ECP’s election protocol: Ongoing schemes in Punjab at stake as funds stand frozen – Pakistan

LAHORE: The completion of a number of ongoing development schemes across Punjab seems to be at risk after the finance department, allegedly on the orders of caretaker Punjab government has banned transfer of funds to the accounts of project executing agencies – all metropolitan/municipal corporations and committees on the pretext of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s instructions.

The situation has appeared to be problematic in Lahore where the work on several small and medium development schemes was halted after the finance department imposed a ban on the transfer of funds (ensuring availability of funds online to the respective civic agencies through SAP system) released by the Planning & Development Department in the ongoing month.

“Usually the funds for the ongoing schemes are not stopped keeping in view the timely completion of the plans in the best public interest. But, here, the case is very strange, as the finance department, allegedly on the orders of caretaker Punjab government has not only frozen the funds for the new schemes but also for the ongoing ones on the pretext of ECP directions despite the fact that the former, in its Jan 27 letter didn’t want to do so,” an official source told Dawn.

“The government should take notice of the situation by ordering the finance department to release funds to all ongoing schemes keeping in view the public problems,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.

Cheques in several cases not cleared by treasury office

The release of funds for the ongoing schemes was stopped even much before issuance of the letter to the departments concerned. The release of funds for the schemes being executed by development authorities or their parent department was halted [allegedly] on verbal directions without issuing any letter/notification.

According to a letter issued by the local government & community development department on Jan 27, the release of funds to all local government institutions was frozen following the ECP directions through a notification (No. F.No-2 (1) /2023-CORD dated Jan 22, 2023) that desired: “Not to announce/execute any kind of development schemes in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces except those which are ongoing and approved before the issuance of this notification. Moreover, the provincial and local governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shall not issue tenders of such schemes till culmination of general elections of both assemblies. The LGCD’s letter further quotes the ECP directions that state: “All development funds relating to local institutions of both the provinces and cantonment boards shall stand frozen with immediate effect till announcement of the results of the elections.” The LG department has also directed the authorities concerned to strictly adhere to the aforementioned directions.

The official said, except the LG department letter, none of the other departments, including housing, urban development and public health engineering, communication and works, development and horticulture authorities including the LDA, Wasa or PHA in Lahore and other major cities was informed officially.

“The funds for these departments’ ongoing schemes were frozen by the finance department on its own,” the official said.

According to a letter issued by the finance department to accountant general of Punjab on Jan 20, the funds for various ongoing schemes were pledged to be released. But, later the authorities concerned in the finance department put, making availability of funds to the respective agencies online, on hold allegedly on the verbal orders from the seniors.

These schemes included rehabilitation/carpeting of roads, construction of plain cement concrete (PCC) in streets and other works in various union councils of Lahore.

Similarly the work on several other ongoing schemes in Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, DG Khan, Sahiwal and Sargodha divisions has also been stopped.

“There are some precedents that the cheques (payments) issued by various departments to contractors were not cleared by the treasury offices,” the official said.

When contacted, planning and development department secretary Dr Sohail Anwar termed freezing of funds for the ongoing schemes a wrong decision on the part of the finance department.

“Under the ECP directions, we are of the view that the funds for the ongoing schemes must be released/transferred by the finance department to the respective departments. However, we are unanimous that funds for new schemes (not included in the annual development programme 2022-23) or those approved already but not processed further should be frozen. But the finance department didn’t understand this and finally it froze funds for all schemes,” Mr Anwar said.

He said in a recent meeting [held on Friday], the finance department has agreed to make all funds for the ongoing schemes available online to the respective departments. “And hopefully, they will start doing this from Monday (tomorrow),” he added.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2023

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