By Zubeida Mustafa
In his budget speech, the Federal Finance Minister emphasised that a key element of the government’s economic strategy was “continued priority to development of education, health, nutrition, housing, population welfare and other social facilities”. But the thrust of the budget and the performance in the social sectors in the outgoing year as documented in the Economic Survey, 1992-93 belied any serious official commitment to human resource development.
Although some sectors such as health and education are financed and managed mainly by the provinces, the federal budget was a fair indicator of the progress to be expected in these areas of national life. It was plain that in actual fact human development figured low in the government’s priorities. There is now greater reliance on the private sector for filling the enormous gap in education and health. Thus of the Rs 257.7 billion federal revenue expenditure only Rs 6.9 billion (2.6 per cent) is to go towards financing the social services. As usual debt servicing and defence will take away the biggest chunks. On the development side, the social sectors will receive a bigger percentage (3.4) but the amount will be smaller in absolute terms (Rs 1.8 billion).
Education has been badly downgraded. The allocations for this sector in both the revenue and development budgets have been reduced. In fact the allocation for education in the federal development programme has been on the decline for the last three years.
This is unforgivable, especially if it is recalled that the government has been taxing people quite heavily on the plea of providing them educational facilities. The Iqra surcharge which was imposed in 1985- 86 has already fetched Rs 51 billion in the last eight years and is estimated to earn another Rs 9 billion in 1993-94. Evidently, Iqra has not been used to boost the expenditure on education but has been channeled into other sectors of the government’s choice.
The authorities have also unabashedly enhanced the’ fees charged in educational institutions. The receipts from school and college fees are to rise from Rs 10.3 million this year to Rs 32.5 million in 1993-94 in the federal budget. Yet the government’s contribution to education has been declining.
In financial terms, the health sector has received better treatment at the hands of the budget makers. But it is intriguing that the steady rise in expenditures notwithstanding, the state of government health facilities is going from bad to worse. The government claims that the targets for expanding the health delivery infrastructure and manpower for 1992-93 were fully met. But the health related indicators for Pakistan continue to be as deplorable as ever. For instance, the emphasis on preventive medicine and the immunisation programme notwithstanding, infant mortality rate is a shameful 104 per 1000. What is more, the users’ charges the government now collects in its hospitals and clinics have gone up from Rs 4.6 million in 1991-92 to Rs 16.7 million in 1993- 94.
The policy makers’ approach to the population planning sector which is the most crucial for the national economy has not proved very effective either. Compared to health and education, population welfare has been receiving much bigger allocations in the federal development programme. That should be attributed to the pressure the government faces from foreign aid donors whose demand that Pakistan curb its runaway population growth rate has been growing more strident.
But nothing has come out of these massive allocations quite a substantial part of which comes from international aid agencies. In 1993- 94 foreign aid will account for 45 per cent of the development budget for population welfare. It was 22 per cent in 1992-93. According to the Economic Surrey only 22 per cent of the population progamme’s development budget for 1992-93 had been utilised until December 1992. The contraceptive performance was also shockingly poor. Thus only 28 per cent of the six-month target was met in condom distribution and 50 per cent in pills and IUDs. But the Planning Commission’s Annual Plan 1993-94 document states that at the end of the fiscal year only a shortfall of eight per cent was expected in the utilisation of development funds due to a ban on recruitments. The targets, including those of acceptors, are shown as having been fully met. Obviously the figures have been tampered with.
Another disquieting feature of the budget for 1993-94 is the palpable downgrading of women’s development. Funds have been slashed from Rs 137.7 million this year to Rs 85.8 million in the coming year. Given the gender gap that exists in nearly every sector in the country, this move to economise in a very crucial area is difficult to explain.
Until the time of writing only two provincial budgets had been presented, namely, those of Sindh and Balochistan. The governments of both provinces duly proclaimed their commitment to the social uplift of the people and proceeded to allocate relatively big amounts to the education and health sectors. Education received the highest allocations in the revenue and development budgets of both Sindh and Balochistan. The health sector’s share is not as substantial but it did register an increase.
What is significant is the 31 per cent increase in Sindh’s revenue spending on education in 1993-94 and the rise of 39 per cent in the province’s health development budget. Balochistan’s development spending on health and education under SAP and PSDP for 1993 show an impressive increase of 113 per cent and 204 per cent respectively. Nevertheless in absolute terms the amounts allocated are not large enough, given the poverty and backwardness in the two provinces. Moreover, the rampant corruption and blatant misuse of public funds make one sceptical of the impact that these enormous rises will actually create in the health and education sectors.
The government’s deemphasis on the social sector comes at a time when human resource development in Pakistan is in a dismal state. The Seventh Five-Year Plan, which was never formally abandoned, reaches its completion at the end of June. What was planned and what has been achieved? In the social sector the country faces a bleak future. The successive governments which have been at the helm since 1988 when the plan was launched have failed to improve the quality of life of the nation quite a large segment of which is sliding into the depths of poverty
The Economic Survey 1992-93 comes as an eye-opener. It is officially conceded that Pakistan is “far behind other nations” in the field of literacy which is claimed to be 35 per cent. Even this figure will be widely contested, given the stagnation in the education sector. The increase in the enrolment ratio at various levels has been dismally low (it actually dropped at the Middle Stage), the number of institutions established has not gone up substantially and the financial allocations barely absorbed the inflation rate, the increase in population and the backlog of underdevelopment. In effect the government’s efforts to educate the people registered a decline in real terms.
Thus in the outgoing year, only 9,000 new primary schools could be opened and an additional 1.3 million children aged 5-9 years could be enrolled. The primary level participation ratio inched up to 68.9 per cent. It was 66 per cent the previous year. At this rate the target of the Education Policy of 1992 to have 100 per cent enrolment by 2002 will never be met. Not a single professional college was opened in the outgoing year — in fact none has been, opened since 1978 — and only 910 high schools and 22 colleges were set up in the last one year. As a result the Seventh Plan targets could not be met. The shortfalls are quantified in the table attached.
In the health sector too, the Economic Survey concedes that Pakistan’s health facilities are “below the desired level and compare poorly with standards achieved in other countries”. In the outgoing year there was an increase of 215 BHUs, 11 RHCs and 3740 hospital beds, among others. The number of nurses went up by 1,200, but those of dentists and doctors remained stationary.
In the population sector there was actually a retrogression as the population continued to grow at a phenomenal rate and no new facilities of significance were added. Thus the number of family welfare centres, reproductive centres and other outlets stagnated while some others were closed down. As a result, the increase in financial allocations notwithstanding, the population sector’s performance deteriorated considerably.
The most significant and alarming aspect of the government’s financial management is that funds are now being allocated more generously than ever before to the social sectors but no impact is being created. The financial targets of the Seventh Plan were more or less met in the education, health and population sectors. But there was a massive shortfall in the physical targets. Where are all the funds going? It would appear that corruption, misuse of funds and misappropriation will syphon off resources from the people making them more impoverished while no improvement will be visible in their lives.
Source: Dawn, 26 June 1993