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April 5, 2018

The development dilemma


April 5, 2018

The PPP-led Sindh government held a daylong conference, titled ‘Sindh Development Forum’, on March 24 to chalk out a new strategy to ensure development in the province and present a vision for future progress.

The conference, which was attended by representatives from 19 countries and various development agencies, was geared towards seeking shared partnerships to fuel development. The event was largely successful insofar that it generated a healthy debate on nine key areas of the development discourse.

However, the choice of attendees at the forum does raise a few concerns. It appears that the Sindh government doesn’t seem to realise that international development agencies and foreign governments are not too interested in spending their money on Pakistan. The ratio of the province’s development programmes and its foreign-funded schemes illustrates this fact and shows that efforts must be made to change mindsets. At this stage, there is a ever-increasing donor fatigue.

The mere mention of a ‘vision’ doesn’t inspire us anymore because it is seldom implemented. Budgetary allocations do not correspond with plans for development. This has been a problem with most provincial annual development plans (ADPs) and Sindh is not an exception to this trend. Unfortunately, the development agenda is driven by political pressures and tactics.

A thorough study of the last 10 years of development allocations reveals that the PPP has done a great injustice with several districts in the province. The provincial government has ignored these regions and poured most of Sindh’s resources into projects that are restricted to Karachi, Larkana, Khairpur and Nawabshah (Benazirabad). This writer conducted a study on Sindh’s education department and discovered that only these four cities benefited from over 80 percent of the development programmes earmarked for the province.

Contrary to the claims of deprivation put forward by various political parties, a large share of the projects have been set aside for these four cities at the cost of other cities and districts. Just like the Punjab government, which spends most of its development budget on Lahore and Central Punjab, the PPP-led government in Sindh seems to be focusing on a few districts to the exclusion of others.

When Murad Ali Shah, who hails from Sehwan, became the chief minister of Sindh, a series of development projects were set aside for his home district. The nature of our political economy is deplorable. Public policies and the agenda to provide social services do not guide our ADP. Our development plans are instead driven by political needs. For instance, when Nawaz Sharif came to Thatta in March 2017 and announced projects worth billions of rupees for the district, questions were raised about why he only chose to focus on Thatta. This is because his party has a support base in the district.

Although the decision to hold the Sindh Development Forum should have been taken earlier, it still remains a useful initiative to assess development needs and tackle deficits and deficiencies. The failure to ensure the equitable distribution of the fruits of development across the province will add to the ever-widening inequalities. It is no longer a secret that six districts of the province suffer from a severe water shortage and also rank low in terms of social development indicators.

The proponents of a strong centre do not realise that the 7th National Finance Commission Award (NFC), which came with the 18th Amendment, has given enough financial resources to the provinces. The development expenditure in Sindh stood between 3.6 percent and seven percent of the total development budget from 2001 to 2003. It now stands at over 25 percent.

If we view Sindh’s development budgetary trends in a historical context, we will realise that during the PPP’s tenures in the province, there has been higher percentage of development allocations. Similarly, a study conducted by Dr Qaiser Bangli showed that Bhutto’s era had a higher GDP expenditure on development than what it was in General Zia’s regime. But what the PPP fails to understand is that it has already built a basis of inequality within the province by favouring a few districts.

A World Bank report from 2000 revealed that only half of the 6.2 million children of school-going age in Sindh were enrolled in schools. This situation has not changed despite the fact that the then finance minister, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, doubled the education department’s budget.

Female literacy is low (not more than 15 percent) because out of the 46,039 public schools in Sindh, only 15 percent are for girls. These figures will not change until more schools – not just primary but also middle and high schools – are established at the union council level.

What should the goals of Sindh’s vision for development be? Development is an integrated approach. Many factors, such as interdependent poverty and undiagnosed diseases, are affecting the lives of people.

Last week, Bilqees and Razia Trust – a small non-profit organisation managed by an expatriate who conducts Hepatitis-screening camps in various towns – screened 612 people in Bajhi Khan Rind Village in Sanghar. Of these, 71 people tested positive for hepatitis – over 11 percent of the number of people who were screened for the virus. The figure was relatively low in Sanghar because the district has better climatic conditions and access to healthcare. The trust vaccinated 864 people against hepatitis. When the same trust organised a screening camp on Sita Road in Dadu, 20 percent of the people tested positive for hepatitis.

Why can’t the provincial health department issue small grants to more of these groups to carry out screening and vaccination drives. The rural population is suffering a great deal. Without an efficient system of healthcare, the government will not be able to save these lives.

It would be wrong to not help these people climb out of their current predicament. Many bureaucrats and politicians have ignored them for far too long and compelled them to reach this stage. For development professionals, these are merely challenges and deficits. But the reality is people in Sindh are facing these problem due to severe mismanagement; the failure to gain access to health; and corrupt practices.

Syed Mohibullah Shah’s article in these pages (Mar 28) identified a series of non-economic factors that serve as obstacles to development. This is quite true. It is not the scarcity of resources but sheer negligence and corruption that are blocking Sindh’s path to development. The lack of development doesn’t just lead to a sense of deprivation. It also affects people’s right to live.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @mushrajpar

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