As befits it the new government is busy, or at least doing things that make it look so because there are few outcomes to measure it by as yet. A lot of that busy-ness is the housekeeping attached to either ensuring the continuation (rarely) of what their predecessors did or (more frequently) bringing things to a screeching halt. The latest application of the brakes relates to the development budget and it is proposed that it be reduced from Rs1,030 billion to Rs775 billion in the 2018-19 budget. This represents roughly a 25% saving for the government and at a passing glance looks like an appropriate move. The Planning Commission had already slowed the rate of disbursement in the first 65 days of the current financial year, releasing Rs35bn for development projects, which is 75% lower than the Rs135 billion released at the same time last year when the PML-N was still in power.
Virtually all of the non-development projects tabled by the previous government are going to be cut in whole or part and replaced with projects that are the apple of the eye of the new incumbents.In large part this is standard practice when governments change, it is not only found in Pakistan. Care must be taken however not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The PML-N had allocated Rs10 billion for a youth initiative that included the ‘laptop scheme’ which by every account has proved hugely successful, especially among poorer university students. As with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) some good ideas need to survive government to government. The BISP has done that and made a significant impact on the lives of some of the poorest of the poor. Preserving the laptop scheme will cost peanuts. Think carefully before pressing ‘enter’.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2018.