It is rare for a politician to speak the truth and perhaps even rarer for one to ask the brutally honest questions that prompt self-reflection. But on Monday, a well-respected and highly educated MPA from none other than the government’s own party, asked Sindh’s most painful question: For the last sixty years every government has claimed to present a historic and people-friendly budget, but if this is the case, how come they haven’t brought about the socio-economic change they promised?
40% of development money devoured by corrupt officials: MPA
This reflection came from Dr Sikander Mendhro of the Pakistan Peoples Party as Sindh’s elected representatives discussed the new budget for the next fiscal year. Mendhro was also crushingly honest about corruption in the government. “Every year more than 40 per cent of our development budget goes into the pockets of different people and funds are not used on time,” he said. “There are chances that the same proportion from next year’s development budget, which is Rs61 billion, is bungled by these elements. We should seriously think about [oversight].” Mendhro wanted less harping about allocations and more focus on monitoring. “Otherwise these budgets cannot make any difference.”
The Sindh Assembly should have a quarterly review and spend 25 per cent of its time on keeping an eye on how development projects are going. Departments that don’t spend their money wisely and on time should be cut back. Indeed, a suggestion that the government would do well to consider.
And while he had the floor, Mendhro took the opportunity to chastise feudal landlords. They are members of parliament and the Sindh Assembly, can’t they do anything about the tribal clashes in their own districts?
Much in the same vein, Pakistan Muslim League-Q’s MPA Abdul Razzaque Rahimo pointed out that education’s budget has gone up 15 per cent but the standard of education seems to be on the verge of collapse. What else should one expect, he went on to imply. The former Education secretary Naheed Durrani, who happened to be an honest officer, was transferred because she wanted to make drastic changes and took action against corrupt officials.
Rahimo did not spare the health department either. So much money is allocated but dozens of basic health centres are working without doctors and due to the unhygienic conditions of public hospitals you don’t even want to venture inside, much less get treatment there. “People are dying of hunger and need to search for drinking water. But the government has presented a Rs882 million surplus budget. I cannot believe in it,” he said. There is no local government system and district governments come under the provincial government but there seems to be no one to ask what has happened to the Rs200 million given to Town Municipal Administrations and Rs0.2 million to each union council.
Dr Ahmed Ali Shah of the PPP, who heads the Sindh Assembly committee to oversee breaches, said that even though work was done, it wasn’t satisfactory and much of it was washed away.
For his part, Moin Amir Pirzada of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement brought up the 341 small schemes that were dropped from the development budget or ADP. He demanded the government review its decision. “The schemes were started in 2007 and 25 per cent of the money or Rs5 billion has been spent,” he said. “So we cannot drop them at the moment.” The government should have at least mentioned it before making such a decision.
PPP MPA Pitanbar Sewani had his own axe to grind. The budget did not mention foreign loans. The 5% quota for minorities in government jobs was virtually abandoned, even though it was in the PPP manifesto. “A budget was allocated for the minority department, but hardly five per cent of it was used for their welfare,” he added. “During the floods 0.2 million Hindus were affected, but neither the ministers nor any government representative helped them.”
MQM MPA Faheem Khan said that government had given special packages worth billions of rupees to Larkana, Khairpur, Benazirabad, Hyderabad and Karachi, but no such package was given to other towns, which have been neglected by successive governments. Take Mirpurkhas for example.
Around 27 MPAs out of 168 took part in the budget discussion, which will continue for about one week.