Friday July 01, 2022

A question of priorities

June 01, 2017

The utilisation statistics of the Punjab development budget tell the same old story of how education and health are neglected for the sake of building roads and buildings.

During the first 10 months of FY 2016-17, the Punjab government utilised only around Rs252.9 billion (57.9 percent) out of a total development outlay of Rs436.6 billion provided in the annual budget. This information is available in official documents of the provincial finance department.

With only two months remaining till the end of the fiscal year, the provincial government did not utilise more than 40 percent of the development outlay allocated for most sectors – with the exception of the roads, transport and buildings sectors.

Till the end of April this year, the provincial finance department released Rs369 billion (85 percent) of the total amount of Rs436.6 billion allocated for development projects in the annual budget. This implies that there was no shortage of funds to provide the allocated amounts to the social sector, including health and education. But the government opted for infrastructural projects instead.

Out of the total allocation for school education, only 43 percent were spent from July 2016 to April 30, 2017 – around Rs20.6 billion out of Rs47.6 billion. Even the released amount for development schemes for school education has not been fully utilised so far. According to insiders, funds for education were, as usual, released towards the end of the year so that they could not be used.

In the health sector, the budget promised a development outlay of Rs42.3 billion but the government has, so far, spent only Rs19.4 billion (46 percent). The annual budget for 2016-17 allocated Rs6.2 billion for youth affairs, tourism and sports. But the government actually spent merely Rs2 billion.

In the energy sector – where the government claims to have made herculean efforts to end power outages – the provincial government has spent only Rs1.7 billion out of a total allocation of Rs7.9 billion (21.5 percent). Officials believe that the funds for these sectors have been diverted to transport projects, including Lahore’s Orange Line Metro Train project.

Water supply and sanitation also remained a low-priority area, with Rs20 billion utilised out of a total allocation of Rs45 billion – less than half of what was promised in the budget. However, we keep hearing a great deal of official propaganda about saaf pani (clean drinking water).

As usual, roads remained the top priority of the Punjab government. Out of a total allocation of Rs77.2 billion, it has already spent Rs66.2 billion (86 percent). Like previous years, expenditure on the development of roads is likely to surpass the original allocation this time around.

For the transport sector, the government has spent almost double the promised budget – Rs13.8 billion as against the allocation of Rs7.3 billion. Similarly, the government has consumed the entire development allocation for the construction of new buildings – Rs10.9 billion out of a total of Rs11.7 billion.

So far, the government has spent only Rs758 million on population welfare schemes as against the original allocation of Rs1.3 billion – nearly 57 percent of the total allocation. The funds for women’s development that have been utilised stand at Rs377 million from the total allocated amount of Rs629 million – nearly 60 percent of the total allocation.

A paltry amount of Rs185 million was allocated for environment-related development projects. But the actual utilisation during these 10 months was nil. This is despite the fact that the environment protection department is short of staff and necessary equipment to monitor pollution. Punjab’s area has less than three percent of tree cover. And yet, forestry is among the most neglected area – out of a meagre allocation of Rs2.2 billion only 919 million were utilised to plant trees.

In the 2016-2017 budget, the government had promised Rs650 million for labour and human resource development. But so far, it has spent Rs242 million – or 37.2 percent – of the total allocated amount.

The government makes tall claims for the welfare of farmers. Statistics speak for themselves. Out of a total allocation of Rs16 billion for the development of agriculture only Rs6.5 billion were utilised.