|Savvy Sindh govt to woo votes with development-heavy budget|
04 June 2012
In what is expected to be a blitz of populist spending ahead of the next elections, the Sindh government is set to announce a Rs556 billion budget for fiscal year 2013, more than a third of which is expected to be development spending targeted towards electorally significant constituencies.
While details of the budget are emerging, sources in the Sindh planning department say that the government plans to increase the provincial development budget by about 35% to Rs150 billion. Another Rs35 billion will be spent on foreign-funded development projects and Rs20 billion on federally funded projects.
But perhaps the most blatant electioneering spending comes in the form of “special packages” for various cities in the project. Planning department sources say the Sindh government will spend Rs10 billion on those, with Rs4.4 billion going to Karachi alone. And even within Karachi, the provincial government will specifically allocate money to constituencies important to the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, including Rs800 million to Lyari, Rs500 million for Malir.
The allocations for other districts in the province also appear to be aligned more with their importance to the PPP rather than their relative size. Larkana, the PPP’s heartland, will get Rs2 billion. President Asif Ali Zardari’s hometown, Benazirabad (formerly known as Nawabshah), gets another Rs2 billion. By contrast, Hyderabad, a district nearly as large as Larkana and twice the size of Nawabshah, gets only Rs1 billion.
It is not yet clear what projects will be financed by this money. The Sindh government has an exceptionally poor track record of actually spending the money it allocates for development schemes. Sources said that even though the finance department has released about Rs90 billion from this year’s development budget, only about half has been spent so far, with little over a month left to the end of the fiscal year.
Kaiser Bengali, a former adviser to the Sindh chief minister, criticised the provincial government’s inability to spend its development allocations. “The amounts that are not utilised end up lapsing,” he said.
An astounding Rs5 billion will be allocated towards a fund that Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah will be able to utilise at his discretion. While such funds are common and have existed for decades, they acquire a special potency during an election year, with incumbents able to lavish their supporters with government-funded projects.
The government also plans to recruit close to 20,000 people into its own workforce, mainly in the police and the education departments.
In addition, the Sindh government is also initiating what will be highly visible development projects in several key constituencies. For instance, it will be setting up the Jinnah University in Hyderabad, and two campuses of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto International University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, one in Sakrand and one in Larkana. A nursing college, to be affiliated with Aga Khan University will also be set up in Larkana.
And in what appears to be an idea borrowed from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s playbook, the Sindh government plans to set up an emergency rescue service in every district of the province. Rehabilitation department sources said that Rs500 million had been requested for “Rescue 1122”, as the service will be known. A similar service is operating in Punjab and considered extremely popular.
Yet even as it gets ready to announce its spending plans, some are criticising the Sindh government for what it is not spending money on. Haleem Adil Shaikh, an adviser to the chief minister on relief, said that the Sindh government has grossly underfunded the rehabilitation department, allocating only Rs200 million for it, despite a high likelihood of another flood in Sindh this year.
“In every flood since 2001, the government has spent an average of Rs28 billion on relief and rehabilitation,” said Shaikh. “We asked for an adequate amount to be allocated this year, but in vain.”
Rehabilitation Minister Haji Muzaffar Shujjra, however, disputed the meteorological reports. “There is no system which can predict the weather even one month in advance. All reports relating to rains and flood are incorrect. [But in case something happens], the chief minister has discretionary funds and he can utilise those on the relief,” he said.
The government’s coalition allies, meanwhile, seem unhappy with the current level of populist spending and want even more. “We want the government to curtail non-development expenditure and increase development spending,” said Nusrat Seher, a member of the Sindh Assembly belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League Functional.
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