One of the key constitutional responsibilities of a provincial assembly is to approve the annual budget for the new fiscal year. It is irresponsible to twist the debate and discussion on the budget session and use it for other political agenda and interests.
This is exactly what witnessed in the Sindh Assembly after the budget for FY 2016-17 was tabled by Sindh’s Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah.
After the 18th Amendment, the key social development sectors became the exclusive responsibility of the provinces, to planning and deliver social services.
Political parties should not be allowed to run away from budget reviews and discussions during budget sessions. There is already very little discourse on the budget and the economy by involving experts, civil society and political activists. Sadly, budget oversight and debate hardly exists in Pakistan, in Sindh particularly. Only big companies, trade bodies and business organisations have their lobbies working for the protection of their interests. Successive governments at the federal and provincial levels do not seek advice and feedback on public policymaking from citizens.
Sindh has been a victim of neglect and indifference. Politically elected governments as well as non-elected dictatorships have failed to address the fundamental inequalities in Sindhi society; these mainly stem from large landholdings. One of the reasons poverty continues to remain high in Sindh is because the percentage of landless peasants is higher in Sindh than in other parts of Pakistan.
Given the state of living conditions in this unfortunate province, it is quite apparent that the last eight years of the PPP government have been wasted; nothing significant has been done in the various sectors of economy. The provincial budget documents do not even mention the provincial GDP, or its composition, size and contribution to national GDP.
The development agenda is deeply flawed as it heavily focuses on endless construction schemes. The development budget does not aim to support various sectors of provincial economy to generate jobs and incomes.
The inflated development budget figures are used for political gains. The Sindh government uses these numbers only for politics. How can a government which failed to use Rs162 billion in last year’s allocated development budget promise, and be trusted, that it will utilise the new fiscal year’s Rs225 billion development budget?
This is merely a gimmick. However, we do support the Sindh government’s stance on the NFC Award and making effective and operational the constitutional institution of the Council of Common Interest (CCI). The federal government has no justification for not transferring the remaining provincial share under the NFC for the current fiscal year. It is unconstitutional to present and approve federal budgets without the mandatory NFC Award.
The people of Sindh strongly feel that they have been abandoned like orphan children by the current PPP government. Can one ask the Sindh government about the Rs91 billion development budget, which it claimed to have utilised in current fiscal year? Where did that money go? What do they have to show for it? What did they achieve?
In the last eight years the PPP failed to provide drinking water even to major urban cities including Karachi, Mehar in Dadu district, and the Qambar district – Mehar and Qambar being PPP strongholds. Several major urban cities, such as Umerkot and Khipro city in the Sanghar district, remain without natural gas.
The PPP government had promised in the previous budget that a road from Nawabshah to Sanghar will be constructed with allocation of Rs2 billion. Work was to start in December last year, but not even a contract was awarded during the outgoing fiscal year. And yet again for FY 2016-17 an inflated increased amount of Rs2.9 billion has been allocated for the same road project.
Despite all the hue and cry over falling standards of education in Sindh, it is unfortunate and an example of sheer neglect that – unlike the Punjab government – Sindh does not even share the number of students enrolled in the Sindh Education Fund (SEF) supported schools.
The budget speech did not mention how many scholarships were given to students in Sindh during 2015-16 from the Rs2 billion Education Endowment Fund. On the contrary, the Punjab government gave scholarships to over 150,000 students and this year their plan is to award 200,000. Similarly, under the Punjab Education Fund (PEF) there are 2.2 million enrolled students. The Sindh budget speech, though, did not attempt to educate the people of Sindh on these issues.
The Sindhi middle class seems to be of the view that Sindh has not been served well. In the last eight years, the PPP government years has shown lack of commitment. Mired in political crises, it has not paid attention to governance. The bureaucracy and ministers operate and behave like viceroys and a colonial mindset is pretty evident.
When governments fail, responsibility falls upon the civil society. So unless citizens play an active vigilant role, governments will continue to undermine the progress of society. And in case of Sindh, one should not forget that millions in Sindh continue to live a painful life, living in deprivation, without any access to basic amenities.
Sindh will not change unless its politics change, and politics will not change unless the feudal hold over public policymaking and mainstream politicking is brought to an end.
The writer is visiting faculty at Szabist Karachi. Email: pocahmadgmail.com