Ignoring the issues of overstepping one’s mandate and going beyond designated responsibility – often encroaching upon the duties of other government institutions in the process – the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s (CJP) dam fund has at the very least, achieved one important thing; there is now a national discussion on the issue, and the need for building a dam is something most stakeholders can agree on.

Everyone from the government to the World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis (WCOP) have now issued statements in support – the government has gone a step further and announced ownership of the dam fund, in the hopes that the donations will increase. The army, other state institutions and notable businessmen have all contributed to the fund that is to be the answer to Pakistan’s water woes. Any economist however, will tell you that crowdsourcing a dam that is budgeted at Rs1.450 trillion is just not possible. The amount donated so far is also indicative of the same problem. No amount of good Samaritans looking to protect the future of their country will ever be enough to solve the crisis that currently besets us.

The national conversation though, is something that both the government and the public at large can be thankful of. Anytime a major dam was mentioned in the past, issues of water shares between provinces and other related issues took the forefront, until the controversy completely side-lined the question of building the dam and took on political tones. At the very least, the sheer number of donations coming in from concerned Pakistanis tells us that the country wants a solution to the water problem and a large reservoir is the bare minimum that is required from concerned stakeholders.

The fact however, that the government has no other contingency plans and is solely looking to the dam fund as a viable means of paying for the dam is disconcerting. For the average citizen, the dam fund is a means of contributing to a national cause. But the government cannot think that their work is done after Imran Khan made his televised address to the nation, asking for funds. Is the government approaching any international body for other sources of funding? Is there an amount being allocated from the national budget? These are questions that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) needs to answer for themselves if not for the general public.

PTI’s government in KPK in the previous term was plagued by issues of projects costing more than anticipated and inordinate delays. Twiddling our thumbs while the money trickles into the dam fund is not the answer, because that will mean another five years wasted with precious money donated by the public that will slowly lose its value. Formulating an action plan at this point is paramount in ensuring that the dam actually ends up getting built.

As of now, this fund is nothing more than a political gimmick for both the CJP and now ruling PTI to gain popular support and look like they are taking action to solve the country’s problems. It is hoped that it transcends into something more, because as optimistic as we might get, the fund alone will not be able to build Pakistan a reservoir. Serious governance and a will to seek outside help are the only way we can afford this. The state asked the people to help and help they did in whatever capacity they could. The response to the CJP’s has been more than a little positive; the Pakistani populace has once more gone beyond anyone’s expectations in donating to this fund.

The government’s input into this initiative needs to go beyond the Prime Minister’s speech and donations from government employees now. It needs to take the lead and give us specifics; when will this dam be made? How will the rest of the funds will be collected? Will there be additional feasibility studies or will the current government rely on those carried out by their predecessors? Unless these important questions are answered this fund is nothing more than a political statement and should be treated as such.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor.