Following the lead of the federal government, both Sindh and Punjab also released their annual budgets. With the shadow of the “austerity” mantra, both reflect a cut in spending to adjust for the reduced revenue receipts. Punjab’s budget reflects the policy of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) and hence has obviously toed the party line in the formulation of this year’s budget. The Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) in Sindh, faced with the impending financial crunch as the federal government looks to reduce spending, was left with little choice other than structuring a budget that did not lean too heavily on government spending.

For Punjab, this budget technically goes against the new provincial government’s Punjab Growth Strategy 2023, a five-year plan drafted to boost growth in the province and capitalise on the economic gains garnered from a province that contributes more than half of the country’s economic share. The plan endeavoured to specialise on Punjab’s comparative advantage in production compared to the other provinces, and focusing on agriculture and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) was one of the salient features. Allocating low funds for developmental projects tells us that the government is following the centre’s lead in deciding how to spend its money, and if nothing else, this consistency is likely to bear results and will be a better gauge of whether PTI’s current economic plan proves to be successful.

Sindh’s ‘zero-deficit’ budget featured a revision of previous estimates of both revenues and expenditures, as a reduction in the first led to planning a decreased expenditure plan as well. Clearly even though the Sindh government is controlled by an opposition party, the PTI budget in the centre has necessitated for provincial governments to tighten their belts. But neither the Punjab nor the Sindh budget give any credence to the federal government’s ambition to make provinces more self-sustainable and generate their own revenue. The provinces must look to improve their contribution to the federation if the country is to rise out of the current economic predicament it seems stuck in.

The three budgets released this year reflect a reaction to the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and mostly have to do with putting out fires in the economy to find some sort of stabilisation in lowering growth levels, currency depreciation, unemployment and rapid inflation. The worrying aspect is that there seems to be no plan on what comes after; how does Pakistan go from stabilisation to actual growth? Unless both the centre and the provinces find a solution to this conundrum, Pakistan might just find itself looking for bailouts from IMF once more in the not-too-distant future.