Perception versus reality

Published November 8, 2021

WHEN it comes to government officials in Sindh, it is understandable that they find the impression of governance deficit in the province rather misplaced, and insist that a quiet transformation in the province is underway. What might surprise some is the fact that even independent watchers from the interior of Sindh concede that the situation is actually better than the general perception.

However, not everyone is convinced. There is no dearth of those who lament the over-confidence of the ruling party which, according to them, is under-estimating the impact of the widening network of seminaries across the province.

“I was shocked to discover that a big gated compound in the heart of small and sleepy Thar town of Mithi houses a seminary complete with boarding and lodging facilities for students. This is in addition to another similar big institution within 100km in the adjacent Umerkot district which has often made it to news bulletins,” a former secretary of the Sindh government said while discussing the evolving trend.

“It will not be surprising if the PPP concede some seats to religious parties in rural Sindh in the next general elections,” he said.

Some senior members of the provincial hierarchy argue that Sindh can do better if the administration is allowed space without the fear of humiliation by the federal scrutiny agencies, like the National Accountability Bureau and Federal Investigation Authority, and what they call “a hostile judiciary”.

Things may not be as bad as they seem to be from a distance — Sindh is not an exception on this count

“No one can deliver in an environment of terror. How is it fair to cast aspersion on the character of honest officers? Not sure if corruption is contained, but judicial activism has compromised the will to work,” a woman officer who had to appear repeatedly in front of judicial forums, noted. “Even when cases are quashed and objections are dropped, the insults are hard to forget. A paralysed administration is a natural outcome. I don’t see any improvement in the quality of governance in the province in this environment,” insisted a senior officer who opted out of the mainstream.

Reacting to the negative portrayal of Sindh, another officer pointed finger at the federal government’s failings in the province, and mentioned projects such as Right Bank Outfall Drainage (RBOD) and Green Line, among others, in this regard. He listed several reputed provincial government institutions, like the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) and IBA Sukkur, for which “credit is given to everyone except the Sindh government”.

Discussing reasons behind the PPP vote bank despite perceived underperformance, an independent analyst blamed the absence of a viable political alternative in the province. “With all their failings, historically speaking, PPP governments have done more than anyone else for the Sindhis.

“The toxic memories of phases when the PPP was out of power keep its vote bank intact,” said a keen observer while recalling horror stories, such as Thori Gate and Tando Bahawal incidents of the 1980s and 1990s and the divisive politics of 2000s.

Talking about “a quiet transformation” being underway, he said the focus of the ruling PPP was on community-driven activities to make development inclusive.

Having said that, one wonders what is keeping the development pace slow in Sindh. The provincial Planning Department responded to Dawn queries in this regard.

To substantiate the position, the department provided Dawn with a summary of measures that, officials insist, translate the ruling party’s vision and priorities. Here below is a glimpse:

“To promote community-driven economic activities, focussing on supporting home-based businesses, small and medium enterprises, a social protection and economic sustainability package worth Rs30.9 billion is earmarked for the current 2021-22.” Elaborating, the department shared the following details:- Rs10bn are earmarked for cash transfers to Covid victims under the Sindh People’s Support Programme through the Social Protection Strategic Unit of the Social Welfare Department.

• Rs3bn is allocated for a soft loan programme for small and medium enterprises, with the lone size ranging from Rs0.5 million to Rs2m.

• Rs3bn is set aside under the Poverty Alleviation Programme for small farmers/community-based loans in rural areas. The loan size is Rs25,000 and poverty reduction scorecards are being used in collaboration with reputable not-for-profit entities, such as Sindh Rural Support Organisation, National Rural Support Programme, Thar Deep, etc.

• Rs2bn for a Small Business Support Fund in urban areas through Social Protection Strategist Unit, Social Welfare department. The loan size will be a maximum of Rs0.20m.

• Rs1bn subsidy each for purchase of quality rice seeds, fertiliser, pesticides to the farmers holding 25 acres or less land.

• Rs500m is earmarked for livestock breeding. Rs500m for financing livestock and fisheries enterprise development.

• Rs500m for Benazir women agriculture workers programme.

• Rs700m is kept to support information technology interventions and innovations.

“The government initiated poverty reduction programme in two districts and has expanded to 12 districts to reach one million women households. The success of Peoples’ Poverty Reduction Programme nudged the European Union to join the provincial government’s initiative through the Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening (SUCCESS) program in eight additional districts. Under next-generation reforms, a poverty reduction strategy has been developed that focuses on community-driven local development (CDLD), rural and urban services hub through cluster approach and enterprise development. A pilot programme is being implemented in Sujawal district.”

The department said a team was working to remove systematic barriers and improve the regulatory environment for business through regulatory modernisation initiatives and ease-of-doing-business reforms. It dropped the names of Dhabeji Special Economic Zone where an initial private investment of Rs18-20bn is expected and the Marble City Project spread over 300 acres, costing Rs6bn. The government has also initiated several public-private-partnership projects, like the Malir Expressway, M9-N5 Link Road, Mauripur Expressway and the ICI Interchange.

“The government is also working on ‘Small and medium enterprises competitiveness strategy’ as an actionable roadmap to improve the overall entrepreneurial ecosystem. The ruling party has always strived for ‘inclusive’ and ‘equitable’ economic growth”.

Responding to a query related to the inflow and outflow related to the provincial kitty, the department said: “The inflows in the first quarter were low. However, in terms of outflows, the government performance has improved as against Rs51.8bn in the first quarter of last fiscal year, Rs89.2bn has been released, and that is 27 per cent higher”. According to the planning department, a total of Rs89.2bn have so far been disbursed of the total Rs329bn; about 27pc of the total allocation. Of Rs99.7bn for the infrastructure sector, Rs31.3bn (31pc) have been released. Of Rs108.5bn for the social sector, Rs26.8bn (25pc) have so far been released. The spending in the infrastructure sector is Rs19.8bn and Rs9.3bn in the social sector.

Over the widening inter-provincial development gap, the department said: “Sindh has made investments in the human development. On health, Sindh’s stance is reflected in the annual development programme of the health sector for which Rs18.5bn have been earmarked for the calendar year. This is an increase of 30pc in total allocation for the health sector, including medical education. Moreover, Rs7.6bn have been allocated in the current financial year with an overall increase of 10pc for nine vertical programmes to combat/control diseases. Out of Rs329bn development budget, Rs94.3bn has so far been disbursed.

As the parting shot, the government dispelled the impression of the duplicity of power centres in the province. “The chief minister is the chief executive of the province and all powers in the province flow from that very office.”

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 8th, 2021



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