By Zubeida Mustafa
Exactly a week before the Federal Finance Minister presented the budget before the National Assembly, the UNDP released its Human Development Report 1991 which contains extensive data on 160 countries.
Using the key indicators of life expectancy, education levels and basic purchasing power as the criteria, the agency has devised the Human Development Index. Pakistan ranked a shocking 120th on this scale. In fact Islamabad, along with some others, was strongly castigated for its gross neglect of the social sector.
What the UNDP had pointed out a week earlier was vindicated on Thursday by the federal budget. Long on rhetorics and promises of providing food, shelter, education and health care to the people, the Finance Minister’s speech was palpably short on political commitment.
This was further confirmed by the budget document itself. Small wonder then that in his speech Mr Sartaj Aziz deemed it wiser not to go into financial details of spendings in the health and education sectors.
In the first place, the approach adopted by the government towards the social sector is full of contradictions. By extending the strategy of privatisation and deregulation to the education and health sectors as well, the planners hope to accelerate the tempo of development.
At the same time, the government speaks of fulfilling the demands of social justice so that the benefits of economic development reach all segments of society.
It is not at all clear how the powers that be expect the 35 per cent of the population which lives below the poverty line in Pakistan to avail of the education and health facilities which the private sector has been invited to set up. The compulsions of a market economy would ensure that education and health will not be affordable for the common man.
The National Education Foundation which has been announced — its funding and size are not known as yet — will provide matching grants to NGOs and individuals to set up educational institutions. But given our private sector’s quest for profits which alone constitute the driving force behind any enterprise, school fees and hospital charges can be expected to rise phenomenally.
By the same token, the strategy of relying on industrialists to provide education and health care to their workers could prove to be quite ineffectual. Efforts to get entreprenuers to perform their social obligation have proved futile in the past. In this context, the experience of the working of mandatory training schemes by the industries, such as the apprenticeship programme instituted by the Manpower Directorate, has been rather discouraging.
Seen against this backdrop, the strategy of expanding the role of the private sector in health and education amounts to the government’s abdicating its primary responsibility of promoting the development of human resources. This is most disquieting. If the private sector was being involved in the field of education and health to supplement the official efforts, one could not really have quarrelled with the strategy.
What we have instead, as it distinctly emerges from the federal budget, is that there is a plan afoot to divest the government of all responsibilities in the social sector and slash down the funds earmarked for it.
True, the recurring expenditure on the education, health and population welfare heads registers a modest increase. But that is because the cost of operating the facilities already set up and paying the salaries of the staff employed has to be met from the revenue budget.
Then too the increase in the allocations for these sectors is not always enough to absorb the current inflation rate of 13 per cent. For example, education is to receive Rs 2.6 billion in 1991-92 from the revenue budget which is an increase of 13.4 per cent over this year’s.
The health sector, which has traditionally been meted out step daughterly treatment, gets a nominal rise of 5.4 per cent only. Its allocation for 1991-92 is Rs 757.2 million. Population planning’s revenue budget of Rs 2.9 million works out to an increase of 11.5 per cent next year.
While this is bad enough, the government’s move to actually cut down the development budget for the social sectors is appalling. The only area which has not come under the axe is population welfare — and understandably so, given the pressure on the government from aid giving agencies to reduce the population growth rate.
Population welfare development budget will go up from Rs 597.1 million in 1990-91 to Rs 636.3 in 1991-92 (an increase of only 6.5 per cent, the increase being 20 per cent in the current year). Moreover, 35 per cent of the population welfare department’s development budget will be financed from foreign assistance.
Education which should have been a priority area will have its development budget scaled down from Rs 1638.6 million in 1990-91 to Rs 682.5 million in 1991-92, which is a cutback of 58.3 per cent. Obviously the main sufferers will be the universities which have been in the red for many years now and have chalked up deficits of Rs 500 million.
Funded by the federal government, the universities have been under such severe financial constraints that their expansion and development are virtually at a standstill.
The government’s antipathy to education is best reflected in how it has misused the Iqra surcharge collected since 1985 on the pretext of giving additional grants to the education sector. Rs 31 billion have so far been collected under this head.
Yet the annual increase in the education budget has been consistently less than the surcharge collected. It was logically expected that the Iqra would be used to boost education spending in addition to the normal increase.
The health sector is another unfortunate victim of the government’s misplaced priorities. From Rs 1640.2 million in 1990-91 the health development budget will come down to Rs 496.7 million in 1991-92 — a drop of 69.7 per cent.
As it is in the last few years the expansion of the health delivery system was taking place at a snail’s pace. It will virtually come to a halt now with little funds available.
An accurate picture of the social sector will emerge only after the provinces, which look after health and education, have announced their budgets. Nonetheless the prospects look pretty grim.
As it is, a downward slide in our spending in the social sector has set in. According to the Economic Survey released last week, the expenditure on education in terms of percentage of GNP fell to 2.25 per cent in the current year from 2.33 and 2.44 per cent respectively in the preceding two years.
UNDP’s Human Development Index focusses sharply on the disproportionately large defence spending of the countries at the bottom of the scale. Pakistan’s federal budget confirms this phenomenon.
The defence sector is to receive Rs 70 billion in 1991-92. The social sector’s share in the federal budget, both revenue and development, will be only Rs 2.2 billion. Of course this will go up when the provincial budgets are presented. Yet collectively too the provinces’ spending on health and education will be no where close to the defence expenditure.
In the current year health and education were allocated Rs 8.9 billion and Rs 23.5 billion respectively in the federal and four provincial budgets when the defence sector’s share amounted to Rs 63.5 billion. So long as this imbalance continues, human resource development in Pakistan will remain an elusive goal.
Source: Dawn, 03-06-1991