There is nothing new in the second budget presented by the PTI government to the people of Pakistan. Despite a global pandemic and the party’s own commitments towards welfare of the people, the budget presented in the second year of Naya Pakistan was merely a continuation of the economic policies of the past.
With the new budget, the PTI government has proven itself worthy of the title ‘PTIMF.’ The ruling party has adopted a regressive approach towards the grave matters at hand and has completely failed to address the demands, problems and needs of the people of Pakistan. The budget has clearly exposed the ruling party’s callous indifference towards students and the education system.
Since this government came to power in 2018, the policies introduced in health and education sectors have completely paralysed their functioning. These policies are also unworkable and often completely unacceptable to the stakeholders involved. We all remember the time when the PTI narrative revolved around the future of youth of this country. But the policies it has implemented clearly negates this, and exposes its priorities towards vested interested and powerful lobbies which maintain the party’s hold on power. PTI’s policies and priorities remain the same as any previous government. There is nothing about their imagination or their actions that is different from what has already been done before.
Last year, the developmental budget of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) was reduced from Rs46 billion to Rs29 billion. This year, the amount remains the same – with a massive cut of 37 percent. The recurring grant allocated for fiscal year 2020-21 is Rs64.1 billion, while the HEC itself demanded an allocation of Rs104.78 billion which is needed for operating the existing network of higher education. More is needed to improve, develop and expand it.
This also happened last year: the HEC demanded Rs103.5 billion and got only Rs59 billion from the government. It is in the context of these budget cuts and meagre allocations that many universities were forced to shut down degree programmes because of the shortage of resources. Many teachers were fired and many on contract continue to work on low pays which is simply an insult to their education and status as teachers.
Even in the Punjab University, one of the most prominent public sector universities in Pakistan, about 40 MPhil and PhD programmes were shut as a result of this resource scarcity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the the digital divide, quality of online education and institutional indifference of our higher education system.
The counter argument presented to us is that either the universities are functioning at loss, or they are unable to meet global research and educational standards.
Firstly, to improve research and educational standards we need to support and allocate more resources to the higher education sector. Scarcity of resources and incompetent or insufficiently paid teaching staff are precisely the reasons that our education sector is deteriorating with each day passing.
Secondly, the purpose of universities is not to earn profits for the state but to equip a new generation with knowledge and ideas so they become productive members of the state and society. But universities are constantly seen as profitable business centres which we have experienced in the mushrooming of private institutions that merely sell degrees in exchange for huge amounts of money.
This powerful private sector is involved in the gradual decline of quality of education and research standards in public sector universities.
The focus of the new budget should have been the health sector. But to the disappointment of millions of Pakistanis, doctors and medical workers include, there was even no mentioning of uplifting or development of the national health system. Rather, it was completely ignored as a “provincial subject.”
Only Rs13 billion were allocated for Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi which is nothing compared to the immensity and seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic that directly concerns the matters of life and death for our people. The gravity of the crisis is such that hospitals are lacking necessary medicines and many medicines are being sold at high prices in the black market.
An injection which is necessary for the treatment of a COVID patient was previously sold at Rs12,000. Now it is selling anywhere between Rs250,000 to Rs600,000. The government has done nothing to ensure availability of this vital medicine and provision to all patients. It has only allowed the import of this medicine. Instead of encouraging people to donate in this hour of need, this government has not even set up a plasma donation centre.
The budget allocation for provinces have been reduced while they would need much more to tackle and fight the crisis. Even the wheat subsidy for Gilgit Baltistan has been eliminated. After nearly 25 years, farmers have witnessed a massive locust attack which is a threat to our food security. This locust attack has damaged livelihoods of thousands of farmers. Yet, instead of announcing an agriculture emergency, the federal government has allocated Rs10 billion – peanuts to take a monstrous problem. There is no increase in salaries and pensions which is unprecedented. There was no plan discussed or introduced for protection and support of millions of industrial workers and daily wagers that are being fired and rendered jobless in these circumstances.
The PTIMF’s budget seems to be prioritizing debt repayments to imperialist institutions despite the fact that we principally have no responsibility towards these institutions that have robbed us for decades and dictated our economic policies. Sadly around two thirds of this budget is set aside for debt repayments. Are we still a sovereign country? The defence budget is increased by 11.8 percent and Rs1,402 billion have been allocated to it. This is completely illogical in this time of a pandemic. Lives and livelihoods of millions of people should have been our priority, instead of war machinery and weapons of death and destruction.
Many of us were expecting that those in power might learn lessons from this pandemic and hoped that the priorities of the rulers might change. But from the flour and sugar crisis, non-availability of PPEs to doctors and health workers and scarcity of medicines in hospitals, firing of millions of industrial workers, non-availability of internet and demand of huge fees from students, to this budget – the status quo and ruling class has responded only with indifference and plunder.
Their priorities and interests remain the same as they were before the pandemic. This government is constantly failing us in every aspect of our social, political and economic life. A concerted effort is needed to resist this onslaught of capitalism and imperialism, and to assert the welfare of the people!