Painting a rosy picture: Education budget upholds govt’s priority illusions

Published: June 14, 2014
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"Education has and always will remain the top priority of the Pakistan Peoples Party government," said Shah. PHOTO: FILE

"Education has and always will remain the top priority of the Pakistan Peoples Party government," said Shah. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: 

By offering the lion’s share to education in its annual budget this year yet again, the provincial government carries on with the financial sleight of hand that keeps the perception of government’s ‘top priorities’ afloat.

In order to understand the reality, one needs to look beyond the rosy picture that the Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah attempted to paint in his budget speech on Friday when he proudly announced Rs134.3 billion for ‘non-development expenditure’ on education in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

“Education has and always will remain the top priority of the Pakistan Peoples Party government,” said Shah. “We are fully committed to provide quality education to our children. This is evident from the fact that education receives the highest share of resources from our government.”

Enough to convince a layman and draw accolades for the government’s ‘commitment’, the education department gets a massive 31% of the government’s total non-development expenditure in the new fiscal year, as claimed by the CM in his speech. However, official documents reveal the figure to be 25.9%.

Subsequently, around 75% of this ‘highest share of resources’ – Rs134.3 billion – will be spent on salaries of the teaching and non-teaching staff, while the remaining 25% will be consumed by day-to-day operational expenses.

The budget is, however, not only made up of non-development or recurring expenditure. A more significant part, especially in circumstances when a specific sector requires a complete overhaul, is the development expenditure.

“Though we have reduced the size of our annual development programme, we have still kept a huge allocation of Rs10.7 billion for the education sector,” said Shah.To comprehend this ‘huge allocation’ in a simplified manner, for every Rs100 that the government spends on education, around Rs92 will be spent on teachers’ salaries and other operational expenses, leaving a meagre Rs8 for the improvement of the current state of affairs.

With this paltry sum earmarked for development, it is counterintuitive to suppose that the government will bring about any revolution in the education sector, especially when we take into account the persistent problem of utilising the entire recurring budget, while under-utilising the development budget each year. The ‘massive’ allocation for education in the current budget, like the previous years, will only be spent to maintain the status quo that the Sindh Chief Minister himself has accepted as what it actually is; a sorry state of affairs.

The above figures represent the amount allocated as special package schemes for various districts under the local government department.

“These budgets are a proof that all parties and all leaders in Pakistan find the cheap route of symbolic budgets than a real change,” lamented Mosharraf Zaidi, the Alif Ailaan campaign director, justifiably. “Increasing the salaries of teachers, who are already relatively well compensated, whilst cutting money for new schools makes sense only in an absurd context.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2014.

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