As people of Pakistan held their breath, the much awaited budget was announced with a lot of fanfare. Out of all the decisions a government makes and out of all the powers it has, arguably, budget making is at the top of the list. Budget is a vehicle for the fulfilment of social contract between citizens and state. Nothing impacts people’s lives as directly as how the money is raised and spent by governments, in the short as well as long term, determining individual and collective wellbeing of people. It reflects on the policy priorities of the government and how the resources are divided up within nations. Fundamental decisions about the right to quality education, availability of healthcare, reasonable shelter, affordable transportation, decent infrastructure, safety of life and peace, livelihood, and the extent and depth of poverty are made through this document. Debt burden impacts not just the current, but even the future generations.And, as the world is becoming increasingly interconnected through globalisation, the budgetary choices of one country impact not only its own citizens, but also of many others. Decisions about trade and tariff, import and export, banking and financial institutions will determine the flow of money, cost of food and other commodities, standard of living, employment and many other such vital areas of a nation’s financial health. The process is made more complex by the influence exerted by the external forces like IMF and other financial institutions. All these factors impact foreign policy and relations between countries, creating dynamics and situations that can and have led to wars and other conflicts. Thus, it is critical that all citizens are intimately involved in all stages of budget making and implementing. The question is: how this can be achieved? John Samuel, Director of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NACS) based in Pune, India, says: “Budget, politics, policy making and governance are interlinked and feed into each other. Politics is based on power relations and budgets are an articulation of the interest of the powerful.” Unless people understand this crucial point, they will not be able to impact the budgetary choices. Currently, the decision making is concentrated in the hands of a few, and according to Mr Samuel, “this is used to consolidate particular segments of society into vote banks and budgets are a means to distribute the ‘spoils of the system’ to these favoured sections. It is important for social action groups to be clear at this juncture as to whether they want a share in the spoils of the existing system, or whether they want to work towards changing the prevailing power structure in society. As caste, class and patriarchal interests impact the budget process from outside, it is important to acknowledge these realities in the budget analysis.”This statement sums up the power dynamics of the budgeting process. It is obvious that the working class, peasants, minorities, women and other disadvantaged groups are not represented anywhere in this system. There are two options on how to address this problem. One solution would be to organise citizens along various vested interests, for example, workers, women, minorities, etc to develop pressure groups to ensure that their interests are represented and their demands are met. This will require a huge outlay of financial and human resources to set up an extensive infrastructure for educating and training these groups on how to understand and analyse the budget, how to develop linkages with other groups as well as with the power holders and decision makers, in order to successfully intervene and try to get part of the ‘spoils of the system’. Trade unions, women rights groups and human right advocates come under this category. But this process will always be contentious, at times pitting one group against another, and thus strengthening the hands of those who already wield power. Also, the benefits will be limited, for example perhaps some increase in minimum wages, cheap housing, access to primary education and basic healthcare, etc. It will never result in equitable distribution of resources, weaker groups will always be at a disadvantage and results will still be dependent on the whims and wishes of the ruling class. The other option is to make fundamental, structural changes in the prevailing power structure in the society. It is a more difficult path to take, but I believe that this is the only way to make the budget equitable and reflective of the needs, aspirations and goals of the society as a whole. In order to change this power structure, we have to understand that this power rests on the foundation of accumulated wealth either in the form of private property or control of means of production. It is through these vehicles that a select group has taken hold of all functions of the state and imposes its will on the rest of the people. This small elite group has its own internal conflicts and fights for gaining the upper hand, which is manifested during the elections for various public offices, selections for diplomatic and bureaucratic posts, allotments of government contracts, favours in business deals, etc. However, they unite against masses when it comes to giving a fair share of representation in the government and in the nation's wealth to the masses.This unfairness and injustice is at the heart of discontent of almost all the citizens, with the current budget. The only way to resolve this discontent is to change the power structure is through economic and social justice where resources are distributed equitably, where decisions are made with the consultation and consent of citizens, where the needs of all citizens are addressed fairly. Right now, the disgruntled groups in Pakistan are scattered and disorganised and thus ineffective. In order to make a difference, they need to unite on one platform with common agenda under an effective leadership. The events in Egypt and Turkey, where the masses are challenging the writ of the elected presidents, should serve as a warning to the leaders in Pakistan to beware of the wrath and fury of the masses as once it is unleashed, they will have no refuge. It is only a matter of time that the water will boil and change into steam and quantitative will change into qualitative. 

The writer is a practicing physician and resides in Florida. She is a founding member of Rise for Pakistan and International Youth Movement. She is a founding member and was the chairperson of the Human Development Foundation, and has served on the board of PAKPAC. She is also a life member of APPNA.