The Federal Budget for the year is passed with much analysis and difficulty, considering how cash-strapped Pakistan’s economy is, with expenditures being carefully thought out and restricted where possible. Every year, this is often the case—yet the issue is often circumvented through the loophole of supplementary grants.

According to Article 84 of the constitution of Pakistan, if it is found that a need has arisen for expenditure upon some new service not included in the Annual Budget Statement for that year, the government has the power to allow expenditure from the Federal Consolidated Fund. This expenditure comes under “supplementary grants”, and is supposed to be minimal and used only for emergencies. Yet every year, this amount runs up to more than a billion.

This year again, the amount is astronomically high. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has spent Rs544.8 billion without the approval of parliament through supplementary grants during its second year in power. This is nearly Rs323 billion or 145 percent higher than the previous fiscal year. For comparison, supplementary grants for expenditure overruns and re-appropriations in 2017 amounted to Rs310.5 billion.

The unusually high amount of the funds spent this year can be partially justified—it has indeed been an unprecedented year with the outbreak of a global pandemic which has required unexpected extraordinary spending. More than half of the additional spending—53 percent to be exact—was because of the outbreak of a deadly pandemic, which can be explained, yet proper accounting needs to be provided. Using the rest of the Rs336 billion reflects poor planning and inefficiency on part of the government; those expenditures should have been accounted for in the budget, not just given away on the individual whims of parliamentarians.

The Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue has taken notice of this issue, with parliamentarians trying to amend the constitution to require approval of the National Assembly before authorising supplementary and excess grants. Such oversight has become a necessity—with such a vulnerable economy, any kind of expenditure has to be subject to transparency.