LAHORE: The Punjab government claims to have focused on social sector development instead of infrastructure in its last two annual provincial budgets and says will continue with the policy in the upcoming budget to contribute to improving the country’s position in the global Human Development Index.

“In the last two years, financial management and development planning with a focus on social sector development instead of infrastructure development remained our top two priorities. In the upcoming budget too, we will keep the focus on social sector development as we find it very important for the uplift of the masses,” Finance Secretary Iftikhar Ali Sahoo said while speaking at the first pre-budget consultative workshop for 2021-22 organised by the government in association with the Sub-National Governance Programme funded by the UK Aid.

Mr Sahoo said that on the global economic front, Pakistan’s ranking continued to improve and Punjab was contributing greatly to this. “We stand at 154 in the [UN’s] Human Development Index out of 189 countries. And in terms of Global Competitiveness Index, we are at 110,” he said, adding that the country was at 108 in the ease of doing business index.

Speaking on the occasion, Punjab Finance Minister Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht said the government was a true believer in inclusive growth and social sector development and the reforms in education and health will be instrumental in putting Punjab on the right track to economic growth. “The government has led by example and through prudent fiscal management on the current side has ensured that service delivery is not impacted,” he said.

Minister says education, health reforms to put Punjab on track to economic growth

He also announced that Universal Health Coverage will be available in Punjab, the most populous province, by the end of this year, ensuring that the economic dividends of a healthy population could be reaped. “We also believe that all planning and budgeting should meet the needs and true aspirations of the citizens.”

UK Aid representative Alex Ballinger said the British government was committed to partnering with the Punjab government to improve the lives of citizens. “We have been successfully assisting the Punjab government in planning, budgeting and designing social protection systems despite the impact of Covid-19 pandemic that deepened last year,” he remarked.

Planning and Development Department Chairman Abdullah Sumbal said that while serving as the finance secretary, his team worked on preparing budgets in consultation with the departments and other stakeholders. “It is good to see that a pre-budget consultation has started in February since budget preparation is an uphill task that involves input from all concerned,” he said.

The workshop involved government representatives, development agencies, UN agencies, academics, civil society organisations, including Amjad Saqib, Baela Jamil, Farida Shaheed,Khawar Mumtaz, Yasmin Zaidi and Salman Abid.

The key recommendations of the workshop participants included industry-based skills for workers, especially women, robust social protection systems, population control measures, education reforms and a focus on women and the marginalised in all sectors, especially industry and agriculture.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2021

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