Cringe-worthy” is not a word often used to describe provincial budgets but that is the only one that will do justice to the sixth consecutive money bill presented by the Pakistan Peoples Party-led administration in the Sindh Assembly.
The honours were delivered by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah himself, who made no attempt to hide the fact that his ideas about public policy are of a highly anachronistic nature: patriarchal, and apparently in no mood to make amends for the horrendous record of the past five years. Nor does Shah appear to be in any mood to help his party compete with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or even the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, both of which appear to have made the political game in Pakistan about governance with their respective budget announcements in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
No, Shah and the Sindh PPP would like to continue as though nothing has changed, as though their party did not just suffer a resounding defeat in the national elections. Why should they, after all? They were voted back in, as the chief minister repeatedly reminded his audience, which consisted almost entirely of his own party members, since the opposition decided to stage a walk-out.
The most striking feature about the Sindh budget is that it offers absolutely no plan for economic growth in Sindh and does not even really pretend to try either. For instance, in an absurdly short section of his speech titled “job creation”, the chief minister talked about how his provincial government had hired 200,000 people in the past five years and planned to hire another 150,000 over the next five years. He then announced that the police would be hiring 20,000 new officers.
Yes, you read that correctly: the chief minister of the province that holds Pakistan’s economic and financial capital thinks that job creation can only happen by adding more public sector employees, apparently completely oblivious to the potential of Sindh’s private sector entrepreneurs to create jobs. And oddly enough, nowhere in the budget documents is there an allocation for an increase in the number of police officers.
And the patriarchal attitude of the PPP-led administration appears to not have changed in the slightest. The Sindh government has allocated absolutely nothing for local governments, taking on the responsibility to do everything itself. Yet, even in that, the Sindh budget has the highest proportion of its total development spending to be controlled directly by the chief minister, other cabinet members and members of the Sindh Assembly, though this proportion has gone down from last year’s absurdly high share of 50% of the development budget. This year, the populist spending pocket money of legislators will only be 40% of the development budget.
The chief minister pointed out several times that this development budget of Rs185 billion was almost double the total development spending during the outgoing fiscal year 2013. Yet he neglected to mention that this was because the provincial government was not able to spend nearly half the Rs181 billion it allocated last year. Compared to last year’s allocated amount, the development budget has only increased by less that 2%.
The Sindh government is notorious for not being able to fulfil its spending allocations in its budget, and yet somehow still manages to run a budget deficit. And it is also the single largest defaulter of electricity bills in the entire country, a fact that it appears to have no intention of rectifying this year, judging by the fact that there is no allocation for arrears on its energy bills.
In short, the people of Sindh will be treated to five more years of the same populist PPP claptrap. How the party plans to compete against its more economic growth-oriented rivals, the PML-N and PTI, is an open question. But maybe it will not need to again.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2013