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An old-school CM causes grief to pro-change Imran

An old-school CM causes grief to pro-change Imran

PESHAWAR: On May 11, in a riposte to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, an apparently unsuspecting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman asked a crowd at Bannu three simple questions: “It has been three years [since the PTI came to power]. Has there been any improvement in schools?” .

Hearing a loud “No”, a somewhat bewildered Imran Khan sought a clarification, so to say. “Has it not reached Bannu yet?”

After a pause, he tossed another question at the crowed. “Ok, has the police system been fixed? Improved?” he asked. Getting a little impatient for an answer, Khan asked again: “Has there been any improvement? Raise your hands.”

Unsatisfied with the answer from the crowd, an unrelenting Imran Khan posed yet another question. “Will you tell me if corruption has come down?” Not sure what the answer would be, he asked the noisy crowed to raise their hands again as an affirmative gesture. One of the few who raised their hands were the people surrounding him. One of them was Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak.

Three years on, the PTI chairman is a worried man, those close to him say. The “change” he has been talking about has turned out to be elusive so far. He is getting impatient and a little angry too. “There is a realisation now,” a senior party leader acknowledges. “You will see more focus on KP now.”

On July 25, the PTI chairman summoned Pervez Khattak to Bani Gala and in the words of those in the know, “read him the riot act”. Later at a news conference, with the bespectacled Khattak at his side, Khan announced abolition of the chief minister’s discretionary grants of billions of rupees, the lifeline of political executives.

Back in Peshawar, Khattak’s coalition partners say, they saw a deeply depressed and jittery man. “He is extremely jittery,” a senior coalition figure said of the KP CM. “He was told what he had to do. He has surrendered,” the coalition partner said.

The following day, when the KP cabinet met, Khattak had regained his composure, according to his two cabinet colleagues. The matter was not brought before the cabinet for discussion. Instead, the old-school politician from Nowshera quietly signed a summary that appeared to reverse Khan’s public announcement. “He is incorrigible,” a frustrated party leader said.

But all that will change now, promises the party leader. “We have switched gears. Khan Sahib is determined to push his 13-point reform agenda regardless of the consequences.”

Benchmarks have been set for its implementation and a meeting of the party’s leading figures will take place shortly to persuade Khattak to follow through and fall in line.

For the past three years, like all his predecessors, Khattak has been allocating to himself billions of rupees in discretionary grants every year, doling out money to those he favours and spending the money at will in Nowshera, his home district. The projects have come to be known as “umbrella schemes”.

The result: some regions got undue favours at the expense of more deserving areas, causing regional disparity. While Nowshera topped the chart in terms of the chief minister’s discretionary grants, other leading PTI figures like Speaker Asad Qaisar of Swabi and Education Minister Atif Khan of Mardan too benefited from his largesse, according to documents retrieved under the Right to Information Act, 2013.

Nowshera and Swabi have been the largest recipients of government funds for three years running — 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16. They have received a total of Rs11.45 billion and Rs11.87bn respectively.

In sharp contrast, Tank, listed as amongst the extremely poor districts of Pakistan with a poverty ratio of 51.28 per cent, received a measly Rs 1 billion in the last three financial years.

Not only development funds were distributed disproportionately as political patronage and favour in disregard to factors like population, backwardness and disparity in infrastructure but also districts or constituencies having chosen to vote for opposition parties were penalised and denied their share of funds.

These documents reveal that twice in the last two financial years Pervez Khattak’s home district was released more money than the government had the capacity to spend. Naturally, other more deserving districts suffered.

“Our system is more discretionary in nature,” Nasir Ali Khan, a former director of the Institute of Management Sciences, Peshawar, said. “If you need a chief minister to develop every district, then KP would need 26 CMs and 130 years for all the districts to reap the benefits of development,” the economist said.

“What you need are flagship programmes,” he said. “You cannot complete them all in one go, but you have to have a plan.”

The PTI-led coalition government did not only indulge in unfair distribution of resources, but also made disproportionately high allocations for Works and Services in its penchant for development rooted in brick and mortar, the erstwhile C&W Department, at times, cutting funds from education and health.

This was more glaring in 2015-16, when according to documents obtained under the Right to Information Act, the government cut down funds earmarked for health and education, re-allocating the money to Works & Services.

In the budget for 2015-16, the revised budget estimate for education was cut down from Rs 16.38 billion to Rs 13.18 billion and that for health from Rs. 8.2 billion to Rs. 6 billion. A part of the saving was diverted to Works & Services, where the allocation went up from Rs. 13.5 billion to Rs. 15.1 billion, according to documents available with Dawn. Pervez Khattak himself holds the Works and Services portfolio

“The concept of development in the minds of some of our leaders is extremely narrow and skewed,” a former official said. “There are school buildings where there are no children. The buildings are constructed and then the department looks for students,” he added. “Whereas in some areas, there are children but no schools.”

One of the reasons for such a situation, he observed , was the allocation of quota regarding schools, colleges, health centres and water supply schemes to MNAs & MPAs. “There is a graveyard of non -functional schemes.”

The Planning & Development Department, which recently adopted an “Economic Growth Strategy” focused on consolidation rather than expansion, has been reduced to paper only, the former official said. “The problem is that our legislators jealously guard their allocation and in the process, reduce the department to a mere postbox,” he lamented.

But senior PTI leaders say Imran Khan is determined to change all this. “He has made it plain to all and sundry that he would rather sit in the opposition than let things drift in the wrong direction,” a party leader said.

But while Khattak might eventually agree to all other items on the 13-point agenda, including the contentious Conflict of Interest Bill, the abolition of his discretionary funds is a pill hard to swallow. And this is true not only for him and his party MPAs but also for his coalition partners.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2016

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