PSDP: Does It Serve Political Interests Or National Development?

Finding the balance between political interests and national development is undoubtedly challenging. It requires a commitment to transparency, accountability, and a relentless dedication to the people's welfare. The journey towards depoliticizing the PSDP is an ...

PSDP 2023

A recent performance report unveiled by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives prompts one to ponder the point of whether the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) can really escape the clutches of political interest and will it ever work towards the nation’s growth. At first glance, the report seems to allocate funds holistically to all the sectors like infrastructure, production, science & IT, and other domains. The devil, however, is in the details. Upon a closer look, one starts to understand that these allocations, given the institutional efficiency and transparency challenges in Pakistan, are only allocated to achieve political goals rather than short, medium and long-term development that is promised in the vision of the Ministry.

Before going into details, one first needs to understand what PSDP is and how it is linked to the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiative report. This Ministry's job is to undertake research studies and state policy development initiatives for national growth and expansion of the public infrastructure of Pakistan. It does so by playing a central role in the PSDP. The PSDP serves as an important framework for the government’s development agenda, and sets regional and sectorial priorities under the national action plan. In simple words, it is a plan in which the government decides how and where to spend money on the development of the country. In the latest report, issued by the Ministry, the allocation of a huge sum of PRs. 2709 billion for development looks like a commitment by the government to develop and uplift various sectors like infrastructure, social and production etc. But, this platform is also the playground where political motivations often clash with genuine development goals.

On one side of the report, the significant sum of PKR 950 billion designated for federal public sector development (PSDP), PKR 1,559 billion for provincial annual development programs (ADPs) and even PKR 200 billion reserved for public-private partnerships (PPP) demonstrates a commitment to growth by the government. But on the other hand, the agencies and programs on which these are to be spent paint a grim picture of how political interests come into play.

Looking at the allocation of PSDP funds, a hefty sum of PKR 480 billion is to be used up by the ministries/divisions. Taking into account that the PDM government indeed holds the record of the largest cabinet, comprised of 76 federal ministries, one does not go further to think about why this amount is necessary. But if these ministries are evaluated on the basis of their role and their performance transparently, it becomes evident that these appointments were made to placate political allies that served as political bargaining chips rather than focusing on the greater good of the public.

For a country that is mired in an economic crisis, and inflation is a demon that haunts the poor daily, can this funding allocated to these ministries really be justified? As on the news it was promised that the government expenses will be slashed on the amnesties and protocols of these ministers, but one hardly see that happening practically here. But the public does not need to fear, as a line at the end of this funding data clearly states that highest ever PSDP in the history of Pakistan was PKR 1,150 billion, so about PKR 200 billion were saved by the government at the time when country’s SBP reserves almost hit record lows. So, in the ministry’s report, this is a big relief to showcase to the public.

The breakdown of funds into various sectors really exposes the nature of the political tug of war. Here the infrastructure sector gets a hefty sum of PKR 494 billion compared to the previous year’s PKR 357.4 billion. A hefty sum of PKR 266.5 billion out of the total amount is to be spent on transport and communications. While in the social sector, the health sector receives PKR 23.7 billion and the education sector receives PKR 82 billion. Lastly, in the production sector, food and agriculture receive only PKR 44.1 billion. Looking at the IPC acute food insecurity snapshot of 2023, about 29 percent of the population of Pakistan is facing high levels of acute food insecurity. While in health issues, Pakistan has the highest diabetes rate in the world at 30.8 percent.

Now looking at this report, one has to wonder about the science behind the allocation of these funds. Would a country with major food insecurity threats and health issues spend a major portion of funds on building infrastructure that would provide beautiful roads for the elite class to run their vehicles or would it provide food and medicine to the poor class? Clearly, the priorities are not straight here in any way. The allocation of governance-related projects raises eyebrows too, considering the persistent challenges Pakistan faces in terms of institutional efficiency and transparency. Can these funds genuinely translate into a streamlined bureaucracy and improved governance, or will they merely contribute to the perpetuation of status quo political interests?

The focus on youth development and empowerment in the PSDP, exemplified by initiatives like the Ba-Ikhtiyar Naujawan Internship Program and the National Top Talent Scholarship Program offers some hope for nurturing future leaders. However, skepticism lingers about potential political manipulation, using these programs as electoral tools rather than letting them be used as tools of genuine empowerment. The commendable effort to address inequality through allocations for the poorest districts also faces scrutiny due to worries about fund distribution aligning with the Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index and serving political agendas over benefiting the intended recipients. Even the Laptop scheme that was launched again was good and all. But its output report has not been generated yet, due to a lack of transparency in providing information by the government institutions. All these initiatives are very good in writing, but does anyone know what their output was? As to how much these projects really helped in development, or did they generate the results they were expected to. 

Seeing all this, finding the balance between political interests and national development is undoubtedly challenging. It requires a commitment to transparency, accountability, and a relentless dedication to the people's welfare. The journey towards depoliticizing the PSDP is an uphill battle, but it is one that holds the promise of a more equitable and prosperous Pakistan. But seeing the sad state of affairs and uncertainty in the politics of Pakistan, this battle does not seem to lean towards a positive outcome in the near future.

The writer is a researcher based in Lahore.