Threat of urban flooding
In a recent statement, the Karachi mayor has said the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation does not have the required funds to clean storm-water drains before the start of the rainy season. He has also pointed out that most drains in the city are choked and if they are not cleaned before the rainy season begins, the city will witness urban flooding. Last year, Karachi had had several spells of heavy rains, resulting in scenes of urban flooding. The recent statement of the KMC mayor and the nightmarish experience of last year should be sending shivers down the spines of Karachi residents. According to the mayor, the Sindh government paid the KMC Rs437 million in 2016, when an administrator was at the KMC helm, and later Rs1.272 billion were to be paid to the KMC in 2017-18 on the directives of the Supreme Court, but Rs722 million has not been paid. The World Bank is to give the KMC Rs8 million for cleanliness. The disbursement of this amount is, however, getting delayed, Mayor Waseem Akhtar has urged the provincial government to help expedite the matter.
The present mayor has continuously been complaining of lack of funds with the KMC. A tug of war has long been going on particularly between the local governments of Karachi and Hyderabad, and as a result the common people are suffering. Karachi, though, contributes the largest chunk to the federal and provincial revenues. The mayor claims Karachi and other urban areas of Sindh are being subjected to official neglect. There are many who subscribe to this view. Civic infrastructure in Karachi has crumbled. It suffers from water and power shortages, roads and gutters are in a state of neglect, and this sprawling city of over 20 million has no public transport worth the name. So in view of the fast approaching rainy season, all tiers of government need to join hands to protect Karachi residents from a repetition of last year’s bitter experience.
K-P, Balochistan budgets
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have both announced their budgets, and as expected, there has been significant belt-tightening brought on by the economic impact of Covid -19 and other revenue issues.
In K-P, the development budget declined by 0.3% from last year to Rs318 billion. However, that does not account for the fact that, due to the cash crunch, actual spending this year was Rs98.5billion less than budgeted. Interestingly, almost Rs86 billion of the development allocation for next year is foreign-funded. Of the total, around Rs39 billion in development funding is for education, including Rs30.2 billion for elementary and secondary schools. This is a credible investment in tough times — 300 new schools will be built, and 1,700-plus will see upgradation or uplift work. There is also work under way to improve the monitoring of schools with around 3,000 assistant-sub divisional education officers to be recruited to supervise government schools. Currently, one ASDEO monitors about 60 schools, which the government hopes to bring down to a more realistic eight-to-one ratio. Another Rs24 billion has been marked for health in the development budget, apart from a Rs18 billion allocation for water.
Balochistan, meanwhile, unveiled a Rs465.528 billion budget, with a deficit of Rs87 billion. Despite all of the factors, that 18% budget deficit is eye-catching. Realistically, it is hard to believe that at this time next year, the government will have gone ahead with such a large deficit. Remember, the federal government has already cut Balochistan’s allocation by around 10%, and this figure could well rise. Also, we worry that the eventual subjects of cuts would likely be the usual suspects — health and education. The provincial education budget is Rs64 billion, while health has gotten Rs38 billion. Only Rs118 billion will be spent on development expenditure, another figure where actual spending will likely be curtailed as the year progresses. Around Rs8 billion has been earmarked for coronavirus and other disaster response, and another Rs3 billion for the post-coronavirus relief programme.
While both provinces have put out ambitious budgets with well-intentioned investments in critical sectors, K-P’s seems to be more realistic, given the expectations of budget cuts.