For a country facing the kind of development challenges Pakistan does, it is a matter of grave concern to see how every year, development budgets for the provinces remain greatly under-utilised. No province can claim to utilise their development budgets in their entirety, including Punjab where, according to a recent report, only 48.1 per cent of funds were utilised in a period of nine months. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), while most departments are said to have used around 50 per cent of development funds, others such as mining and housing have only managed to use eight per cent so far. Meanwhile in a recent debate in the Sindh Assembly, the finance minister stated that the province had only spent 43 per cent of its development budget so far, claiming that the centre has yet to release the rest.
In this tussle between the centre and the provinces, and the high levels of incompetence and unnecessary red tapism, the sufferers are the citizens, particularly residents of the much-ignored smaller towns and villages. The story of under-utilised development budgets is a story of great mismanagement and corruption. After the passage of the 18th Amendment, while the provinces got the autonomy to spend their budgets in areas they deemed the most important, they did not necessarily have the capacity or competence to know how best to utilise their development budgets. Fast-forward to 2016 and there seems to have been little improvement made in building up this capacity. It is a shame that funds for the most essential of areas like health and education aren’t spent the way they should be, while money is constantly injected into big-ticket projects like the Metro Bus in Punjab. The provinces need to work towards setting in place a stricter mechanism that ensures that development budgets are distributed fairly and with clearly defined timelines of projects. There needs to be an accountability mechanism to ensure that budgets meant for vital areas, like housing, health and education, are spent in a judicious manner.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2016.
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