Pak leader denies British cash being used to buy votes

Islamabad: The architect of cash transfers to Pakistan’s poorest families, backed with British aid money, has hit back at allegations the scheme is funding the re-election of her party and insists the project is free from corruption, reports The Telegraph on Friday.

Last week MPs warned that Britain risked accusations of bias by paying £300m into the scheme named after Benazir Bhutto at a time when her party was fighting for re-election.

Opposition parties accuse members of the Pakistan People’s Party of buying votes by giving out the money to more than seven million families.

Farzana Raja, who was the minister in charge of the Benazir Income Support Programme until the government stepped aside last month ahead of elections, said the project had cross-party support in the parliament and that opponents were playing politics.

“We are not allowing anyone to use this as a political tool,” she said.

Farzana Raja said British money would fund payments of 200 (£1.30) rupees for each child in a family to encourage parents to send them to school.

She added that the programme, based on a comprehensive poverty census, was a fitting memorial for Mrs Bhutto, who was murdered in 2007, and still retained support across the country.

“If anyone had a problem, they should have brought it to parliament,” she said.

Last week, a report by the Commons Select Committee on International Development concluded that any future increase in British aid should be dependent on Pakistan doing more to collect taxes.

The country has one of the lowest tax bases in the world and only about 0.5% of the population pays income tax.

It also heard allegations that the cash handouts were bankrolling the re-election campaign of Mrs Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari.

Farzana Raja, who told The Daily Telegraph she paid about £300 tax on her salary as a Member of the National Assembly in 2011. She welcomed the report but was worried that applying strings to aid could affect the most vulnerable people in Pakistan.

“Humanitarian support cannot be conditional on anything,” she said.

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