A number of recent events have brought to light the fact that members of the ruling classes are using public funds as their personal money, spending them on their comfort and luxury, and to extend political patronage.
Soon after taking oath as chief minister of Sindh, Murad Ali Shah travelled from Karachi to Larkana with full protocol, in an entourage comprising 35 vehicles. Last week, Atif Khan, the education minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, flew from Peshawar to Lakki Marwat in a helicopter for the inauguration of a school, though he could easily go there by road.
In contrast, the other day, a television channel showed the dismal state of a girls’ school in Malir, Karachi which is devoid of doors, windows, furniture etc. Likewise, a day after KP minister’s trip, later, television channels showed surgeons operating on patients without electricity, using their cell phones’ light at a public hospital in Dera Ismail Khan.
The same attitude is visible at the federal level. Recently, the federal government blew up millions of rupees on hiring a chartered airplane for the travel of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his staff from London to Lahore. Earlier, Rs430 million were spent on the renovation of the government house in Murree that is used as a camp office by the Prime Minister. One can compare these lavish expenses with the dismal state of government-run hospitals and schools in the federal capital.
The prime minister has another camp office at his personal residence at Raiwind Road, Lahore. Punjab’s supplementary budget for 2015-16 tells us that the provincial government spent Rs240 million from public exchequer for installing metal mesh fence/Alaska barrier at the PM’s residence at Jati Umra, Raiwind Road by declaring it as sensitive and vulnerable installation. The work on the bomb-proof boundary wall around the Sharif’s agricultural estate is still underway with public money and the construction cost will further go up, to the tune of Rs400million.
There are a plethora of examples that reflect this attitude of the rulers towards public funds. No check and balances practically exist on the financial powers of the chief executives of both the federal and provincial governments. There are rules and regulations but ways and means have been developed to bypass them conveniently.
A helicopter of the Punjab government crashed on its way to Russia where it was to be repaired at a cost of Rs275 million. According to sources, a few years ago, the government had spent more than Rs300 million on the repair of the same chopper (also in Russia) which was quite old and is said to have completed its age. The provincial government was reluctant to buy a new helicopter, apparently not to save money but to avoid embarrassment in public. It has already floated tenders for the purchase of a new aeroplane for the chief minister that would cost up to Rs3 billion.
Punjab’s Rs150-billion supplementary budget (2015-16) is a document that reveals how recklessly the rulers use public funds at their whims. Emergency powers are invoked for extending political patronage and circumventing financial procedures for the execution of politically-motivated development projects.
An American president cannot spend a single dollar without prior approval from the Congress. In contrast, our rulers use as much public money as they wish; they spend and then, just a few weeks before the end of the fiscal year, get these expenses approved by the assembly.
The financial rules allow expenditures beyond the approved annual budget only in cases of emergency, such as helping the victims of floods or some other natural calamity. But our rulers use supplementary budgets for launching mega construction projects, to dole out financial aids worth billions of rupees to their supporters, and to initiate development works to influence by-elections or local body elections. These include Lahore Metro bus project (Rs 30 billion), Lahore Orange train project (Rs 170 billion), Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro bus project (Rs 45 billion), Multan metro bus project (Rs 30 billion), Lahore Ring Road project (Rs 30 billion) and tens of billions of rupees allocated for flyovers, underpasses and expansion and upgrading of Lahore’s road network.
The maintenance of Chief Minister’s offices and camp offices and multiple residences in Punjab demonstrate how easily funds could be available for the rulers. If expenditures on all the six offices and residences at Club Road, Model Town, Gulberg, and Jaati Umra in Lahore are combined, the provincial boss costs at least Rs1 billion per year to the provincial exchequer.
In FY 2016-17, Rs424 million would go to the Punjab chief minister’s main secretariat. In order to hide the real cost of the provincial boss’s activities, several euphemisms have been invented and expenditures dispersed under different heads. For example, the supplementary budget for 2015-16 allocated Rs423 million funds for ‘smooth execution’ of the chief minister’s initiatives.
The supplementary budget also gives a glimpse into expenditures on the comforts of the provincial boss in Punjab: the chief minister’ secretariat spent Rs183.6 million on various objects including employees’ benefits and repairs; Generators at Model Town residences cost Rs8.4 million. Improvement of water supply at CM Office at 7-Club Road consumed Rs2.5 million. A sum of Rs1.1 million was spent on for fire-fighting systems at the CM residence and office.
Both the governor and chief minister in Punjab have been very kind to the employees at their service. In 2015-16, the governor house gave out Rs2.59 million on the grants and honoraria of the governor’s secretariat’s employees. Grants to police officials deputed at the Punjab CM’s residence amounted to Rs64 million. These expenses were made through supplementary budget which is supposed to be used for the purpose of emergency.
Each year, the governments dish out tens of millions of rupees for the medical treatment of the members of the assemblies and civil servants and even their relatives without prior approval from the assembly. Generous financial allocations are made for the upkeep of government-owned rest houses, buying expensive cars and foreign tours. All these expenditures put together amount to billions of rupees each year.
However, the governments get cold feet when funds are required for public healthcare and the education sector. For instance, in the last six years (2010-16), the Punjab government promised Rs165.4 billion for development of education sector in annual budgets but actually spent only Rs92 billion — nearly 56 percent of the original allocation. In the same period, it allocated a cumulative amount of Rs113 billion for the development schemes of health but actually spent only Rs57 billion — half of what was originally promised.
No wonder then one sees heart patients being treated while lying on floors or sitting in wheel chairs at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. In Lahore’s Mayo hospital, dialysis machines are lying out of order for months for want of funds. A surgical tower (block) at the same hospital is under construction for the last 10 years.