“What’s the point of creating a budget if it is not possible to follow through?” said Alexa Von Tobel, American author and personal finance expert.
Her question was obviously rhetorical. But she would get a rational answer had she put it to Syed Murad Ali Shah, the long-serving finance minister of Sindh. After all, Stanford-educated Shah has presented too many budgets that have been impossible to follow through.
Take the example of his budget speech on June 11 in which he announced “a significant increase in the allocations for some of the smaller departments.”
Specifically mentioning five provincial departments, namely special education, social welfare, sports and youth affairs, women development and minorities’ affair, Shah said they perform important social welfare functions, “but generally get (a) smaller share in resource allocation.”
Shah has been leading Sindh’s annual resource allocation exercise for more or less eight years now. But let us not hold it against him in the spirit of better-late-than-never. He announced that the year-on-year increases in the current and development budgets for these departments for 2016-17 range from 35% to 433%.
His announcement received a round of applause from the treasury benches and earned him favourable newspaper headlines next day. But if the past is any guide, massive hikes in the allocation for these departments are unlikely to materialise.
Shah announced that the non-salary budget for the special education department will increase 433% year-on-year for 2016-17. “These interventions amply suggest that improving special education is one of the higher priorities of the government,” he said.
But a quick look at the “released position” of the provincial public-sector development programme for 2015-16 as on June 11 reveals that the Sindh government failed to spend even a single rupee out of the allocated development funds for the department. This means the Sindh government neither released nor spent any money out of the reserved Rs200 million development funds on special education during 11 and a half months of 2015-16.
The development budget for 2016-17 for the social welfare department is going to increase 45% to Rs290 million, Shah said.
Interestingly, he calculated the year-on-year increase in the development allocation to the social welfare department with the base figure of Rs200 million – the allocation he had made at the beginning of the preceding fiscal year.
As per the government’s own statistics, however, it released just a fraction of the pledged amount in the 11 and a half months of 2015-16. The social welfare department spent only Rs20.7 million, or 10.3% of the allocated Rs200 million development budget, between July 1 and June 11, official data shows.
Sports and youth affairs
The finance minister boasted that the development budget for sports and youth affairs is going to increase 100% to Rs2 billion for 2016-17.
Once again, his claim of a 100% increase in the development budget for the department is deceptive: it spent Rs590 million, or 59% of the allocated Rs1 billion, during the 11 and a half months of the outgoing fiscal year. More than Rs200 million was not even released by the government until June 11, official data shows.
The development budget for the women development department for 2016-17 is Rs426 million. In addition, funds for its current revenue expenditure have been increased 149% to Rs229 million for the next fiscal year.
However, development budget data for the outgoing fiscal year shows the department actually spent only Rs169.2 million until June 11. This means the department could use just 42.3% of the allocated development funds in 2015-16.
Shah increased development funds for the minorities’ affairs department by 6.5% to Rs604 million for the upcoming fiscal year. This increase is in addition to the rise of 134% in the non-development funds for the department for 2016-17.
But the development spending data for the outgoing fiscal year shows the department spent only Rs140.3 million until June 11. This means the minorities’ affairs department utilised less than one-fourth of the allocated development funds of Rs567 million in 2015-16.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2016.