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June 22, 2019

Balochistan budget


June 22, 2019

The Balochistan budget was announced on Wednesday to little excitement. While the budget for Balochistan is much smaller than the other three provinces, it has shown some ambition in recent times – at least on paper. This time around, the Rs419 billion budget came with a promise of scaling back whatever developmental efforts have taken place in the province. No wonder the opposition was up in arms as Balochistan Finance Minister Mir Zahoor Ahmed Buledi announced the government’s proposal. Tattered copies of the budget document were spread across the floor of the assembly as the opposition leader Malik Sikander complained that there was ‘no sign of progress’ in the province. While the annual development programme was higher than last year at around Rs126 billion, there was little sense of vision in what the government was proposing. If anything, the finance minister spoke of ‘reducing the total number of schemes’ – with little evidence of what he meant with ‘enhanced allocation and targeted intervention.’ In simple words, it seemed the government is saying that it wants to undertake less development projects but at least complete them.

In itself, there is little wrong with such an approach. It has become a standard issue that much of the development spending lapses, simply because numbers are inflated in the first place to show that the government is doing more. In reality, many projects are shelved while others do not receive the funding they deserve. One wonders if the current Balochistan government is indeed any different. What it has managed to do is reduce the budget deficit from Rs63 billion to around Rs48 billion. The finance minister has said that this means that the government will not have to slash development schemes like it had to last year. But this is exactly why history is not a good marker for what this government can do. Instead of showing a Rs40 billion increase in development spending on paper, it could have chosen to simply balance the budget. But the government knows it would have generated a surplus in such circumstances given its own track record. The standard pro-poor, pro-growth rhetoric went along with the delivery of the budget. But seems not to have been bought by the opposition. What would be good all over is if provinces begin to set their own growth targets and talk about whether they are able to meet them.

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