Then we have the 10 percent increase in pay and pensions. In this account, the Punjab government has followed the line taken by the government in the centre which has also increased 10 percent in pensions and salaries. If you look at the rising inflation during the past three years, this increase – though welcome – will only slightly reduce the burden on the salaried class. The Punjab government has also followed the centre in the minimum wage raise – which has been increased to Rs20,000 per month. The development budget of Rs560 billion is more than the amount allocated for development in the outgoing fiscal year, but for such a large province much more developmental amount is required to show some tangible results to its people. Another issue is that only Rs125 billion has been shown as surplus which may cause problems in the coming months. If there is a major shortfall in federal transfers, as has happened in the past too, it is the development outlay that gets a chopping. This shows a non-serious attitude towards development as per successive governments.
With just two years left to create a positive impression, the Buzdar dispensation, which has earned flak for what its critics refer to as incompetence, is all set to go full throttle on its planned spending spree from the start of the new fiscal. Political motivation notwithstanding, the province is in dire need of public investment to repair deteriorating infrastructure, as well as qualitative and quantitative improvement in public service delivery. The infrastructure gap has expanded and service delivery depreciated since the PTI’s ascent to power, a major reason why the government hasn’t succeeded in diminishing popular political support for the PML-N, especially in the central and northern districts of Punjab. Indeed, the incumbent administration has made a few ‘soft interventions’ over time to shift investment focus to human development by spending more money on public health and education, and digitisation of the provincial economy in contrast to its predecessor’s penchant for large infrastructure schemes. But the experience of the last few years shows that ‘wholesome’ improvement in human development indicators is not possible without building the economic infrastructure to create jobs and alleviate poverty. Political compulsions seem to have taught the rulers of Punjab the same — albeit belatedly.