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June 11, 2019

Financial crisis forced education department to slash 2018-19 development budget


June 11, 2019

Owing to financial constraints, the Sindh education and literacy department (SELD) was forced to cut its development budget approved for the outgoing fiscal year 2018-19. The department could not complete many of its ongoing projects and was unable to start many new schemes that had been included in the 2018-19 Annual Development Programme due to lack of funds.

Sindh Education Minister Syed Sardar Ali Shah said this during an interview with The News. “Though, it was my commitment to uplift education in Sindh to the next level when I took charge as the provincial education minister. But budgetary barriers have disrupted my vision of making immediate reforms in the education department as well as in the system of education,” the minister said. “We are even facing problems in releasing salaries,” he lamented.

He blamed the financial crisis on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led federal government, which according to him, did not provide Sindh its due share of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award.

Criticising the federal government, he said those who had claimed that they would establish a Madina-like state in Pakistan were now prevaricating about the empowerment of the provinces. “They are even intent on rolling back the 18th Amendment. Thus, we couldn’t expect assistance from the federal government regarding an extra payment for uplifting education in Sindh.”

For the fiscal year 2018-19, the Sindh government had allocated Rs172 billion for both the education departments of school education and college education. This amount was in addition to Rs15 billion funds allocated for the development schemes in the education sector.

Since the educational boards, centres of technical education and vocational training, varsities and public libraries are not included in the education department, they had separate allocations in the budget.

Sindh’s NFC share

The current NFC award was finalised in 2010, which later on was extended for another five years through an executive order. Under the NFC formula, Sindh received Rs508.727 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year against the budgeted commitment of Rs547.423 billion.

However, Sindh has been raising a hue and cry over the federal government not releasing its complete share of funds under the NFC award. “We are not concerned about whether other provinces have grievances over the NFC award. But unpaid Sindh’s share has affected major development projects in the province, including development projects of the education department,” Shah said.

Commenting on the complains of Sindh, Economist Asim Bashir Khan said the federal government collected various kinds of taxes, including general sales tax on goods, tariff on import, federal excise duty, customs duty and others, which formed the divisible pool.

According to Khan, usually the federal government usually unrealistically exaggerated the budgetary targets of taxes, which it did not meet. This was the reason why the Centre was unable to pay the provinces according to the budgeted commitment, he said. Explaining his point, the economist said during the fiscal year 2017-18, the share of Sindh was cut by 7.07 per cent compared to the budgeted target, however, the missed targets of tax collection did not affect Balochistan as its share was not decreased.

A lot of employees

The SELD has to spend most of its budget on non-development side as it is the largest department of the provincial government in terms of the number of employees.

Earlier, there was a single education department in the province, which was bifurcated in 2016. Since then, two separate departments are looking after the school and college education in the province. However, they both are often referred to under the term, SELD.

The both departments are running under the control of the education ministry. “Currently, around 200,000 teachers, excluding non-teaching staffers, are employed in both the departments while around 350,000 girls studying at schools in sixth to 10th grades receive a monthly stipend of Rs10,000,” Shah said.

When asked to comment on the fact that education had been a provincial subject since 2010 and his party had been in power in Sindh since the last 11 years and it also enjoyed a five-year-term in the federal government, the minister replied that it was not the issue of the performance of the provincial government. “Those who claim that they are establishing Riyasat-e-Madina are making difficulties for Sindh by not paying Sindh’s share agreed in the NFC,” he repeated.

He said sorrowfully that due to the same financial reason, he could not pursue his plan to construct middle and secondary schools in rural areas of Sindh where only 10 per cent of the government schools were offering secondary education. “The Sindh government had allocated only Rs15 billion for the development schemes, which was not enough. There are many difficulties in initiating upgradation projects of primary schools.”

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