KARACHI: In a post-budget dialogue on 'Sindh Budget 2015-16 Fiscal Allocation - Who Gets What' conducted on Wednesday, speakers discussed the education, health and social protection allocations.
A principal economist at the Social Policy and Development Centre, Muhammad Sabir, pointed out that education was kept as a top priority in last year's budget at 28 per cent followed by general services at 30 per cent, while 30 per cent was kept for public order.
"The development budget for primary education was nil last year, while this year it has been raised by 2.9 per cent, which has actually been transferred from the allocation for secondary education," he said, adding that 90 per cent of the education budget goes towards salaries.
Dr Riaz A Shaikh of Szabist said that since article 25A was introduced by the Pakistan Peoples Party in the constitution, Sindh should have been a role model in education by now. According to Sheikh, even when primary enrolment reflects 39 per cent in private institutions and 61 per cent in public institutions, the preference for higher education largely remains in public-sector institutes. "The admissions in higher education institutes also favour those hailing from private primary institutes. Thus, for the poor, discrimination awaits at all levels of education," he stressed. He added that since the government is aware of the presence of ghost schools in the region, the justification of forming new infrastructure is not understandable.
Social scientist and chairperson of the Saibaan development organisation, Tasneem Siddiqui, delved into the minute details of Sindh's infrastructure problem. "There is no such thing as shortage of funds. Of all the money allocated for the ADP, 60 per cent is spent, while 80 per cent of this 60 per cent is simply pocketed," he said. From the trend of opting for mega construction projects to the allocation of special packages for the districts of Larkana and Sukkur, Siddiqui pointed out that budget making is a cut and paste method. "The approach is conventional. There is no element of research. The local governments planning, which should ideally start from the level of union councils, is not there," said Siddiqui.
Qaiser Sajjad from the Pakistan Medical Association questioned the complete eradication of any one disease when a budget worth billions has been allocated for health. "Our recommendation is always to go for a preventative approach rather than a curative one," he said. "If only the provision of clean water could be ensured, 60 per cent of diseases can be avoided," claimed Sajjad. Vehemently opposing the government's lack of interest in health, he said that there is a need for basic health facilities close to people's homes and not for big tertiary hospitals for which people have to travel miles for a mere flu and cough.
Speakers agreed that a rise in insecurity has a direct impact on social protection. In Sindh particularly, the scales for social protection have gone down even after the passing of 18th amendment and the seventh NFC award.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2015.
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