Some public sector bodies in the Punjab government are defunct and are an undue burden on the public exchequer. They include Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA), Provincial Strategic Coordination Board, Home Department and some others.
PUDA was established within the Punjab Irrigation Department (PID) in 1997 to introduce reforms with the involvement of farmers. The donor agencies had funded it to establish the farmer-inclusive project. However, nothing like this could be done, instead, things got worse. Area Water Boards and farmer organizations (FOs) were formed under this large project in selected zones. Under the new scheme, the Punjab Irrigation Department (PID) was to be abolished and replaced by PIDA.
According to the World Bank, farmers’ organizations resolved more than 2,800 water disputes, including 1,758 cases related to water theft. According to a survey, the quantity of water in the system increased as problems of water theft have been worked out. The purpose of creating the authority was to involve the farmers in the decision-making process of canal water management, but unfortunately, the political elite and bureaucracy did not allow it to succeed.
The Punjab government through an ordinance repealed the authority. However, another authority with no functions was established. The reason told to repealing PIDA was that the authority had failed to achieve its objectives. There was less Abiyana collection in areas under PIDA i.e 45% in its jurisdiction as compared to the department which was 70%. After the conversion of PIDA into the Punjab Khal Panchayat Authority (PKPA) in May 2019, its function is completely defunct but the army of senior and junior officers is still posted here.
Sources have also said that there are three posts of General Managers, in this department where Chief Engineers of Grade 20 of the Irrigation Department are posted and they also get deputation allowance in addition to salaries. The Secretary of the Irrigation department is the managing director of this authority. Similarly, there are posts of Deputy General Managers where Superintending Engineers of the parent department are appointed with all privileges.
It should be noted that the secretary of the department gets a car, perks and 400 litres of petrol from the authority. This is in addition to what he claims from the department. Similarly, the minister who is the chairman of the authority also gets 400 litres of petrol and other fringe benefits. The general managers each receive three hundred litres of petrol and other monetary facilities. The perks of the deputy general managers and other officers are separate. Drivers and other ministerial staff are in addition.
A former senior official of the authority told why they are being given salaries and benefits when there is no work in PKPA. He said that on the one hand, junior officers have been appointed to senior posts in the Irrigation department, while on the other hand, senior officers have been dumped here. He suggested that the government should do away with all the transfers of senior officers and merge the junior staff in the Irrigation department. Apart from this, instead of giving them salaries without any considerable duties, they should be given responsibility in various matters; otherwise, they should be retired under the directory retirement policy.
It should be noted that the performance of the department is very unsatisfactory, water theft is common, and there is no arrangement for ransom recovery. While there are common stories of corruption in big projects like the Asian Development Bank letter speaks volumes about it. As per the documents, there are four slots for grade 20 in the defunct PKPA. One of the Managing Directors and 3 General Managers, (admin finance and operation). In addition to it, there are four slots for deputy managing directors in grade 19, 15 positions of managers in grade 18, and 84 positions for grade 17 officers. Likewise, there are many slots for junior staff. A total of 285 sanctioned posts exist in the authority and 151 are filled while 134 are lying vacant.
Moreover as per the sources total approved budget for the authority for the year 2021-22 was Rs292 m including rupees 200 million for salaries, Rs39 million for travel and transportation, 26 million for ads, and 12 million for repair and maintenance. CM Ch Parvez Elahi, Chief Secretary Abdullah Khan Sumbal, minister Hashim Dogar and Secretary Finance Wasif Khurshid should take notice of various bodies which are nearly defunct like PKPA, PSCB etc. Such projects should be abolished and their staff be consumed in parent departments. Otherwise, the wastage of public money will go unabated. Moreover, the authorities should also conduct a thorough study to know why such foreign funding programs with people’s participation usually fail.