11th June 2020

Rehan Piracha

LAHORE: According to economic experts the federal budget provides a sliver of sustenance to vulnerable communities with the increase in allocation to Benazir Income Support Programme as well as 15 percent hike in salaries of government employees.

Buckling under pressure of the IMF programme, the government set a negligible change in allocation for subsidies from Rs682 billion last year to Rs699 billion next year. It reduced power sector subsidies that could lead to almost an average increase of 20percent in the electricity tariff for consumers in the country. The allocation for power sector subsidies for the next year is kept at Rs570 billion against Rs 596 billion during the current year.

The allocation for social protection was raised from Rs 255 billion this year to Rs 370 billion for the next year. Out of the allocation, the BISP allocation is expected to get Rs 364 billion for cash assistance to financially destitute families.

The budget also raised government employees’ salaries up 15 percent. Besides, no income tax would be imposed on those earning up to Rs100,000 per month.

According to economist Qais Aslam, the previous Pakistan Tehrik Insaf government had claimed that the segment of population under the poverty line had decreased to 25 percent. However, figures from the World Bank pointed out that poverty had gone up to 30 percent. “Any person making less than $4 or approximately Rs 25,000 per month falls under the poverty line,” Qais Aslam explained.

“The segment of population under the poverty line is expected to remain the same as the governments over the years have made no specific allocations separately on how to bring these vulnerable communities out of poverty,”Qais Aslam said.

Surprisingly, only 10 percent of 24.6 million children enrolled each year in primary schools sit for the matriculation exams, the economist said while speaking about dismal state of affairs of public spending on education in the country.

“These millions of school dropouts end up working in sweat shops and unskilled labour jobs with no hope of breaking out of vicious circle of poverty,” the economist said. Shockingly enough, only 28, 000 students are enrolled in vocational institutions in the country, he added. “No development or growth is likely for these vulnerable communities If they do not have the required skills and education,” Qais Aslam said.

Qais Aslam said successive governments were to blame for framing policies directed towards city dwellers alone. According to the economist, human development was not featured in government budgets. “Any allocation on human development is a result of internationally-funded Millennium Development Goals or special regime like GSP plus that emphasises upon human rights for beneficiary countries like Pakistan,” Qais Aslam said.

“We ended the population control when the international funding dried up and now we have shut NCOC regardless that COVID pandemic is still ongoing,” he pointed out.

Economist Haris Gazdar said the increase in BISP allocation and the salary increase to government employees would also protect many on fixed incomes. “Obviously, government employees, even in the lower grades are not among the poorest. But I guess it is an important enough interest group, and most of them are not among the richest either,” he told Voicepk.net.

Haris Gazdar agreed with Qais Aslam that the only sustainable way out of poverty was pegged to economic growth. “Social protection is not supposed to do anything more than provide very basic sustenance,” he said.

The other budget allocations for vulnerable communities included Rs 2 billion for the PM Relief Fund for IDPs, Rs 62 million for Pakistan Minorities Welfare Fund, and Rs 83 million for Special Fund for Welfare and Uplift of Minorities.

In an apparent move to promote the oft-neglected art and culture in the country, the allocation for culture services in the next year is set at Rs 231 from the paltry Rs 10 million in the current year. The allocation for Federal Government Artists Welfare Fund also jumped to Rs 27 million for next year from the dismal Rs 5 million in the current year.


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