One of the best ways to assess the vision of a new government is to examine its budget allocations. The federal and provincial budgets are not simply monetary distributions but a contract between the citizens and those in power.

It is a promise to focus on the priorities and work for effective service delivery. In a province like Punjab, that takes the greatest share of the federal amount, it becomes even more necessary to scrutinize the allocations – especially the ones that are designated for sectors which are key drivers of human development and progress.

Despite constant hue and cry over poor delivery of basic facilities, previous governments have failed to align their objectives with the needs of the people. This can be gauged from the vast difference in Punjab’s budget outlay given by the PML-N government and that of the present one. For fiscal year 2017-2018 Ex Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif allotted only Rs.111 billion for the health department, a meager amount of Rs.345 billion for education and 43.35 million for the Punjab Skills development project.

Whereas, current Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has shown greater concern for the public needs. Out of the total outlay for 2018-2019, a massive Rs.284 billion has been separated for the health ministry, Rs.373 billion for education and a substantial amount of Rs.433 million for the provision of skill training to around 550,000 youth.

It is also pertinent to note that the current PTI led Punjab government has sliced the development budget by more than a half. The Annual development Program for 2018-2019 has seen a 62.5% decrease in its budget compared to the previous year. This change was much needed considering the financial irregularities experienced previously and the PML-N’s approach to solely focus on infrastructural projects at the cost of key social sectors.

The incumbent government’s plan to make the Metro Bus project a self-sustainable service has once again diverted the citizens’ attention towards the controversial development scheme. The current budget for Punjab proposes only Rs.13 billion for its entire functioning so that attention can be paid to more imperative sectors.  Previously, the poor cost benefit analysis had burdened our national exchequer with Rs.30 billion and a constant support of Rs.4.2 billion in subsidies, annually. Similarly, the Rawalpindi-Islamabad and Multan metro bus programs were also initiated to woo the masses. Yet, what the PML-N government in Punjab failed to realize, once again, was the dire need to invest in its people rather than on large, poorly planned infrastructural projects.

As the biggest province, Punjab has always been given extra consideration. Unfortunately, the previous government has not been focused on real matters like people’s health, their education and skill development. For instance, despite efforts to increase the total number of teachers in the province, it has been noted that educational institutes still lack significant amount of teaching staff. As per the findings of Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPMA), around 406 public schools in Punjab are equipped with only one teacher that teaches different grades at the same time.

Moreover, a considerable amount of schools still lack basic infrastructure like rooms, boundary walls, toilets, electricity and drinking water. It is true that performance indicators are on the rise for Punjab, but declining learning outcomes along with unrevised curriculum and antiquated teaching methods continue to offset whatever improvements have been made in the education sector. This dismal scenario has hindered the process of human development in Punjab.

A latest report by Herald revealed the alarming levels that Hepatitis C has reached in Punjab. The gravity of the disease was first realized in 2017 when 112 out of 204 people in a village near Kot Sarwar were found to be suffering from Hepatitis C. The previous government created a Hepatitis Control Program that was run by the Punjab Heath Department. However, people have been complaining about lack of medicines and the absence of qualified staff in nearby medical clinics. As a result, many villagers have to rely on local ‘quacks’ who are non-certified medical practitioners but provide cheap treatment and temporary relief. Apart from this disease rapidly transforming into an endemic, basic provision of facilities for better health are being ignored. If only the emphasis was put on building a healthy nation instead of spending billions on a 27km project, the people in Punjab would be able to look forward to a better future for themselves.

A UNDP report shows Punjab as leading amongst all the provinces in terms of HDI with the highest points of 0.732. It has been rated as high medium human developed because of high living standards, years of schooling and youth literacy rate. Yet, deeper analysis shows the divided and unequal pace of development that has taken place within the province. For instance, all the best performing districts of Punjab lie in the north whereas the ones in South and Western regions of Punjab have performed the worst – clearly showing the biased focus of the previous governments.  It is important to note these inequalities as they ultimately help shape policy guidelines and raise thought provoking questions.

The dismal situation regarding key human development indicators pose a great threat to citizens of Punjab. In such a scenario, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has risen as a fresh ray of hope for the citizens. He has pressed for the close link that elected representatives must make with the people so that they are aware of the existing ground realities. His focus on implementing the public welfare projects with consultation of public representatives defines his underlying vision for the people.

For this purpose, he has directed the Punjab government to upgrade all the existing hospitals and improve their maintenance before embarking on new projects. His objectives are clearly reflected in the people-focused budget that he has presented. With four cabinet meetings convened already, coupled with regular meetings with various MNA’s, Chief Minister Buzdar looks all set to spin the deteriorating situation of the province in the favor of the people.

The writer is the chief spokesperson for the Punjab chief minister. He holds a PhD in leadership and management.