The budget announced in the National Assembly next week will be crucial in presenting our sustainable development case in the High Level Political Forum next month
Pakistan is ranked the worst country in terms of poverty, mortality rate, human development, gender parity, justice and security. In September 2018, UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) human development index (HDI) ranked Pakistan at 150 among 189 countries based on the major indicators like life expectancy, education, poverty and income.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) report titled ‘Global Gender Gap Index 2018’ shows that Pakistan is the second worst country in the world in terms of gender parity, ranking 148 out of 149 countries. Pakistan’s scorecard based on economic participation and opportunity showed that it ranked 146, while in health and survival, its rank was 145. In terms of political empowerment, the country was positioned at 97.
In South Asia, Pakistan has one of the highest infant, neonatal and maternal mortality rates and the total contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) is only 35 percent which includes the traditional methods as well. Pakistan is the fourth worst country for women, according to rankings of the Women, Peace and Security Index. Of the 153 countries ranked for women’s inclusion, justice and security, Pakistan was ranked at number 150, with the highest discrimination against women in the world and the lowest financial inclusion.
Thus, "to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all" countries adopted a set of goals under the United Nations supervision to fulfill sustainable development agenda. These are called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which include a set of 17 goals with 169 targets. Each of these goals consists of targets which should be achieved by each participating country within the next 15 years (by 2030).
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These 17 Goals build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities.
Pakistan was one of the first countries to endorse SDGs globally in 2015 and displayed commendable commitment to the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development -- adopted 16 targets and 41 indicators. However, UNDP’s report shows that the data available for 33 of these indicators reveals that Pakistan is on track to achieve the targets on 9 indicators, whereas its progress on 24 indicators is off track.
Pakistan will present SDGs progress to United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in July 2019. The budget to be announced in the National Assembly on June 11 will also be crucial in presenting our case in HLPF as the amount allocated for the set goals and targets will become clear only then.
As the primary political and economic expression of the government policy, the budget seems a natural starting point for the integration of Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, Zia ur Rehman, coordinator of Pakistan Development Alliance (PDA) and founder of AWAZ CDS (Centre for Development Services) expresses concerns, while talking to TNS, that Pakistan’s case is very weak and there is nothing to present in the upcoming HLPF meeting.
"There are certain ways in which countries integrate the SDGs into budgeting processes; (a) most countries either map their budgets against the SDGs or include qualitative reporting in their main budget document; (b) countries use the SDGs to improve their budget performance evaluation system or as a management tool for resource allocation and settlement; (c) public policy evaluation so as to assess the impact of different programmes to improve policy coherence," he says.
Considering these ways, Zia ur Rehman regrettably states, "Since 2015 we couldn’t present even a single national or provincial budget according to SDGs and its goals which shows our non-serious approach to achieving sustainable social development. Health sector stands worst. There is lack of effective programmes for women development that is half of the population. Poverty line is adding more people to it, education sector is nothing but a disappointment, and there are no programmes to combat climate change."
Rehman says, "Unfortunately, the last two mini-budgets presented by the current government are entirely against the sustainable development goals."
Pakistan Muslim League-N in its last year of government approved the National SDG Framework in March 2018 as a guiding document to achieve SDGs through a localised approach reflecting high priority targets for Pakistan. Such a policy allows a quick glance at national and provincial pictures where SDGs units are established at national, provincial and regional levels with matching grant from UNDP.
Nevertheless, the national priority indicators need to be critically analysed as it is really difficult to rationalise and measure some of them in the local context. Economist Dr Qais Aslam believes that our national and provincial budgets are always unfriendly to environment, women, children, ocean, youth, and health. "Unfortunately, Pakistan couldn’t achieve 10 percent of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which must be around 50 percent at least. The same progress is expected under SDGs. We normally spend 1.2 percent of the budget on social development which must be at least 50 percent of the provincial budgets, especially after the 18th Constitutional Amendment."
According to Aslam, "As a nation we are not aware of the SDGs and their importance. Unfortunately, the parliamentarians as members of the SDGs Task Forces do not have appropriate and necessary understanding of the agenda 2030 and SDG goals, targets and indicators. Majority of them are unaware of the national priority framework on SDGs."
Currently, Pakistan is facing quite a lot of challenges in development sector. Dr Aslam believes that any country’s national efficient data base system is crucial in resolving development challenges and integrating SDGs in the budgetary process. However, it is unfortunate the data base that indicates our gender, regional, wealth quintile (poor and rich) and other indicators such as disability status, indigenous people and conflict-affected school going population, is not available. Moreover, there is no facility for the enrolment of out-of-school children doing child labour, children of nomads, street children, orphans and children in prisons etc.
The federal government has approved PKR24 billion from the running budget of the year 2018-2019 to allow Members of National Assembly to submit small developmental schemes of their respective constituencies to the Ministry of Planning and Development and reforms for achieving SDGs. Besides, the Punjab government has allocated development funds for the parliamentarians.
Analyst and expert on local government system, Salman Abid, says that allocation of development funds to the parliamentarians is a symbol of centralised political system. "Such political system always ignores social development because governments seem more interested in developing infrastructure rather than social sector."
He says, "Local government system all over the world is the best way to achieve sustainable development because this system helps improve primary healthcare, education, youth participation, gender equality, involvement of masses and discourages marginalised politics. Unfortunately, our approach of holding on to centralised political system either discourages local government system or establishes a puppet one that will never serve us to improve life in a sustainable way."
Dr Aslam, Rehman and Abid suggest that the SDGs and their objectives have to be recognised as a national priority on the political agenda. This requires parliamentarians, civil society, other political parties and ministries to actually use the SDGs to improve the budget debate. Only then budgeting processes can play a role in putting the SDGs into politics by providing a forum for debate among the different actors and interest groups.