The budget speech of Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, who also holds the finance portfolio, had a typical PPP flavour. It was high on promises with populist verbosity. Mr Shah blamed the pandemic and low federal resource transfers for missing last year’s development targets.
The pandemic exposed the fissures in the health infrastructure and the Covid-19 fallout multiplied the economic stress. Chief Minister Shah-led PPP team proposed to increase the share of the social sector and social security.
In the absence of credible data, the picture of the regional economy continues to be hazy. However, the lack of very basic amenities in Karachi — like water, sewage and public transport — casts serious suspicions on the claims of improving governance in Sindh.
“Politics apart, the PPP can’t hope to change the perception of bad governance until it delivers in Karachi. Its handling of the health threat under the pandemic earned it goodwill. The province is ahead of others in projects under the public-private partnership mode. But this has not compensated for its underperformance in the mega city,” commented an analyst. PPP stalwarts accept that Rs110bn is insufficient for addressing the needs of Karachi that Mr Shah says needs Rs3tr investment for visible improvement.
The PPP has historically been more responsive towards demands of the poor. It proposed a 20pc higher salary raise and revised up the minimum wage to Rs25,000 compared with a lower increase at the centre.
“No, the budget is not innovative. In the absence of better insights into the situation, much depends on the whims of party leaders,” said a senior member of the finance team.
In a mailed comment, Mr Shah contested the claim. “The Sindh budget is not whims-based. It is drafted keeping in view the fiscal framework and need-based demands generated by health, education, police and other nation-building departments. It promotes the principle of balanced growth/development. We ensured that every taluka of Sindh gets development schemes.
“The budget was drafted involving all stakeholders like traders, industrialists, agriculturists and economists. It is a participatory budget.”
Explaining the thought behind scaling down the tax revenue targets, he said, “This is because of concessions granted last year on registration fees/stamp duties to boost the construction industry. The property market has also been slow.”
The PPP, which has been ruling the province for the past 13 years, has yet to win over the business class that continues to perceive it as anti-business and pro-workers and out to hurt its interests. “The dilapidated condition of industrial areas in Sindh reflects the value the PPP attaches to investors’ needs.