Up­com­ing bud­get

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

We are in the midst of bud­get sea­son but no worth­while de­bates are be­ing held on what kind of a bud­get we should have. Sem­i­nars, con­fer­ences, lob­by­ing, and ad­vo­cacy ef­forts are on but with­out a sense of pur­pose and di­rec­tion. The print and elec­tronic me­dia have lit­tle se­ri­ous to of­fer on the sub­ject to ed­u­cate the public. Bud­get is an an­nual ac­count of ex­pen­di­ture and in­come es­ti­mates and thus holds a lot of im­por­tance in a Third World coun­try like Pak­istan where peo­ple are eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed and marginal­ized.

The bud­get is sup­posed to be the most im­por­tant el­e­ment of any de­vel­op­ing econ­omy. The bud­get is the bal­anc­ing of govern­ment ac­counts where rev­enue and ex­pen­di­ture items ought to re­flect the pol­icy di­rec­tion of the govern­ment. The un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity is that public rea­son­ing and con­ver­sa­tions on pol­icy are want­ing, whereas that on fix­ing the gov­er­nance fail­ures of fed­eral and pro­vin­cial state ma­chin­ery is ab­sent. Most poli­cies are made with­out con­sul­ta­tion with the stake­hold­ers. If and when con­sul­ta­tions are done, say by way of round­tables, they are not man­aged prop­erly. Not only such round­tables are one-off events, a for­mal­ity, they are also not ad­e­quately rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

It is a na­tional fail­ure that the bud­get is not given the im­por­tance it de­serves for the sake of bal­anced eco­nomic growth. Mat­ters are made worse by the fact that there is a cul­ture of hid­ing in­for­ma­tion from the public. On the other hand, eco­nomic jour­nal­ism is not very well de­vel­oped to delve deep into is­sues like in­dus­trial and agri­cul­ture poli­cies, pop­u­la­tion con­trol, ci­ti­zen right to in­for­ma­tion, or the du­ties of lo­cal, pro­vin­cial, and fed­eral gov­ern­ments on var­i­ous af­fairs that af­fect the lives of peo­ple. There are no broad based de­bates or con­ver­sa­tions. The vast ma­jor­ity of economists and cor­po­rate lead­ers talk among them­selves, where high­light­ing the same old prob­lems over and over again con­sumes most of the time.

The de­bate over solutions to prob­lems is also want­ing. For in­stance, every­one says ed­u­ca­tion prob­lem should be fixed, and flags var­i­ous in­di­ca­tors that show Pak­istan's poor per­for­mance in ed­u­ca­tion. But there are no de­bates over var­i­ous num­ber of solutions to the ed­u­ca­tion prob­lem, and im­pli­ca­tions of each of those pol­icy choices. As for the gov­er­nance, the re­form think­ing seems to have been hi­jacked by Do­ing Busi­ness and other such fancy in­di­ca­tors. Some ex­perts only try to fix those in­di­ca­tors, mostly on donor fund­ing, in­stead of fix­ing the whole gov­er­nance ma­chin­ery. Over and over again, in each of the sem­i­nars and TV shows, univer­sity de­bates, cor­rupt and in­ef­fi­cient bu­reau­cracy fea­tures as the most se­ri­ous prob­lem. Yet nei­ther the busi­ness cham­bers, nor the donors, nor the govern­ment, nor any other so-called cham­pion of re­forms have made civil ser­vice re­forms as a sin­gle big­gest agenda item.

No mat­ter how much money one puts into the sys­tem and how many cre­ative pol­icy tools are crafted, if the govern­ment ma­chin­ery - that is sup­posed to use those funds and pol­icy tools - is weak, cor­rupt and in­ef­fi­cient, the im­pact of that fund­ing and pol­icy will re­main lim­ited. Which is also why the bud­get un­for­tu­nately re­mains the sin­gle big­gest talked about event about econ­omy ev­ery year, be­cause of the ad-hoc fis­cal in­cen­tives that are doled out to di­rect the econ­omy in the ab­sence of ef­fec­tive holistic poli­cies. Let us see what good or bad news the bud­get brings for the peo­ple. If past ex­pe­ri­ence is any guide, the up­com­ing bud­get will only add to the eco­nomic woes of the peo­ple.

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