning that legal proceedings would be initiated if the move was found to be in contravention of the law. Earlier on the prime minister approved grants of Rs.500 million for each member of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies. The grants were allotted under the sustainable development goals so that the lawmakers could carry out development schemes in their constituencies. The decision was taken after long-standing demands from the lawmakers for release of development funds.
Justice Isa, while hearing a separate case, quoted a newspaper report of the approval of development funds and summoned the Attorney General (AG) to apprise the court of the matter. He questioned whether the release of the development funds by the prime minister is in accordance with the Constitution, law and legal precedent. Justice Isa asked the AG to update the court on the issue based on the government’s response. Justice Isa said if the release of funds was valid according to the Constitution and the law then the matter will be closed. He added, however, that if it was in contravention of the law, then action will be taken.
Keeping in view the importance of the matter, the Supreme Court constituted a five-judge bench to hear a suo motu case pertaining to the development funds approved for members of the national and provincial assemblies. Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed, the bench will also include Justice Qazi Faez Isa who took notice of the move, and begin the hearing. TW