Think-tank says excess grants reduces the seriousness in budget making
Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) stressed the need for amending the constitution to take away the powers of supplementary grants from federal and provincial governments. This is because it further erodes even the cosmetic role of the National Assembly (NA) in scrutiny and passage of the budget.
It is a mockery of parliamentary supremacy and runs counter to the spirit of democracy that excess spending and other changes in the approved budget are made without the prior approval of the NA.
Therefore, to strengthen the parliament’s role in budget scrutiny, PILDAT demanded: “The parliament must create the necessary political consensus to amend the constitution”.
It said that it is necessary to take away the powers of excess and supplementary grants from federal and provincial governments and to make it incumbent upon each government to seek ‘prior’ approval in case any extra expenditure is required. The definitions of excess and supplementary grants must also be revised to be stringent and precise in scope.
Just as the Constitution of Pakistan requires the federal government present an annual budget statement to the NA in respect of each financial year, the same constitution, through Article 84, also suggests that the federal government has the power to spend amounts and get an ex-post (after spending the money) approval from the NA.
However, the irony is that Finance Minister Senator Muhammad Ishaq Dar sought the parliament’s post-facto approval for Rs 261 billion ‘supplementary budget’ to cover governmental expenditure overruns in the outgoing fiscal year. This was almost 28% higher than the figure approved last year.
NA passed the budget each year that prescribes limits and purpose; hence, the additional budget and re-appropriation can change the prescribed limit and purpose, it added. Prior approval of NA is, therefore, not required and hence the sanctity of the original budget passed by NA is lost.
The national budget, therefore, is the single most important manifest of governmental priorities. “Power of the purse” is an incontestable democratic fundamental.
Hence, it said that in order to strengthen parliament’s role in budget scrutiny, it requires many reforms with the budget procedures, but a major reform, in this case, is required in the Constitution of Pakistan.
The constitutional power of supplementary and excess grants caused many problems, as it reduced the seriousness in the budget making because each government knows it can increase the budgetary limits or change the purpose during the year.
Besides, the focus on policy is lost, as policymaking and implementation is hampered once the purpose of funds is changed. Similarly, monitoring and accountability become difficult since the executed initiatives may differ from approved initiates.