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Opinion

June 17, 2017

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Sindh: tracing ghost development

Sindh: tracing ghost development

It is important to ask what the Sindh government is trying to achieve with the development budget of Rs274 billion. Where is the money going? Why does one not see an impact of this huge development spending? At a time when Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are borrowing money from ADB and the World Bank to finance their much-needed development projects, the PPP is wasting money on construction of housing for parliamentarians, when most of them already own big houses in the city.

The Sindh budget seems to have one strategic plan: to fuel the construction industry – as if the folks in government own steel and cement industries. For example, Rs9 billion has been allocated for construction of government offices in the province.

Take the example of the education crisis in the province, which refuses to go away. The budgetary allocations do not match the education goals. Universal education in Sindh is a victim of discriminatory allocation. In the outgoing fiscal year, the Sindh government allocated Rs12.1 billion for college education but then cut it down to Rs6.3 billion; this year again Rs12.1 billion has been allocated. Similarly, university grants were allocated Rs2.3 billion but in the revised budget reduced to less than one billion. This year again Rs2.7 billion has been given to grants, but at the end of the fiscal year one is not sure how much will be given to these universities.

Contrary to the claims in the budget speech of Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah that Rs202 billion has been allocated for education, the fact is that the Annual Development Plan mentions allocations for projects of Rs21 billion. The rest will be non-development spending. Sindh spends over Rs175 billion on teacher salaries; a raise of 10-15 percent adds to the non-development expenditure of Rs15 billion to Rs20 billion. The provincial government needs Rs100 billion to complete ongoing education programmes. If one goes by the actual expenditure of the current fiscal year, which stood at Rs6.3 billion, it would take ages to finish these projects. In the current budget Rs3 billion has been allocated for new schemes and Rs17 billion for old/ongoing schemes. There is no legal bar on cutting down the education development budget in the revised budget. No one will remember if 50 percent of the budget was cut down, using shortfall in federal transfer or any other excuse.

In yet another unwise waste of resources, the Sindh government plans to give a reward of Rs100,00 to every student who achieves A-1 grade in board exams. Exams in Sindh have been marred with massive cheating. Instead of controlling that, and expanding the Sindh Education Endowment Fund, the government is just throwing away money. It is important to help needy students and endowment is the best way to fund their higher education. Punjab has increased the fund over the years and is targeting to give 100,000 scholarships. The Sindh government willingly or unintentionally does not share the number of beneficiaries of this fund.

The problem with the PPP, despite good intentions, is that it lacks a core team responsible for planning, execution and follow-up of top priority projects. The sheer lack of ownership is what defines their failure. The occasional intervention by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Aseefa cannot substitute an organised team looking after the progress of the projects. The best visionary development expert that the Sindh government once had, Dr Kaiser Bangali, was not just removed but his development direction and plans were abandoned as well. Since then, the party does not have an integrated development plan.

One example of this ill planning is that the Sindh government has a very large number of development schemes that are unfinished. Instead of completing them, the government has announced another 816 new projects.

Most surveys and reports have identified two key problems that Sindh’s education sector faces. One is the challenge of increasing the rate of literacy and the second is improving the quality of teaching and teachers. The budgetary allocation for both these items is lowest in the overall education budget. The lack of ownership and commitment in Sindh’s governance can be seen by the fact that in 2010 the government planned to reopen 400 girls schools in the rural areas of Sindh. The total cost for that was only Rs300 million, but by 2016 they had allocated and spent only Rs175 million. How does one explain this inefficiency? Is it because people in the education department were not aware of where these schools were located? Why would doing so take seven years and why is it still lingering on? it seems they start projects and give up.

Take another example. The government started a wonderful project of introducing computer education in public-sector schools back in 2007-08, with estimated cost of half a billion rupees. After 11 years, they could spend only Rs147 million. In this age of the internet, how can we afford to keep public school students without knowledge and use of IT? The USAID-funded schools in Sindh are fully equipped with IT education. USAID took on board Intel-Pakistan and Rotary Pakistan to install and manage the programme. The Intel CEO made an open offer of partnership, but did the Sindh government avail it?

There are only a few shining initiatives to the Sindh government’s credit, which look like some islands of progress in the province. The PPP has extended generous and substantial support to people who are doing solid work and are delivering. This would include grants of billions of rupees to SIUT in Karachi and Sukkur, and most recently a Rs700 million grant to the Gambat Institute of Medical Sciences in the Khairpur district.

Another grant has been given to the state-of-the-art Institute of Business Administration (IBA-Sukkur), where once former US ambassador in Pakistan Richard Olson remarked ‘the infrastructure and facilities at this institute are far better than the college I went to in the US’. It is by the support of the Sindh government that 70 percent students at this institute (which has been upgraded to a university) study on scholarships (including some by USAID), and there is a secure lodging facility for female students.

Some very positive things in the Sindh budget are in the education sector, for example establishing cadet colleges in areas which were ignored in the past, which include a community college in Sehwan, cadet colleges in Mithi, Thar, Jacobabad, Pano Aqil, Karampur, Badin, and including a junior section to Cadet College Larkana with provision of solar energy. Also, the establishment of a women’s university in Sukkur and an IT university in Khairpur are projects which will have far-reaching impact on society in areas that are often marred with tribal feuds and violence against women.

The budgetary allocation trend shows that the focus of the PPP government has been on higher education, but it has not been serious about achieving universal education in the province. Not many in the government even aspire to this. Rural backwardness and poverty in the province will not end without giving boys and girls access to free and quality education.

 

Email [email protected]

Twitter @mushrajpar

 

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