A pro-poor budget with the rich in mind? Cute, Mr Ishaq Dar, cute!

Published: June 6, 2015
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While this year’s budget is as ruthless as its predecessors, the rich have definitely been catered for. PHOTO: FILE

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it” – Joseph Goebbels

Goebbels was one of the most prominent propagandists during Hitler’s era; the man was a magician. I mean, if someone can sell Hitler and his ideology to millions of people at a time, then he definitely deserves respect. And therefore, I virtually have the same respect for our long line of finance ministers, who have the guts to come on television every year, present a horrendous budget for the common man, and then dub it “ghareebon ka budget” (poor people’s budget).

The last time I checked, no one in the military or the upper management of the HEC or the Pakistan Railways or the energy sector was poor. And yet our budgets have always been more inclined towards these sectors, where money always flows in but rarely flows out. The budget has never been about the poor; otherwise the number of people living in poverty would not have increased from 17.2% in 2009 to 60.3% today.

Thus, it came as a bit of surprise for me when Finance Minister Ishaq Dar partially admitted that the Budget 2015-16, though focused on the poor, has been made with the rich kept in mind. In his words,

“This is a pro-poor budget but we also have to keep the rich in mind.”

Congratulations, Pakistan! At least our politicians have finally decided to tell us the (known) truth – even though it is partial. While this year’s budget is as ruthless as its predecessors, the rich have definitely been catered for. How is that so?

Well, for one thing, taxes on all major sectors have been increased.

There has been a 100% increase in taxes on mobile handsets, leading to a 1000-rupees hike in their prices. On the other hand, sections of the airlines industry have been exempted from taxes all together. I have come across many poor people who own cell phones, but I don’t remember ever coming across one who owned a plane.

Still pro-poor, Mr Dar?

Moving on, Rs20.88 billion, Rs71.5 billion, Rs600 billion and Rs78 billion have been allocated for health, education, agriculture and the railways respectively. And how much does the military get? A whooping Rs780billion – because, obviously, it is the poor who require more sophisticated weaponry.

What about health? Why is the budget so meagre? Why can’t we allocate more and build more government hospitals that can facilitate the poor for free? Lord knows we need more health centres. And criticism for the education budget has been said and done a multiple times, so I won’t bore my readers with that. As for the railway, the rich rarely travel by rail. If the budget for railways has increased, poor people will be able to afford subsidised tickets and travel easily. An overwhelming majority of workers in our urban areas are from the rural side, just imagine the relief they would have if this budget is increased.

Coming now to agriculture; we are a country that has the capacity to grow the very food we need to feed our people. Has anyone thought about the amount of money we will be saving in terms of imports of food, if we just focus on agriculture? The jobs it would create? The food we will have? How self-sustained we could be? Shouldn’t this sector have more than the military budget? And if people are going to argue that not much of it is utilised by the agricultural industry, then whose fault is that? The politicians who are so proudly narrating this ghastly budget can very easily work towards implementing it wholly too – if only the rich are taken out of the equation.

But no. That wouldn’t please our elite class. Where will feudalism go if we increase the agriculture budget? To hell!? God forbid.

Approximately Rs700 billion has been allocated for development. While this sounds amazing, what good is a well-built road or a good school building if the people walking on that road or studying in that school do not have employment or food or safety or good teachers or a proper curriculum? These are just some of the things that my naive brain can churn out right now; can’t our esteemed economists – if there are any – understand this basic fact?

Or maybe they do understand it, but are too busy in the glamour and fad of it all.

We need a budget that caters to our lower and middle income-groups. They make up the greatest proportion of our population, for crying out loud! The government should have kept its own responsibilities in mind, instead of making their benefactors, donors and sponsors happy.

The rich might give them money to run their fancy campaigns in the elections, but it is the poor who will vote for them. If this continues, the poor will also snap. And once that happens, there is no knowing what will follow.

While the budget has already been announced, I would urge all those sitting in the assembly to rigorously debate over its content and if nothing else, churn out a better, more Pakistani-friendly budget, and if not that, then at least make the reasons for such a budget known. Because right now, this budget just doesn’t cut it.

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Faiq Lodhi

Faiq Lodhi

A journalism grad and news-buff, his interests include current affairs, arts, literature and social work. He tweets as @FaiqLodhi (twitter.com/FaiqLodhi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.