As a looming water crisis faces the whole country due to the lack of access to clean drinking water, the government is slashing budget for water and social services to make room for the “Prime Minister’s Youth Package”, states a recent World Bank report.
Minister of Federal Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, had previously warned about the looming water crisis but still couldn’t get the required funds for the water development sector.
A Look at Some Numbers
Youth Laptop schemes and infrastructure projects (e.g. Metro Bus, Orange Line) have been adjusted into this fiscal year’s Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).
PSDP is allocated for the development of public services to improve the living standards of the general population.
According to the report, federal public sector development budget is Rs 700 billion for the fiscal year 2015-16. Out of the listed budget, a whopping Rs 386 billion (55%) have been allocated to infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and similar construction projects. PM Youth Scheme (Laptop scheme) has been allocated the second highest amount with Rs 120 billion (17%).
In comparison, budget for water has been reduced by close to 50 percent, comprising a mere 4.3 percent (Rs 30.4 billion). Social sector budget was already a scanty 10 percent during the previous year, which has now been cut to just 6.2 percent (Rs 43.6 billion).
Higher Education, which should have been the highest priority for any government, has seen its funds reduced yet again. The Higher Education sector was already getting a small share from the federal budget but now it has been slashed to a mere 2.9 percent, down from 3.8 percent. The declining Railways sector has seen a cut in its budget to 5.9 percent (Rs 41 billion) from 7.5 percent.
During the two phases so far, Prime Minister’s laptop schemes have used up over Rs 44 billion since the year 2013. The Punjab Chief Minister’s laptop schemes have also been funded by billions of rupees over the past few years.
Similarly, Rawalpindi’s Metro Bus Project saw Rs 1 billion transferred from the District Fund resulting in the abandonment of a Holy Family hospital in Rawat, a Burn Unit in Rawat, Park at Rawal Road and water supply schemes for Rawalpindi, Gujar Khan and Murree.
A Worrisome Trend
Infrastructure and PM laptop schemes now comprise almost three-fourths of the whole PSDP budget. World Bank’s report states that infrastructure development and youth schemes have been priorities over basic necessities.
Sources from the Planning Ministry claim that projects from the previous government’s tenure have been quietly wound up. Not only has the diversion in budget priorities left little for other sectors, currently active projects have also slowed down or shut down due to lack of funds.
World Bank also criticises use of vertical health programmes. Vertical programmes are special projects funded temporarily until the programme has completed its objective. Currently, the Federal government is funding 16 vertical programmes including 9 health schemes. Instead of improving the health sector as a whole, the government is focused on vertical programmes outside of the current system.
Finally, the World Bank report ends with criticising the violation of the 18th Amendment vis-a-vis the 7th NFC Award. The Federal Government, in direct contravention of the Constitution, retained control of major vertical programmes from the provincial government.
It’s disappointing to say the least that the government chose to quietly cut down on basic necessities just to power infrastructure and laptop schemes. In the long run, this could hurt the progress of the country and its population.