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May 16, 2018

Budget for Balochistan


May 16, 2018

The Balochistan budget, presented on Monday by Finance Minister Ruqayya Saeed Hashmi, has the same problem as the federal budget. The Balochistan government has only two weeks left in its tenure and there is no certainty that the current dispensation will be returned to power. Any new government will have priorities of its own and as such will likely redo the budget. This budget, then, serves as little more than an indication of the priorities of the incumbent government. This means any figures given in the budget have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The budget certainly is an ambitious one, with over Rs88 billion of the Rs352.3 billion budget dedicated to the Public Sector Development Programme . From a total of 4,728 projects included under the PSDP, there are 3,213 news schemes with the rest being ongoing projects that need continued financing. While all this sounds excellent on paper, once again there is no guarantee that any of these projects will be approved by the new government, and development work on the new projects can’t begin until after the elections. The track record of the Balochistan government doesn’t give much reason for optimism. Its last budget allocated funds for the establishment of a Balochistan Bank and Balochistan Revenue Authority but the former is yet to be opened while the latter is far from fully functional.

The one thing this budget makes clear is that Balochistan is hardly self-sufficient. The budget deficit runs at Rs352 billion of which only Rs290 billion will be provided by the federal government. Balochistan will have to raise revenue to balance its books and will likely need to seek loans from the State Bank of Pakistan since its ability to raise revenue through taxation is limited. The budget shows that promises about the wealth which would be brought to Balochistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor have yet to materialise. Balochistan was promised control over its resources but it is yet to receive any revenue from projects that are underway in the province. The performance of the outgoing government in health and education were poor, with no noticeable improvements seen. The amounts of Rs43.9 billion for education and Rs19.4 billion for health may sound impressive, but the fact is that Balochistan is lagging behind the rest of the country in most social indicators. It thus needs an even greater investment in critical sectors and, given its financial problems, that money will need to come from the centre. Balochistan has long been the neglected province whose resources were exploited by the centre with little being given to its people in return. That traditional discrimination will have to change to bring true progress in the province.

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