The development priorities of the PML-N government have long been questioned by economic experts. While some think that the importance attached to infrastructure development is right because it will help to stimulate the economy, others have pointed out that key sectors like energy and health and education which form the backbone of long-term development planning have not received the attention they deserve. It goes without saying that in Pakistan's existing circumstances if a choice has to be made, it should be in favour of revving up the energy sector and human resource development. For, in both these areas we are woefully deficient. In all world education and education indices Pakistan figures at the bottom of the table.
The new wave of loadshedding that has hit the country in the past week illustrates the situation. While in the cities the duration of power outages has gone up to 12 hours, in the rural hinterland, the blackout is as long as 20-22 hours. This is surely an untenable situation, and all our efforts should be directed at finding a solution - both short and long-term. But after reading through the official documents one gets the impression that as per the PML-N government's main emphasis throughout has been on building roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects, many of them unnecessary.
Last year's Federal Budget's Public Sector Development Programme worth Rs525 billion allocated only Rs115 billion to WAPDA and PAEC whereas the National Highway Authority alone got Rs112 billion. Moreover, these outlays were meant to be spent on long gestation projects, whereas to overcome crippling electricity shortages we need to take urgent action supported by adequate budgetary allocations. According to an estimate, the electricity coverage in Pakistan is only 68 percent but mo visible and effective measure have been adopted to extend it. On the other hand, the reduction in subsidy from Rs 245 billion to Rs 156 billion meant further squeezing the sector leading to an increase in tariff. There is an urgent need to allocate more funds to undertake structural reforms in the power sector with a view to curtailing the transmission and distribution losses. The [lain fact is that the power sector needs much bigger investment than has been allocated to it in the last five years.
The same goes for the education and health sectors. Pakistan's allocation in the health sector is about 0.4 percent of GDP, far less than the two percent recommended by the UN. According to an estimate, only 27 percent of the country's population has health insurance. The government has approved a National Health Insurance scheme but no efforts have been made to put the scheme on the ground any time soon.
The 2009 National Education Policy committed the government to the goal of spending seven percent of GDP on the sector by 2015. But the goal has been abandoned and we are now spending only about two percent of national income on education. With the sector starved of essential funds, we are far from achieving free universal education and a respectable increase in the literacy rate. What is more painful, whatever funds are allocated are not fully utilized.
In these circumstances, it is no wonder we have failed to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals in the health and education sectors by the 2018 deadline. According to experts, now that health and education have become primarily provincial subjects, the situation will worsen further in the coming days. This is something that should worry all of us.