Last month, Balochistan’s government approved its historically highest budget amid the pandemic. The budget got attention for a whooping deficit of Rs87 billion but the development budget under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) has largely escaped scrutiny. This year, the total value of PSDP is Rs106 billion and its allocations are a pack of misplaced priorities for the province.
Traditionally, the social sector is always ignored in the development budget of Balochistan. This year was no different when the social sectors such as health, education, culture, social welfare, and women development only got 16.57 percent of the development budget. In contrast, the communication and works department – which is entrusted with the construction of buildings and roads – got an allocation of almost 32 percent. This PSDP includes a project for the establishment of Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Authority but only a meagre allocation of Rs50 million was made for it even after the pandemic driven recession.
Within the social sector, the allocations for the education sector reveal the misplaced priorities of the Balochistan government. Education only got a share of 8.5 percent in the PSDP despite the deterioration of educational standards in the province. According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) Survey 2018-19, the literacy rate in Balochistan has fallen to 40 percent from 43 percent in 2013-14. The female literacy rate in Balochistan has fallen from 25 percent to 24 percent during the same period. At the same time, the literacy rate of all other provinces increased. This proves that the so-called educational emergency of Balochistan failed in achieving its results. Despite the plight of the education sector in the province, it got a much lower share then what was required for it in the PSDP.
This year once again saw the largest allocation for construction activities
Moreover, the 8.5 percent share of the education development budget will be mainly spent on ‘Cadet and Residential Colleges.’ Although these colleges have relatively better educational standards, they can only cater to a few thousand students out of millions. Clearly, the government needs to improve general schools which cater to the masses across the province. In the education budget, a significant chunk has been allocated for construction of new schools which is again a questionable move because almost 20 percent of the existing schools are not properly functional. The government should have focused on the improvement of the existing schools.
Furthermore, this year once again saw the largest allocation for construction activities, which is also known as Bricks and Mortars development. Communication and Works (C&W) department has received an allocation equal to one-third of total PSDP. This year’s PSDP includes the construction of several new rest houses or renovation of the existing ones. In fact, Rs90 million have been allocated for building a CM Annexe in Gwadar. Needless to say that the poverty-stricken province of Balochistan cannot afford such luxurious spending in buildings but the government does not seem to agree.
Construction activities are not limited to the C&W sector; the allocations for the sports department are also an interesting case. Sports got 5.03 percent of the total share of PSDP. This includes Rs3.3 billion allocated for the construction of sports complexes in all districts of the province. Although spending on sports is an investment in the youth but large allocations on sports complexes hint towards something else. Sports mostly require playgrounds and that mainly require levelling of grounds so the need for building sports complexes in every district is puzzling.
The large allocations for C&W and sports and many other related sectors beg the question that why does the government prefer construction over the social sector and human capital development? The answer lies in one of the major problems destroying the governance structure of the province like termites, i.e. corruption. It is an open secret that construction projects are easiest for earning kickbacks for all major stakeholders, including politicians and bureaucrats. Not only kickbacks are easier to get in construction but apparently the percentage is also relatively high. Hence, every year construction takes precedence over the social sector so that the power brokers can allegedly fill their pockets.
Another important factor to analyse is the geographical distribution of development funds among the 33 districts of Balochistan. A district-wise analysis of PSDP reveals that funds have been allocated to districts without any rational approach. Quetta, the capital of the province, alone has got 19 percent of share in the district projects. This excludes the provincial projects which are spread over more than one district. Likewise, five major districts of Balochistan namely; Quetta, Kech, Khuzdar, Las Bela, and Qilla Abdullah have got 35 percent allocation of district-based projects.
Moreover, the coalition government led by Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) has allocated 39 percent of projects to constituencies of government Members of the Provincial Assembly (MPAs) and only 13 percent to constituencies of opposition MPAs. This is the application of Might is Right approach where the people who voted for opposition MPAs are made to suffer by the ruling government. This sort of discriminatory development spending approach is not only against the essence of democracy but it will further create inequality and polarization in society.
Lastly, another area that needs to be analysed is the traditional economic sector of Balochistan. Agriculture, Fisheries, Livestock, Mining, and Forestry are the backbone of the traditional economy of the province. All these sectors in total have received an allocation of 6.37 percent in PSDP. In the aftermath of the pandemic, these sectors can play a crucial role in the economic recovery of Balochistan. Still, the provincial government has ignored them because they want to spend in the lucrative sectors of construction.
Clearly, this year’s PSDP is full of allocations based on misplaced priorities. Since PSDP is the largest economic injection in the economy of Balochistan, its flawed design ultimately affects people of the entire province. Despite several claims by the government to rationalise the development spending, they have failed to make a fair PSDP. Consequently, this PSDP like most of the ones in the past will mainly benefit the ruling elite while leaving the masses to fend for themselves.
The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on Twitter: @iAdnanAamir