The incoming Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government in Punjab will face multiple issues that have long been left unaddressed. The more important amongst these issues are a growing number of jobless graduates, falling crop yields, worsening business climate, deteriorating public service delivery, widening regional disparity and so on.
On top of that, the PTI government will be short on time because of the voters’ expectations. Besides, it will be working under the shadow of Shahbaz Sharif. “You may disagree with Shahbaz’s infatuation with large infrastructure schemes, but he has certainly created a big constituency in the province for that kind of development. The next government will not only have to deliver that kind of infrastructure development, but also work hard to drastically improve governance to offer an alternative to the voters,” argued an economist who did not want to give his name for personal reasons.
Some insist that the key to tackling challenges facing the incoming government lies in the implementation of wide-ranging governance, civil service and local government reforms, development of its long-term social and economic goals and strategy and the linkage of its targets with provincial budgets.
The provincial government must undertake large-scale civil service reforms to prepare and motivate the bureaucracy
“The immediate task for the new government should be to simultaneously draw up a strategy for restructuring development planning processes and reforming the public finance management system to plug leakages of taxpayers’ money and create a larger pool of financial resource for accelerating growth and improving public service delivery,” asserted a person who has worked in the Shahbaz Sharif government as well as international organisations on condition of anonymity.
“There has been a significant increase in public investment in Punjab over the last several years. But the money in the past was spent in a haphazard manner. We don’t know where the province is headed off to because of a lack of strategic planning and a whimsical decision-making process. There has also been a big disconnect between the government’s development spending priorities and the provincial budgets because small to large schemes are approved on personal whims (of the former chief minister) that has encouraged ad hoc-ism in planning and public finance management over time.”
He is of the view that the province has enough resources to deliver development and improve service delivery, thanks to the increased provincial share in federal taxes under the last National Finance Commission award. “The challenge now is to stop the wastage of public money.”
The new government can significantly increase the size of resources available for public service delivery by reducing wastage of public funds through strategic planning and public finance management reforms as
well as reforming the provincial tax regime and administration, he said. The provincial budgets should be reflective of the government’s overall social and economic growth targets and strategy rather than an individual’s aspirations.
According to him, the new government will also have to undertake large-scale civil service reforms to prepare and motivate the bureaucracy demoralised by recent events for delivering its targets as well as devolve powers to local governments.
“The province has enough resources to deliver development, thanks to the increased provincial share under the last NFC award. The challenge now is to stop the wastage of public money”
While the public planning processes and finance management systems are in immediate need of improvement for an efficient use of the taxpayers’ money, Lahore University of Management Science-based economist Usman Khan asserts that it is also crucial to improve the worsening business environment in the province to increase participation of the private sector in creating jobs.
“The number of idle youth in the age group of 15-24 is growing in Punjab with the total number rising to 11.5 million, including 8m females, in 2015. Moreover, the unemployment rate amongst graduates has gone up to almost 21.5 per cent. Now that is an alarming situation because the government cannot provide jobs to everyone and you need to facilitate private investment to grow the economy and create jobs.
“The incoming government will have to facilitate the private sector in creating 1.3-1.4m jobs to absorb new jobseekers entering the provincial market every year. To this end, it will have to improve business environment by easing regulatory and tax regimes and helping reduce the cost of doing business.”
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 20th, 2018