In the 2010-1011 budget there are some social sector projects and priorities that I think we should be keeping under close watch, for the simple reason that they have the potential to make or break the economy.
In the population control sector (our population is growing at an officially-claimed rate of 2.05 per cent every year) we need to regularise lady health workers and ensure that they continue to reach birth control and immunisation targets. Parliamentarians should periodically be invited to support such awareness programmes in their own constituencies and should be held responsible for supporting such initiatives. Health and population ministries should merge and in any case be devolved to the provincial level, reducing the expenditure of two federal ministries as mandated by the 18th amendment. The prime minister’s budget of Rs500 million for upgrading the Basic Health Unit needs to be redesigned and used scientifically, rather than politically.
The remaining Rs15 billion budget needs to be allocated to the Higher Education Commission so that 9,000 student stipends, tuition fees, research expenses do not stall, and Pakistan does not suffer any education damage.
In the primary education sector whilst we have made free education a fundamental right we need to rationalise the subject of ghost schools once and for all. And then a quick conversion through the National Commission for Human Development’s programme of these so-called schools into real ones is required. Parliamentarians need to be held responsible for the ghost schools in their constituencies so that political pressure sorts out political errors. The free books scheme at the primary level needs to be standardised throughout the provincial and federal budgets, including a stipend per child to encourage reduction in secondary school dropout rates.
The special initiatives ministry should rationalise the cost of setting up of filtration plants equally across all districts of Pakistan. The allocation for this project needs to be increased and given top priority. If the government cuts the gifts and entertainment allowances of the entire federal government, it will release funds for about 115 filtration plants.
Also, food security has not received the kind of budgetary attention it requires. Free food drives (langars) which provide one square meal to the poorest of the society need to be started on urgent basis. This would save suicides in the short run. Subsidy on wheat targeted towards the needy should also be started immediately.
All the above rests on certain bare minimum logistics. An ownership and monitoring of each project in the relevant National Assembly’s standing committees is mandatory and an immediate national census exercise which can direct targeted development, food and water security. It’s a start but it needs to be done, irrespective of opposition and government lines of division.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 16th, 2010.
More in BusinessA public broadcaster