The Ghost Projects
“When I send my child to the market with 10 rupees to buy something, I demand an account of the money when he returns home. Similarly, when the government spends my money, I have the right to ask for an accounting of these expenditures.”
~ Susheela Devi
A ghost project is like a ghost school. It consumes money and resources, benefits a small group of delinquents and does nothing for its intended beneficiaries. With 30,000 ghost schools already under its belt, Pakistan is now well on its way to achieving the next milestone – to be a market leader in ghost projects.
The daily newspapers carry sickening doses of how the rich and powerful scrape away the last pennies from projects created ostensibly for the good of the ordinary people. The billion dollar ‘poverty alleviation’ program only alleviated the poverty of bureaucrats and consultants. The $350 million “Access to Justice” ADB loan did not make our justice system any better. A scam of Rs 3.6 billion was discovered in the execution of Tawana Pakistan Project (TPP). The Former prime minister spent over one billion rupees on 47 foreign visits during 2004-07. The Rs 16 billion ‘clean drinking water’ project is bogged down by delays and complaints of unfair bidding. The KPTs purchase and subsequent theft of Rs 320 million water fountain remains unchallenged. The details of payment for the two chartered aeroplanes carrying 240 freeloaders to Saudi Arabia still remain unexplained. Irresponsible expenditure coupled with heavy leakages have left the country reeling under a formidable foreign debt of $ 45.6 billion (not counting the latest $7.6 billion IMF loan). Clearly the problem of Pakistan is not the size of its kitty, but the holes in the kitty.
The numerous watchdog committees like PAC, PPRA, The Audit Department, NAB, and the NACS have not only failed to curb this menace but have themselves become a huge burden on the exchequer. These bodies primarily operate in a reactive manner, often moving into action, long after the curtains have been dropped and the actors gone home. There is little that these organizations can show in terms of their contribution towards accountability, specially for those who yield power or influence. On the contrary there are examples of NAB, under the influence of NRO dropping corruption cases involving Rs 500 billion of the tax payers’ money. It is therefore time to seriously rethink about the utility of these organizations and search for alternate ways to plug the large holes in our leaking bucket.
How do other countries make their financial systems more accountable and transparent? The best method is a proactive disclosure of the financial information by each department and agency. By making this information readily available on departmental web sites, ordinary citizens can directly evaluate if the public funds are being managed effectively. If not, they can hold the government officials accountable for their actions. The second method is the use of the ‘Access to Information Act’, which enables citizens to obtain any non-classified public information for scrutiny and questioning.
The Canadian government offers one of the best models for financial monitoring and accountability. It requires each department to make quarterly disclosure on its Web site showing (a) details of the travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, parliamentary secretaries, political staff, and senior public service employees, (b) details of contracts awarded and (c) disclose any grants and contributions that were given to any individual or organization. ( http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pd-dp/gr-rg/index-eng.asp ). The system further provides protection for any one who exposes misuse of public funds, mismanagement, or a breach of a code of conduct. The Canadian system makes it obligatory for the Head of the Department to disclose the identity of the person found to have committed the wrongdoing, any corrective action taken or the reasons why no corrective action was taken.
At the project level, Sri Lanka has developed an excellent web based Project Monitoring System, that displays monthly updated information about all foreign and local funded projects. The system has 12 modules which include project profile, monthly financial report, activity monitoring report, cash flow report, reimbursable foreign aid, loan covenant, procurement monitoring, financial progress on each component, project review report and comments by the public. (http://www.fabm.gov.lk/index.html)
Despite the existence of an Electronic Government Directorate (EGD), the government seems to have little understanding of what is meant by the term ‘e governance’. A recent Planning Commission advertisement (Nov 22, 2008) claims that its website now contains, “Interim report on economic stabilisation with a human face, speeches of the prime Minister, projects identified for foreign assistance, and a ‘Synoptic View’ of the Planning Commission”. The government departments seem to consider their websites as instruments of self publicity (pictures of ministers, sayings, speeches, and notifications) rather than putting hard facts and figures about each project, its cost, purchases, suppliers, contractors, completion dates, over runs, and various other details of expenses. A good example of the data that may be included for any project monitoring may be seen at www.good-governance.com.pk , a sample website set up by a private Pakistani citizen at a modest cost of Rs 7000.
The people of Pakistan have a right to demand an end to this unending financial plunder. They have a right to demand an account of how and where their money is spent. Using Public Document Rules 2004, the government could immediately ask every department to proactively (on its website) provide complete and on-going details of its projects. This should be a pre-condition for release of any further funds. Transparent projects and independent judiciary may be the two key factors that could rid us of ghost projects and help us move towards a progressive Pakistan.
28 Nov 2008