SINDH’S budget 2012-13, presented last week, has proposed a total outlay of Rs578 billion. The high welfare component of a record development budget is expected to serve the political ambitions of the Pakistan People’s Party in its home constituency.
But how far will the budget go to invigorate the provincial economy? Experts contacted by Dawn gave credit to the elected government for bigger social sector allocations but were disappointed with the ‘missed opportunity’ to put the economy back on rails and to realise its full development potential.
“We cannot evade facts. In Sindh, the high social allocations and concessionary schemes of the past such as $2 billion spent under SAP for health and education and several schemes for cheaper agriculture machinery and inputs had failed to achieve targets. The pace of improvement in social indicators, if we take Karachi out, is slower in Sindh than the rest of the country,” an analyst with keen eye on the provincial economy observed.
“For the future to arrive for the people of the province, it is necessary to address issues related to structural bottlenecks which keep the economic potential of Sindh hostage. As long as the power structure is left untouched, a big chunk of public money earmarked for public welfare will land in the pockets of big and mighty while the common citizen will continue to live a sub-human life,” he added.
“The present government, over its four year tenure, did try to appease the poor through Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and other money transfer schemes, but failed to follow through its promise to regenerate the economy of the province and provide opportunities to all keen to earn a living in dignity,” he concluded.
Another expert contested these observations. “You need to remove ideological blinkers for objective assessment. It is unrealistic to expect a change on whims. The government has done well. You cannot wish away the impact of decades of neglect in four years. I trust the PPP government has done more for rural Sindh than what the last government did in double the time,” he asserted.
“How can you forget the impact of higher support prices on the farming community?, he added. Addressing a press conference last Monday, provincial Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah looked confident while projecting his government’s performance over the closing year and proposing its financial plan for the year ahead.
However, his repeated reference to 2007-08, the final year of the last government, for comparison of allocations for different sectors sounded strange. The minister was probably trying to prove pro-people credentials of his party. The point was lost in numbers.
It would have convinced the listeners more if the provincial government had also published annual review of the provincial economy to depict progress or lack of it in different sectors.
His bilingual presentation of the budget in Urdu and English, on the floor of the provincial assembly, was punctuated by applauses from his colleagues. The environment in the assembly clearly depicted the position of advantage that Pakistan People’s Party enjoyed in Sindh.
After two difficult years of floods and rains when a major chunk of the development budget had to be diverted to relief and reconstruction work this year the provincial budget makers proposed more liberal development spending.
The election considerations, perhaps more than their commitment to achieve sustainable development, energised members of provincial assembly to mount pressure on the economic team to accommodate demands of their electorate.
“MPAs used to come and fight for inclusion of their proposals in pre- budget meetings in the provincial finance department.
Sometimes it used to become a real drag but we understood their concern for their constituencies where they had to return for votes and did try to accommodate them in the proposals finalised,” a senior member of the economic team of the province told Dawn.
The schemes of subsidised tractors and agricultural machinery will generate goodwill in the farming community and help the party grab votes in the countryside.
“I believe the new budget has responded to the demands of the farming community to some extent. The government has increased the number of subsidised tractors from 6,000 last year to 15,000 in the current budget. If these tractors reach targeted beneficiaries, it would improve agriculture productivity in Sindh,” Dr Qadir Bux an agriculture expert and a progressive farmer with small landholdings in Sindh, told Dawn.
The focus on social spending is on the mark in a province left behind Punjab and KP in key social indicators particularly related to health and education. A high 20 per cent of the proposed budget has been reserved for education, up by 66 per cent to Rs111 billion.
The government has set aside second biggest chunk of the budget for public service with an estimated amount of Rs72 billion, higher by 13 per cent over last year.
The provincial finance minister defended the Rs7 billion budget deficit that, he said, would generate economic capital worth many times more than the value of deficit. The total development spending is proposed to be increased from Rs156 billion last year to hefty Rs231 billion in the current year, a jump of about 48 per cent.