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June 2, 2017



Who is failing Sindh?

The Sindh government is going to present its 10th budget on June 5. On various occasions, CM Murad Ali Shah has repeated that ‘there is no scarcity of resources’. The Sindh government’s official reports say that after the 7th NFC Award the province’s finances have improved, which is why the province does not present deficit-budgets.


The big question is: why, despite such resources, do the people of Sindh continue to live such deprived lives? So, who’s failing Sindh?

In past four years, the PPP-led Sindh government allocated close to Rs1 trillion for the development budget in various departments. We have been told that education and health are a priority for the government, but what change has the huge allocation and democratic governance brought to our province? Rural poverty stands at 75 percent, higher than the national average of 38 percent.

It is clear that the PPP has failed to address rural-urban disparity in the province. In the outgoing fiscal year, Rs220 billion was allocated for development, of which less than 10 percent was for education. We do not know how much was actually spent and in which areas of education. Over five million children of the province are out of school and there has been a decline in the quality of education. Has the PPP allocated resources to address these problems? There is little evidence to prove that because enrolment has not gone up drastically and children’s reading abilities have not improved. Hence, the issue of cheating during examinations.

Sindh’s share in the federal transfer is higher because of its natural resources, through royalty on natural gas and petroleum, but the districts that  produce these resources – Sanghar and Badin – are at the bottom in terms of development indicators. Official documents say that “the revenues of the province are expected to grow at 15 percent per annum – with growth of 14 percent in Revenue Assignment, 14 percent in Straight Transfers, 18 percent in federal PSDP, and 20 percent in provincial revenues.” Given the revenue mobilisation efforts of the provincial government, the share of provincial revenues in total revenues during the current financial year and also in the next three years would rise to 23 percent, up from 19.2 percent in 2014-15. A 23 percent per annum increase in revenue for any government gives it enough resources to achieve desired goals.

But here we are: the literacy ratio in the PPP’s hardcore rural areas is close to 76 percent while in urban areas it is somewhere near 40 percent. Only 24 percent rural girls attend school; no society can develop unless women are educated and turned into a productive workforce.

For decades, Sindhi speaking voters believed that ‘Sindh suffers because of non-representative military governments in the past’ but how does one explain the utter failure of Sindh’s very own elected ruling class? It seems only their fortunes have improved. There is a visible difference between the lifestyles of the rulers and the ruled. The PPP has only widened the gap between the rich and the poor and has expanded the list of affluent class who use state resources and machinery to multiply their assets.

Since the 2009 NFC Award, Sindh’s public finances have improved considerably. The General Provincial Revenue in FY 2015-16 stood at Rs638.25 billion, of which 68 percent were transfers from the federal divisible pool, straight transfers and grants. Sindh is only province that generates the highest percentile of its own resources. Total expenditure in FY 2015-16 stood at Rs529.6 billion, of which 75 percent was non-development and 25 percent development expenditure.

The traditional patterns of budget-making and allocations must be revisited. We can no longer afford to spend 75 percent of financial resources on non-development sectors. We need to allocate up to 40 percent of the budget to development. In the absence of industrialisation in rural Sindh, only the educated Sindhi middle class has done well. These are people who have access to better private education, healthcare and bank credit,  and have managed to get employment within the country and abroad.

It is a shame that, despite a Rs65 billion health budget, many district headquarter hospitals do not even have functional blood banks. Recently, the district hospital in Thatta was given to an NGO to manage it. It was discovered that many departments were non-functional, and there is no regulatory mechanism to force a focus on state-run hospitals. It has also been revealed recently that Sindh spends an equal amount on purchase of medicines as Punjab, although Punjab’s population is double than that of Sindh. But how many days a month do government hospitals give free medicines to patients? And where do we find the much-talked about trauma centres?

This week, a non-profit – in collaboration with the Saylani Trust – organised a day-long free eye clinic in Shahpur Chakar, district Sanghar. Around 650 patients turned up and doctors operated on scores of patients. This is an eye-opening example. So what are the district and Taluqa hospitals doing? Of what use are they? For all practical purposes, people living outside Sindh’s four urban centres – Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah and Larkana – have to take their loved ones to these cities for medical treatment.

Things will not change in Sindh if such shoddy governance continues. The PPP’s elected parliamentarians continue to influence the appointment of district health and education officers. Postings, transfers and promotions in these two departments are a matter of millions. This ‘frontmen’ phenomenon must end. A lot is at stake – the lives of millions of human beings and their future. When an ordinary citizen is asked for his/her view, one finds out that the PPP does not give them hope, and the budget is irrelevant to them.

When the Sindh Bank was being established, many hoped it would give credit to people to buy and own homes, as well as agri-credit, small loans to boost small businesses etc. But, instead, it was business as usual. Does the PPP leadership realise the kind of gap it is allowing to grow – and widen – in society? It should help create jobs; it won’t be able to employ 50 million people all on its own.

For Karachi, a Rs10 billion package is insufficient. At least Rs50 billion should be given to Karachi. Similarly, the federal government spends almost nothing in Karachi, a city that runs the country’s economy. How much did the federal government allocate for Karachi in the new fiscal year? This is a city without clean drinking water, a city where citizens even in posh areas buy water from the private tanker mafia, which operates unlawfully and which not even the MQM-Musharraf nine-year honeymoon managed to check.

The people of Karachi are lucky that at least Rs10 billion, which was allocated in the outgoing fiscal year, was utilised, mainly due to media pressure, the Fix-It campaign and the opposition.

A budget is not a statement of intention, but a legal bill that the government is bound to implement. A practice of detailed debate, questions and analysis should be allowed in the assembly and there should be no rush to pass the budget bill. In mature democracies like the US, the budget is debated for months. A critical discourse on public policymaking is required in our country too. After all, politics is all about economics and allocation of resources.


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