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Opinion

May 17, 2018

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Will the Sindh budget make a difference?

Slashing last year’s budget by Rs62 billion, the PPP-led Sindh government has presented a budget of Rs1.1 trillion for the fiscal year 2018-2019, with the largest cut in the development budget of around Rs46 billion.

This is the second time that the provincial budgetary estimates have crossed the trillion-rupee mark. The overall revised estimates have not resulted in many changes in the budget. But the unused development budget is shocking. Under the very vibrant leadership of CM Murad Ali Shah, the Sindh government may have improved the overall image of completing ongoing development plans and spending the budget, but the gap in development spending refuses to go away.

In his post-budget press conference, Murad Ali Shah blamed the federal government for cutting the provincial share in revenue transfers and not allocating enough resources to federal ministries for projects. This could be correct just as it has proved to be in the past. But the fact that the provincial government began the new budget with a carryover cash flow of Rs55 billion indicates its sheer lack of planning and capacity to spend.

On the face of it, Murad Ali Shah painted an impressive picture of the budget by moving figures back and forth. Having spent many years heading Sindh’s finance department before he became the CM, he seems to know the art of playing with numbers, suppressing some figures, and highlighting those that are suitable for a political facelift. He announced a development budget worth Rs343 billion for FY 2018-19 – 30 percent of the total budgetary outlay – without holding accountable various departments that are not spending the money allocated and released during the outgoing fiscal year.

In the outgoing fiscal year, Rs244 billion was allocated towards the development budget. But the PPP-led government could only spent Rs86 billion (35 percent of the allocated amount) over the past nine months. If a government that employees half a million people is able to spend Rs86 billion in nine months, how much will it be able to spend in the remaining three months out of the already released amount of Rs159 billion?

Let’s consider the example of the education department, which has failed to purchase furniture for schools for the second consecutive year. Many schools are reportedly without furniture and some new educational institutions are still waiting for furniture to be purchased so they can begin their operations. Last year, a centralised procurement policy was adopted to avoid corruption. But this policy doesn’t seem to be working. The inability to spend money has impeded development and kept society backward. The PPP cannot evade criticism by building a few good roads and opening a cluster of new hospitals in big cities. There is a great deal of work that still needs to be done.

The education sector has once again failed in this respect as only Rs21 billion (around 21 percent of the allocated amount) was spent during the nine months of the outgoing fiscal year. The development fund released by the provincial government for the past nine months shows that the health department was even worse than the education sector when it came to utilising the budget. The department could only use Rs2.2 billion out of the total allocation of Rs15.5 billion – only 15 percent of what it should have used.

The Sindh government is working on a report of its 10-year rule in Sindh. This report will highlight the provincial government’s achievements and tell us its success story through visuals of happy people. Is it unfair to judge and assess their performance with their inability to utilise funds?

There are some departments whose causes are championed by Sindh’s ruling party. But these critical departments appear to be managed in an efficient manner. For instance, the Sindh Human Rights Department has only spent one percent of the meagre Rs12 million that was allocated to it. Only 10 percent of the allocation for minority affairs have been spent while only three percent of the stipulated amount for women’s development have been utilised.

We often wonder why these departments aren’t being closed or why their seemingly incompetent staff hasn’t been sacked. Many things can be achieved in these sectors. If these departments are unsure of the development framework, they should share their fiscal resources with non-profit organisations through small grants and allow them to provide out-of-the-box solutions. Doing away with dynamic and creative community development initiatives is not only wrong, but will also block the access of resources to other groups and organisations in society that could collaborate with the government of Sindh to broaden the development agenda and the implementation process.

The PPP has complained of receiving bad press for the ‘great services’ it has provided to the people of Sindh. The budget speech suggests that 1,250 development schemes will be completed by the end of the year and 2,226 others will be completed in the years to come.

The point is: will the completion of these schemes alter social development indicators? Will we look better? Will people have more employment opportunities? Will our literacy rate improve? Do people in basic health unit (BHUs) have access to doctors and medicines? How long will it take to improve the situation at 32,000 one-room schools across the province?

Governments should not operate like NGOs that complete one project and showcase it to obtain funding for new projects. As long as poverty and illiteracy continue to characterise the lives of Sindh’s people, criticism will prevail.

The PPP has been praised for the Thar Coal Project, which has changed the lives of so many people. It has also built new roads in Sanghar, Thatta and Karachi that will make lives easier for so many people. But that doesn’t serve as a substitute for the miserable living conditions that people have to endure. These images continue to haunt the conscience of our people and the people in power neither see it nor want others to talk about it.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter @mushrajpar

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