Larger allocations to help education and health sectors

By Zubeida Mustafa

AN UNUSUAL feature of the Federal Finance Minister’s budget speech on Thursday was the emphasis he placed on the need to develop the social sector in Pakistan, especially education.

His professed concern at the poor state of this sector was expressed in the shape of enormous increases in allocations for some of the social sector items in the Budget.

This is significant, given the poor performance of the Government in the fields of health and education — none of the Sixth Plan targets in these fields could be met in the first two years.

It has been clear that the major factor responsible for this state of affairs has been the paucity of resources made available to the social sector. In terms of budgetary allocations, the pace of implementation of the Sixth Plan has also been painfully slow. Only 23 per cent of the planned amount was spent on education and 27 per cent on health in the first two years of the Sixth Plan period.

Hence the substantial increase in allocations for these sectors in the Budget for 1985-86 is a departure from past trends, but much would depend on how large a sum is actually mobilised and made available.

Moreover, in view of the poor performance of the past, a sudden rise in allocations for one fiscal year might not register a corresponding improvement. It is important that the increase in financial allocations is sustained over the years.

Lion’s share

The lion’s share of the social sector budget has gone to education. From 1.7 per cent of the GNP, the education expenditure is to rise to 2.2 per cent. This, of course, falls far short of the UNESCO-suggested target of 4.00 per cent but in view of the niggardly allocations of the last few years, the rise in education’s share in the Budget for 1985-86 should be welcomed.

The education expenditure will constitute nine per cent of the Budget next year—it has traditionally been six per cent for many years.

The recurring expenditure on education to be met from revenue will be Rs 1.3 billion in 1985-86 as compared with Rs 1.1 billion in 1984-85 — an increase of 19 per cent.

In addition, the recurring expenditure created by the establishment of new institutions has been treated as development expenditure and classified in the ADP under the head “Recurring Education Outlay”. This will amount to Rs 4.2 billion in 1985-86 — an increase of 51 per cent over this year’s Rs 2.7 billion, the first time this head was listed in the ADP. Of this amount, Rs 3.40 billion will go to the provinces as a special grant.

The normal ADP’s budget for education for 1985-86 is Rs 988.1 million as against this year’s figure of Rs 888 million. This is an increase of 11 per cent which in itself is not too substantial if the need for rapid expansion of education is taken into account.

But financial allocations for education have been made under two other heads. First, a Special Education Fund is to be set up under the Prime Minister. This is to be financed from the Iqra surcharge of five per cent to be levied on imports which is expected to fetch Rs 680 million. Secondly, a special programme of Rs 800 million is to be set up to open new primary schools and mosque schools. How these two funds are operated will be important since that would determine the rate of expansion of the education system in the country.

Two significant features of the education budget are the cut in the allocations for primary education, teacher’s training and book production in the ADP and the substantial increase in the allocations for the literacy programme, secondary education and technical education.

Reduction

The universities are to receive Rs 242 million in 1985-86 when they were given Rs 313 million this year a cut of 22 per cent. This has serious implications for the development of higher education in the country. But of equally far-reaching consequences is the 3.8 per cent cut in primary education, 6.6 per cent cut in teacher’s training and 60 per cent cut in book production.

What is also important is the 169 per cent increase in the literacy programme budget and the 158 per cent rise in the allocation for technical education. But here it needs to be pointed out that in the context of the Sixth Plan allocation of Rs 750 million for the literacy programme, the Budget’s allocation is by no means phenomenal.

So far the allocations have been so low that in spite of the massive jump next year (Rs 56.5 million from Rs 21 million in 1984-85) the literacy.programme would have received only Rs 112.4 million in three years — a far cry from the Plan target.

Private sector

What would cause general concern is that in spite of the increase in the education budget, the reliance on the private sector is to grow. The Finance Minister made it clear in his speech that the government will place no checks on private educational institutions.

Given the present trends, an increased commercialisation of education cannot be ruled out which would not reflect too well on the education policy. The private sector should at the most be allowed to supplement the government’s efforts and the functioning of private schools should be properly regulated if they are not to become profit-making concerns.

Health

The health sector which is by far the most neglected of the social sectors has been given slightly better treatment in this Budget than in the previous ones. The revenue expenditure will register a rise of 33 per cent from Rs 301.6 million in 1984-85 to Rs 402.2 million in 1985- 86. The development expenditure will rise by 19 per cent from Rs 718 million this year to Rs 859.9 million in 1985-86.

In view of the poor state of the health services in the country, one cannot be very optimistic about the future in spite of the increases. These are not sufficient to build the infrastructure needed to achieve the goal of “health for al> by the year 2000.” Moreover, the government is proceeding to levy users’ charges which will make healthcare more expensive for the common man.

Two sectors which figure prominently in the 1985-86 ADP because of the substantial jump in allocations to them are population welfare and women’s development. While the revenue expenditure of the population welfare department remains stable at Rs 1.7 million for next year (Rs 1.5 million in 1984- 85) the development budget will go up from Rs 300 million in 1984-85 to Rs 501 million in 1985-86—a rise of 67 per cent. Most of this increase will go towards financing the delivery system and subsidising contraceptives.

Programmes for women

The Women’s Division budget will be nearly doubled from Rs 60 million in 1984-85 to Rs 100 million in 1985-86. Given the appalling status of women in Pakistan — their low literacy rate, poor health conditions, high infant mortality, low life expectancy, low participation ratio in labour force — there is much scope for development.

In fact the Sixth Plan speaks of earmarking Rs 800 million for women’s programmes in 1983-88. But the allocations for the first three years total only Rs 211.6 million. It is obvious that the Plan targets will never be met.

It is plain that, by and large, the Budget has been relatively generous with the social sectors, quite unlike the previous years’ financial statements. But it will be possible to assess its performance, only at the end of next year when it will be known whether the allocated resources are actually mobilised.

If eventually cuts have to be exercised and these are disproportionately high in the social sectors, the 1985-86 Budget would turn out to be no different from previous year’s documents.

Source: Dawn 26 May 1985