Balochistan Budget: A series of bad political choices

Published June 27, 2022
Balochistan Assembly approves fiscal budget for 2022-2023. — APP
Balochistan Assembly approves fiscal budget for 2022-2023. — APP

Balochistan’s next fiscal year’s budget evidently reflects the lack of capability of its political leadership to find consensus and make the right decisions for the citizens of the province. No wonder, the public’s trust in the leadership is consistently faltering owing to years of poor governance, lack of development, financial mismanagement and corruption.

It, therefore, is no surprise to see violent militants and separatist groups taking over the space being conceded by the opportunistic politicians or a significantly large drop in the voters’ turnout at the polling booths during the elections. What interest a lawmaker elected with a few hundred votes could have in the uplift of his constituents or the province at large?

And what interest a political party would have in financial discipline and public welfare when its rise and fall in power depends on the whims of the country’s powerful military establishment?

Thus, it was hardly surprising for most to see the eight-month-old Mir Abdul Qadoos Bizenjo government twice postpone its first budget to meet the demands of and ‘reward’ the lawmakers from his own Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and the opposition parties, who had helped him topple his predecessor and avert a no-confidence motion, through massively inflated development allocations.

What interest a lawmaker elected with a few hundred votes could have in the uplift of his constituents or the province at large?

It is no wonder that the budget speech by finance minister Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran drew ‘appreciation’ from both treasury and opposition benches.

Experience shows that much of the available funds for the development projects would end up in the pockets of the politicians and bureaucrats, leaving behind a trail of incomplete and on-paper schemes.

Initially, it appears, that a smaller development budget was proposed but when political pressure was brought upon Mr Bizenjo, he retreated and agreed to increase the allocation despite a massive resource gap of over Rs72 billion to please the legislators and keep their support.

The chief minister, who got himself elected as president of the BAP a few days ago at a party meeting that his opponents have termed as illegal, had called upon the federal government to increase resources for the province. For what? To bribe lawmakers into supporting him?

Coming back to the budget details, the proposed development allocations are almost a third of the total budget outlay of nearly Rs613bn and over 35 per cent of the estimated resources above Rs539bn. The mismatch between anticipated income and proposed development and non-development expenditure means it carries a hefty deficit of Rs72.8bn or almost 12pc of the total budget outlay.

Additional development funding of Rs39.6bn and foreign project assistance of Rs14bn will raise the development budget size to more than Rs265bn. In the budget for the outgoing fiscal year, the provincial government had indicated a gap of Rs84.7bn in its estimated resources and expenditure, which is projected to curtail the originally allocated provincial contribution to the development plan from Rs172.5bn to Rs91.8bn by the close of the year on June 30.

Thus, it is safe to assume that with the failure to rake in enough resources to fill the projected deficit, the province is likely to end up cutting its development stimulus by a huge margin next year as well.

The Bizenjo government contends that the budget focuses on the development of the entire province. That is basically a repetition of similar claims made by previous governments every year. Yet the fact that a large majority of its population still does not have access to basic public services and its impoverishing communities battered by decades of underinvestment, corruption, misgovernance, financial mismanagement and adverse impacts of climate change tells a different story.

The growing development throw-forward in the province that constitutes 45pc of the country’s total landmass indicates how the scanty financial resources available for the uplift of the province have either been squandered or stolen by politicians, bureaucrats and contractors.

A large number of schemes are left incomplete midway or are duplicated multiple times to swindle the taxpayers with governments held hostage by their members looking the other way. Thus, the rising political discontent and lawlessness in the province are not surprising.

The process involving the selection of schemes and allocation of funds for them remain opaque — dependent more on the political choices of the rulers rather than based on the needs of the people.

That the lawmakers were wrangling over development funds on a day when the rains killed several people in parts of the province, swept away roads, and damaged bridges and other infrastructure speaks volumes about the lack of empathy they have for the people the politicians have failed again and again.

Balochistan deserves a better deal from its ruling classes and it requires its politicians, and others remote-controlling them, to put the interest of the people before their own needs.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 27th, 2022

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