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Plan to revitalise Sindh`s afri economy   
By Tahir Ali Khan

June 06, 2011: SINDH hopes to revitalise its economy by making huge allocations for investment in griculture in the next budget to build on farm sector gains.

Development of road network will also get a priority to improve intra-provincial mobility of goods and people for a better integrated, efficient provincial economy.

Housing sector will also claim special attention not only to bridge shelter supply gap but to generate political capital in urban Sindh for the ruling party.

The size of the upcoming budget 2011-12 is projected at Rs435 billion that is about 13 per cent higher than this year’s revised budget of 2010-11 at Rs384 billion. Initially, the size of the Sindh budget was Rs422 billion.

 


The development outlay for the concluding fiscal year was slashed by Rs38 billion to Rs77 billion from original Rs115 billion. In the upcoming budget, the size of development budget has again been set at about last year’s level of Rs115 billion, sources in the provincial government told Dawn.

Some provincial ministers and senior officials contacted for comments spoke with optimism. However, their claims of better economic performance of Sindh over the next fiscal did not sound convincing as their projections were punctuated with too many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.

“We are doing all that could be done at our end, like establishing new industrial estates and improving facilities at current ones so that opportunity does not pass us by. We are all set to welcome investors if and when they arrive”, Rauf Siddiqui, provincial minister of industries informed this scribe over telephone.

Sindh missed many development targets set for the last budget but it did manage to contain losses incurred by the devastating floods and averted a greater human tragedy by managing and rehabilitating flood affected people fairly well in close coordination with development partners and friendly nations.

“Many projects, particularly in the Right Bank Outfall Area, had to be shelved because of flash floods. Besides, the cut in development budget, aimed at diverting the resources to respond to the natural disaster, from original Rs115 billion to Rs77 billion compromised the capacity of the provincial government to finance all projects and schemes planned for the year”, a key officer of the finance department explained.

 

“At best, we can tend the ground and wait for the nature to smile”, a provincial minister said, referring to sluggish investment rate in the province. He attributed depressed investment to law and order and power deficit, etc.

“It is true that the people’s expectations have not been met fully but the wellbeing of a commoner in the rural Sindh did improve over the past year despite floods. The money that flowed in because of decent commodity prices and direct transfers made to people affected by floods, and poor recipients of monthly Benazir Income Support Fund did create some sense of inclusion among the people, neglected for so long by the past governments,” Adeel Soomro, a retired serviceman said over phone from Khairpur.

“The rural sector did well last year on the back of high commodity international prices but I do not see any guarantee for the trend to deepen over the year ahead as prices are showing some signs of weakening and could lose altitude any day. In absence of investment in agro-based industries it might be difficult to sustain the demand momentum for farm produce. The growth in industry and service sector is already low and it worries me what will happen if the graph of rural economy also flattens?” a provincial minister said referring to growing urban unrest because of rising cost of living and declining avenues of income.

Another minister from Karachi expressed fears over the continuing politics of patronisation in Sindh leading to misallocation of resources that retarded growth process. “Yes, there is great potential for a fast pace growth in the province but the tendency to politicise all issues has raised virtually insurmountable barriers on the development path. The current status quo needs to be dismantled for sustainable development. If you ask me, the strategy is not an issue, the weakness is in the ‘will’ of the government”, said another stakeholder.

A senior bureaucrat said, the government intends to make an attempt in the budget to improve housing scenario in the province for addressing the needs of people. “The government attaches great value to the construction industry that generates activity in several aligned industries and services. Besides, an elected government cannot afford to ignore the widening housing deficit indefinitely, specially as elections draw nearer,” a well placed source in the finance department informed this scribe, elaborating on the draft budget proposals circulating in the inner circles of the government.

The social sector, particularly health and education, will receive more allocations but the provincial economic team has decided to concentrate on improving the quality of these vital services, instead of spreading allocated resources thin to achieve quantity.

Sources maintained that the forthcoming budget would make operational the comprehensive schools in selected districts and union councils over the very first quarter of the next fiscal. The situation of public sector schools is pitiable. According to reports, out of 47,000 government schools less than 10,000 are functional. Over 37000 of them are inoperative for one reason or the other.

Several attempts were made to solicit comments of the provincial finance minister Murad Ali Shah and the Advisor to the Chief Minister on Economy Qaisar Bengali but their preoccupation probably did not allow them to articulate and share their views over the past performance and future economic prospects of the province. —Afshan Subohi

Courtesy: The DAWN

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