A CURSORY reading of the Sindh budget 2021-22 reinforces the impression that Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s government has got its development preferences right. Health, education, agriculture, irrigation, labour, small and medium enterprises, women development and social protection for the poor are the main areas the PPP government appears to be focusing on through enhanced allocations in the budget. Yet the document also cements the perception that the party needs to work hard to improve its capacity and competence to execute the development interventions it proposes in the budget, instead of hiding behind the pretext of resource constraints because of the shortfall from federal transfers. Instead of competing with an uncooperative centre to prove its credentials as a more pro-people administration through higher allocations, it is better to work on building its capacity to use whatever funds it can get to execute schemes for improving public service delivery in the province. There is no doubt that the uncertainties caused by Covid-19 during the current fiscal year and the lower-than-targeted federal and provincial revenue collection must have affected spending priorities and decelerated work on the projects announced. But that does not justify the Sindh government’s inability to fully utilise whatever money it had in its coffers. It is especially scandalous because the socioeconomic infrastructure in the country’s largest city and business hub, Karachi, is collapsing with every passing minute.
The Rs1,477.9bn provincial budget based mainly on expectations of increased federal transfers of Rs869.7bn, higher provincial tax revenues of Rs304.9bn and enhanced foreign project assistance of over Rs71.5bn is largely an extension of the priorities the government had set for the outgoing fiscal year. Allocations for health, education, irrigation, agriculture and other priority areas have been raised significantly. The government has further proposed a considerably large sum of Rs30.9bn for its pro-poor social protection and economic sustainability programme and decided to invest in automation of tax payments to create ease for taxpayers and boost collection. Women, special children and IT-based start-ups will also get a small share from the provincial resources. The decision to raise the minimum wage to Rs25000 a month and the pay of provincial employees by 20pc need to be appreciated. In short, Mr Shah’s spending priorities are commendable. But the question is: will he be able to deliver on his promises to the people? Doubts remain. Especially because Sindh is perceived to be controlled from somewhere other than the chief minister’s office.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2021