November 26, 2018
On November 14, Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry made an incorrect statement about Balochistan on the floor of the Senate. While criticising the alleged corruption of the opposition, he claimed that the federal government had transferred Rs42 trillion to Balochistan in the last 10 years. This was a misstatement of mythical proportions because Rs42 trillion is even more than Pakistan’s current GDP.
After being heavily criticised on social media for the misstatement, the minister backtracked from his claim and conceded that Balochistan had received Rs1500 billion in the last 10 years – not Rs42 trillion.
While we analyse this event, we need to first see how anyone can just distort the facts on the floor of parliament for political mileage. The Senate is the upper house of parliament and a very important forum in the federal structure of Pakistan. This house is supposed to be a centre of debate to resolve the problems of people and not a place where anyone can make false claims on record without any repercussions. This is not a positive trend for the sanctity of parliament. Such statements should be withdrawn officially from the record of the Senate with an apology.
The minister’s statement also gave the impression that the federal government had done a huge favour to Balochistan by providing it with huge chunks of money over the years. This misconception also needs to be corrected. Federal transfers made to the provinces are not grants or aids but the share of revenue which the federal government has collected on behalf of the provinces. So, essentially, the federal government is returning back to Balochistan what it has received from the residents of the province in the form of different taxes and fees.
Moreover, notwithstanding the false statement, it is a fact that federal transfers have not been used adequately to benefit the people of Balochistan. Balochistan’s politicians must be held accountable for this injustice to their people.
In the last 10 years, Balochistan has received Rs1.473 trillion from the federal government. Balochistan’s share increased from 5.11 percent to 9.09 percent after the 7th NFC award. However, during the last 10 years, there has been an insignificant trickledown effect of the huge amount of money utilised by successive governments in Balochistan.
The plight of the people of the province can be gauged by looking at different reports about poverty and socio-economic development. The ‘Report on Multidimensional Poverty 2016’, prepared by the UNDP and the Federal Ministry of Planning and Development reveals that 71 percent of people live below the poverty line in Balochistan, which is more than all other provinces. The World Bank report ‘When Water Becomes a Hazard 2018’ states that Balochistan has the highest rural poverty in all Pakistan. Balochistan also has staggering unemployment but it’s not possible to quantify it in the absence of credible research reports.
So, why has poverty in Balochistan increased in the last 10 years despite government spending around Rs1.472 trillion? In one way, this does show that successive governments in Balochistan did not properly spend their resources, and that there was possible embezzlement and corruption as well. The recovery of Rs630 million from the house of a bureaucrat in Quetta is just one example of the way Balochistan’s resources have been misused by the ruling elite in the last decade.
Moreover, there are a lot of examples of sheer fiscal mismanagement in Balochistan which have exacerbated the province’s economic woes. For instance, the outgoing government of Balochistan presented a budget in May 2018 with a development budget of Rs88 billion and a deficit of Rs61 Billion.
This means that the government formulated the largest development budget in the history of the province on a whim, without even considering the available resources to fund the budget. They just pushed the burden of dealing with a deficit on to the next government. This is extreme fiscal irresponsibility and should have resulted in the accountability of the last government, but that’s not how politics works in Balochistan.
Moreover, who is responsible for the way things have shaped up in the province? There is a political elite that has been in power in the last 10 years and powerful forces who call the shots from the background.
In the last 10 years, Balochistan has been ruled by the PPP, PML-N, National Party and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). The provincial leadership of all these parties is responsible for the misuse of financial resources. They can’t be absolved from their responsibilities by shifting all the blame on to the federal government.
Furthermore, not a single chief minister has completed his term during the last 10 years due to strings that are pulled from behind the shadows. They are equally responsible for the present terrible state of affairs in Balochistan
Lastly, people in Balochistan need to realise that, while the federal government is responsible for a lot of problems in their province, provincial leaders often scapegoat the federal government to cover up their own failures. The people of this restive province have to also start holding their own representatives accountable. This approach is far better than just pointing at the federal government.
The writer is a freelance columnist.