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Neglecting social sector

One third of population living in extreme poverty is exposed to the threat of dislocation due to droughts and flash floods and vulnerable to deadly diseases owing to disturbed water cycle, natural habitat and crop patterns.

Commercialization of agriculture and irresponsible use of pesticides have resulted in contamination of soil, air and water. Clean drinking water has become a rarity while drainage system has become choked due to suspension of local governments in last six years.

Social sector development meant for the provision of basic necessities of life like primary health, education, clean drinking water and sanitation, remains a subject of negligence in Pakistan.

Only 0.8 percent is being spent on health while expenditure on education is 2-3 percent of GDP. Add to this sorry state of affairs the fact that forests cover only 2.5% of the country’s land while population is touching the figure of 200 million.

Meager resources have been allocated by autonomous provinces to social sector development during last eight years. Utilization of the funds reserved for education and health has been less than 50% while priority has been given to infrastructure development rather than improving the quality of services.

Can private sector bail out an environmentally disturbed and poorly governed Pakistan? Unfortunately, the civilian regimes have so far blindly followed the dictates of the international financial institutions (IFIs) only due to the reason they can’t think innovatively how to bridge the fiscal deficit.

The people not knowing complexities of nature can’t brave climate change. The curricula and state-run media is being used to promote ideological concerns rather that making people aware about the problems of immediate concern.

Can the best hospitals ensure nation’s health if polluters are not made to pay the cost of their negligence to environment? Can pharmaceutical firms defend them against diseases if necessary ingredients become missing in their food and clean water is out of their access?

While liberalizing economy, as a part of package deal with World Bank and IMF, the traditional elite, who took turn in the corridors of power after 2008 general elections, saved its own skin in the garb of ‘politics of reconciliation’ leaving the common people to dogs.

Technically speaking, health and education should have been the last concerns to be seen off by the democratically elected governments given their primacy in delivering public goods. Democracy, of course is not about protecting capitalist class but a check on their lust for profits.

There is no justification, whatsoever, in leaving social sector at the mercy of moneyed interests. Think about the large size of unregulated economy and what comes to mind is quite alarming. Pakistan stands exposed to natural disasters but delivery of public goods have been subjected to the lust of hoarders, smugglers and land grabbers.

It is not that strange to find real estate tycoons, traders and even the smugglers investing in schools and hospitals under the spell of demand-supply mechanism.

In the absence of effective and efficient regulatory regimes, professionals stand exploited and consumers defrauded. See how private sector is poorly paying teachers, nurses and the lower staff! There is none to address the grievances of consumers, as well.

One should expect nothing but incidents of cruelty when capitalism is let loose in an otherwise traditional economies. If democracies fail to check unjustified profits, there is something wrong with its custodians, say political parties.

Not taking seriously the known measures to bridge fiscal gap, the civilian regimes have reverted to external and internal borrowing. Instead of curtailing non-development expenditure and widening tax base, the peoples’ purchasing power has been reduced by imposing higher indirect taxes (GST). That energy products becoming costly just belies tall claims of governments of being business friendly.

When next general elections are in sight, it is time to review last eight years of civilian rule against the fact of politics of political reconciliation and how they deliberately kept the benefits of democracy out of peoples’ reach at the grassroots level. All that started with abolition of local governments has ended up in disposing of the sectors where they mattered the most: health and education.

Had the Charter of Democracy been signed by enlightened souls, enough energies should have been consumed in the aftermath of 18th Constitutional amendment to make local governments even stronger by giving them power to recruit employees up to 16 scale. They were mischievously seen off instead and the matters were handed over back to bureaucracy.

The local government system is back, thanks to the interest of Supreme Court, but these are deputy commissioners who are the real masters of the people. After the Centre has devolved power and resources, the people have been left to the wishes and whims of bureaucracy based in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar.

Missen, Riaz. Neglecting social sector. Daily Times, January 18, 2017.

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