The meeting of federal cabinet, presided over by the Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Friday took a number of important decisions which encompass the clearance of economic mess created by the successive governments of PPP and PML-N. The decisions include abolition of discretionary funds, ban on overseas visits, ban on first class air travel by top officials, addressing the problems of load shedding and circular debt, audit of mass transit projects, and tree plantation.
Briefing the media at the Press Information Media center, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that from now on development projects will be discussed in the parliament and their approval will be given after detailed review. The revocation of discretionary funds for the President, Prime Minister,, Federal Ministers and members of National Assembly will save sheer waste of billions of rupees annually. The extravagance of discretionary spending devoured a whooping amount of Rs. 130 billion in the fiscal year 2017-18 alone, including the so called development funds of Rs 54 billion doled out to the law makers of the ruling party and its allies. This political bribery was introduced in the political culture of the country in 1985 In Muhammad Khan Junejo government and continued till the tenure of last PML-N government.
The forensic audit of Multan Metro Bus project, Lahore Orange Train and Peshawar Metro Bus Project will expose the element of corruption and misappropriation of funds if done by the political elite and government officials. Hopefully, the probe in these matters will be across the board and free from pick and choose methodology to allay the likely impression of victimization on the basis of political affiliations. In compliance with directives of Peshawar High Court, National Accountability Bureau Khyber Pukhtunkhwa had taken over thee record of Bus Rapid Transport from Peshawar Development Authority last month. The project was the brainchild of former Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak. The Planning Commission did not give approval of the revised PC-I for cost escalation worth Rs. 19 billion in the CDWP meeting. In its technical appraisal, the Planning Commission repudiated the false claim of the provincial government about the international bidding for the project as no such drill was done for Peshawar Metro Bus Project and contracts were allotted to local contractors hailing from a particular district.
Power sector challenges are of complex nature because of cobweb agreements made with the private power producers and dilapidated transmission and distribution network. The circular debt of power sector has touched the mark of Rs. 1100 billion as told by the Information Minister. The amount includes 40 percent financial liability to be paid for the 40 percent idle capacity of private sector power plants. Initially, these plants were to built on build, operate and transfer (BOT) to the government basis. However, the agreements were unlawfully changed to build, operate and earn (BOE) status to reward the blue-eyed guys like Mian Mansha and Shahzad Sleem for their intimacy with Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari. The agreements need an immediate review by a competent team of legal experts keeping in view the litigation debacles in the past with nine IPPs in London Court of International Arbitration and London High Court in appeal against the verdict of Arbitration Court. Another woe of power sector is the chronic default of Rs. 850 billion. Bulk of this amount is outstanding against political elite, influential industrialists and businessmen, federal and provincial government departments. It were the agreements with IPPs and massive default of electricity bills which prompted the former finance secretary Dr. Waqar Masood to float a mischievous proposal of shifting this burden to honest electricity consumers in the form increased tariff. The proposal was implemented by the previous government and now power tariff in Pakistan is highest in the world. Heavy investment will be required for the up-gradation and modernization of electricity transmission and distribution network to enable it to pick the additional power generation.
Ban on foreign visits and air travel in the first class by top officials will ensure reasonable amount of saving in the current expenditure.
The tree plantation should not remain restricted to the capital cities of Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar and Bhutan model should be followed for it which is a carbon negative country despite its borders with China and India which are among the top carbon emission countries. A similar model was followed by the previous PTI provincial government by implementing billion tree plantation programme. In Pakistan hardly 4 percent area is under forests which need to be increased to 24 percent if the government wants to mitigate the impact of climate change. The implementation of cabinet decisions requires the commitment of political leadership, honesty and dedication of bureaucracy. The latter has always let down the sitting governments by not implementing the peoples’ friendly decisions.