The digits change but reality remains a nightmare for most

Once again the Pakistani government’s Budget proposal fails utterly to meet the needs of the masses. The proposal for 2016-2017 will further push up the prices of many essential items and bring more hardship for most people.

Meanwhile, the amount to be spent on defence will go up massively. A whopping 860 billion rupees (more than 8.2 billion US dollars) is allocated for defence – a 7.3% increase in total expenditure. In addition, this spending does not include military pensions for example.

The announcement of an increase in wages for public sector workers to 14,000 rupees ($135) per month is not enough, given the likely price hikes. Furthermore, this wage increase is never fully implemented in the public sector, let alone the private sector. The burden of the cost will of course will be transferred onto the heads of the working class.

The government claims that it based the proposals on the expectation of an increase in the growth rate. However, the growth rate remains at around 4% (4.7% in the recent period). This does not take into consideration the significant increase in the population. The government has refused to fulfil the legal requirement of taking a census every 10 years. There has been no census for the last three decades.

It has also been announced that the government will improve its collection of tax from workers but there is no proposal to improve collection from tax-dodging big business corporations. Revelations in the ‘Panama Papers’ show that the majority of politicians and big businesses are interlinked and that tax non-payment is rife among the elites. Vast sums of money are hidden in off-shore companies and accounts. The previous Prime Minister ,Ali Zadari, was known in the country as Mr 10%, 10% being the size of the cut he demanded, so it is claimed. He is now known as Mr 100%!

The family of the current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is also named in the Panama Papers. It is claimed that he owns a house in Dubai worth PKR 4,000 million (around US$38.5 million). Each minister and government secretary-level officer has hidden between PKR670 million and PKR 2,000 million ($6.5 million to $19.2 million), it is claimed. Top army officials have not failed to partake in this plundering. One of the top generals is said to have taken PKR 2,900 million (around $28 million) before leaving the country. These enormous scandals include top judges, scientists and many other government officials. The whole establishment swims in a gigantic pool of corruption while millions are left to starve.

The so-called “projects” that are announced by the state represent another opportunity for the elite to make money. Recently, Mr. Nawaz Sharif has inaugurated a natural gas scheme in Mansehra for the fourth time, as the previous three failed. This is yet another photo opportunity for the politicians, rather than bringing any meaningful change to the lives of the poor. The cost of the Nandi Poor project has increased from PKR250 million to over a billion now (from $.2.5 million to $9.5 million!). Still this project has not been completed. Despite the millions of rupees being spent, the government is incapable of ensuring that the basic energy needs of the masses are met. Dangerously high temperatures have been registered in many parts of the country but the masses are left with no electricity and clean water. Every year the heatwaves claim many lives but spending on measures to ameliorate the impact of this has not increased. The Pakistan budgetary allocation for education is one of the lowest in the world and in the south Asian region.

And this sick pattern goes on. The government is actually borrowing in order to make repayments on the loans that they obtained in the past. A significant section of new borrowing (PKR 807.4 billion - $7.7 billion) will be spent on paying back foreign loans. The fall in the price of oil has not benefitted the workers and poor. A mere PKR 79.5 million ($764 million) is kept for education. The allowance for health is even lower at PKR 22.4billion ($215.3 million)! Pharmaceutical companies increased their prices by 65% before the budget. Now a further increase is expected and we could see a 90% hike in the price of medicine. This is in a country where the vast majority of the population lives under the poverty line and cannot afford basic healthcare or education.

The very basic Benazir income support scheme is maintained, but without any significant additional investment it does not come close to what is required. Controversy surrounds the unemployment figures. Government reports claim 8% while the finance minister claims 6%. But in reality this figure is much higher than 8%. In many industrial workplaces, the workers are forced to work for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They work in unsafe environments and with no union rights or other rights. Often the management creates its own “pocket union” to keep the militant unions from entering the factory. Union activists face victimisation, being sacked, and, increasingly, they face being charged with “terrorism offences”. It is therefore no surprise that many workers are seeking to get out of the country and seek jobs elsewhere. Millions of workers are working in the Middle East and the government receives significant remittances from these workers (said to be 16% or more).

Given these circumstances, the budgetary announcement is seen as a mere “numbers game” by the masses. Even the parliamentarians cannot make head nor tail of it, let alone the wider masses who benefit so little from it. The whole policy of the government is aimed at satisfying its debtors such as the IMF. Massive mistrust and anger exists on the ground against the political elite and their system. Workers, students, youth and the rural poor have no option other than to fight this rigged and unequal capitalist system. This society based on exploitation and inequality should be transformed by mass working class struggle and the creation of a better society - a democratic socialist society - in which the wealth and resources can be properly planned to meet the needs of the all.

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