Pakistan commitment to global goals is reflected in a large portfolio of financial allocation and an elaborate tracking mechanism at the Planning Commission. The level of awareness of and engagement with the key relevant stakeholders, however, leaves much to be desired.

The PTI government has been allocating a hefty amount every year in the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for utilisation through party parliamentarians. For this year, it has set aside Rs66bn for SDGs and the Planning Commission has authorised disbursement of the entire amount within the first quarter of the fiscal year, unlike normal PSDP for which less than half of allocations has been released so far. These funds are specifically meant for constituency-based social sector development schemes to raise living standards, directly linked to SDG benchmarks.

The critical gap in the fair and equitable utilisation of these funds starts at the very outset. The opposition members of the parliament are engaged in SDG dialogue but not given any share out of these public resources. Therefore, almost half of the public representation in development activities is missed out. Provinces have similar allocations for members of provincial assemblies.

Interestingly, even the parliamentarians are seldom involved in policy discussions to build constituency ownership of SDGs. Their understanding is generally limited to funds for small development schemes in their constituencies, mostly targeted at retaining existing voters and winning over additional support for the future.

This year, the PTI government has set aside Rs66bn for SDGs and the PC has authorised its disbursement within the 1st quarter of the fiscal year

For Ibrahim Khan PTI MNA from Multan (NA-158) SDGs are about development. He was not bothered about various targets. He told Dawn that he could not specify the technical details and outcomes. “I don’t know the exact figures about the SDGs and their utilisation in my area but I can tell you that the pace of development is higher than before.” He said there were several unfinished development projects which have been completed by the incumbent regime. For example, “we have completed the dualisation of Multan-Lodhran Road and constructed a bridge on Shuja Abad-Lodhran Road,” he said adding that several projects of rehabilitation and development infrastructure have been carried out which included construction of sewerage lines, alignment and widening of streets etc.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Capital Development Authority (CDA) Affairs Ali Nawaz Awan said funding under SDGs had helped him to launch development projects for the welfare of the public. He said there was a clear division in Islamabad city and rural areas until a few years ago and his constituency comprised both urban-rural areas. “Through SDGs funding, we launched many development projects in rural areas,” he said and added that funds were utilised for the development of grounds for the public, graveyards, pavement and streets and small roads. These are the basic necessities of life and development in such areas improves living standards. “In past, the rural areas remained neglected but we have been able to reduce the urban-rural divide”.

Another ruling party MNA from Islamabad Khurram Shahzad Nawaz said the funds for the SDGs project were insufficient and should be increased. He said that in his constituency, “the government launched mega development projects through PSDP while we utilised funds for SDGs projects on the provision of Sui gas, construction of streets and other small projects.” The MNA from NA-52, who is also chairman of the standing committee on interior claimed he had launched massive development projects in his constituency through the SDGs fund. “There is a positive change in my consistency owing to big projects funded by PSDP rather than SDGs allocations,” he said.

PPP Senator Shery Rehman noted that Pakistan’s performance on SDG is off the mark mainly for the lack of collaborative effort and awareness. She told Dawn that Pakistan was currently facing an economic crisis, amplified by Covid-19. The focus is not on social reform. We are not on track. “There has been a constant increase in poverty that currently stands at 39.3pc.” Likewise, Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) followed a similar trajectory, with 68pc of the population lacking access to wholesome food. Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) fared poorly in Pakistan, as we rank 154th out of 195 countries in terms of quality and accessibility of healthcare.

In terms of achieving gender equality, Pakistan is currently ranked 153rd out of 156 in the index and “little to no real efforts have been undertaken to improve the lives of women and girls”. According to WaterAid, 21 million people in Pakistan still do not have access to clean drinking water.

The PPP leader said that for sustainable development, not only do we have to address the issues of human welfare but also need to create sustainable economies that rely on clean and renewable sources of energy. With wind, solar and bagasse contribute only 6pc to the energy, despite constant sunlight and numerous wind corridors. Pakistan is the 5th most vulnerable country to climate change and robust infrastructure needs to be built to ensure that the effects of extreme weather events are mitigated, yet this is far from being achieved.

“Instead of promoting integrated efforts to strive for the wellbeing of Pakistanis and the planet, the government has ended up, unfortunately, deepening social inequalities,” she said.

She said government policies were not geared to honour global commitments. “Unfortunately, achieving social targets versus making global commitments are two different things. We have been making plans but have built little capacity on the ground to achieve any of the priorities so crucially needed to move towards a sustainable future.”

There is a need for realistic targets and collaborative strategies among provinces in place of overambitious national agendas and divisive politics.

She said the country required an integrated approach in the development of a roadmap and the subsequent implementation of the SDGs. This required collaborative effort from key stakeholders. Parliamentarians, academics, private and public sector representatives, activists and community leaders must be included to understand the impacts and effectiveness of various policies.

The road map and the allocation of the United Nations Statistic Division funds need to be made public. Not only should these goals be promoted on a national level but outreach programmes can help promote them in schools, workplaces and local communities. “Instead everyone, including government departments, is working in silos,” Ms Sherry concluded.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 27th, 2021

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