Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2019
“AS has been pointed out, Balochistan is the largest province in terms of size and smallest in terms of population. These features offer both challenges and opportunities for development. On the negative side, Balochistan bears the second highest incidence of multidimensional poverty after the erstwhile Fata.” On the positive side, it houses abundant natural resources which could drive prosperity. However, the province has not been able to optimally capitalise its potential.
“The planning and financial management process in the province needs a major shift.” The seventh National Finance Commission has increased the flow of nuances from the centre to Balochistan from seven per cent in the sixth NFC to 9pc in the seventh NFC.
However, the socioeconomic indicators are yet to improve considerably. The allocative efficiency of the provincial PSDP has remained low. For example, while education remains one of the main development challenges in Balochistan, its share in PSDP has declined from 23pc in 2014-15 to 14pc in 2018-19. The allocation under PSDP should be informed by a prioritisation exercise of Balochistan’s development challenges. “If such a process is used, health and education will emerge as the top priority sectors for resource allocation.”
The second issue with regard to planning and management is the lack of a proper evaluation and impact assessment system. Financial allocations are mostly done on the basis of what could be best described as an incremental approach: a specific percentage is added to the departments’ previous years’ allocation without a rigorous analysis of development needs and the impact of previous allocations.
The province harbours
the potential for steering growth.
The prioritisation exercise for the SDGs undertaken by the Planning and Development Department indicates a step in the right direction as this analysis could be used for decisions on the interdepartmental and sectoral allocation of funds from the provincial budget and particularly PSDP.
CPEC could play an instrumental role in the socioeconomic development of the province, as the western route passes through the most impoverished regions. CPEC will generate significant results if it connects the most deprived districts and regions to markets and social services.
Development of Gwadar city as an engine of growth for CPEC cannot be overemphasised. China’s experience of developing second-tier cities will be highly instructive. City governance remains the linchpin: an empowered city mayor backed up by a well-articulated and well-defined city governance structure is key to developing Gwadar as a modern, sustainable city.
Balochistan has the lowest population density in the country. This makes the provision of public social services highly expensive. Cultural constraints notwithstanding, there are examples from other countries that the government could refer to, like Australia, for providing economic and social services to a thinly spread population. The development of economic and social nodes to incentivise the population to live in central areas is another model, which will require the government’s attention towards the development of second-tier cities.
Besides natural resources, livestock is the key source of livelihoods especially for the rural population. Concerted efforts should be made to transform livestock husbandry into a meat industry. Given that the province bears a livestock population of nearly 34 million, which is almost 40pc of the total national livestock population, the sector offers huge potential for poverty alleviation and economic growth. Developing the meat industry around the CPEC route will connect meat production to national and international markets.
Lastly but most importantly, strong political institutions are the backbone of sustainable development in Balochistan. Unfortunately, at 45.3pc, Balochistan had the lowest voter turnout ratio among all provinces in the 2018 elections. Women participation was equally poor, at 40pc, the lowest among all provinces.
Among other interventions, an empowered local government system will go a long way in establishing sustainable political institutions in the province. The local government system is an effective instrument in mobilising and developing political leadership at the grass-roots level. It has also been extremely useful in enlarging inclusion, especially of women and other marginalised groups, in politics and nation-building.
Balochistan harbours the potential for steering growth and development, even at the national level. What it needs is strong institutions, both inside and outside the government. The concerted efforts of all stakeholders, both public and private, are imperative in thrusting the province forward. It is encouraging that some steps are being undertaken towards this direction. The Balochistan Comprehensive Development and Growth Strategy, currently under preparation, should be used to provide an overarching institutional framework for long-term sustainable development in Balochistan.