Govt plans district delivery fund.
LAHORE -- The Usman Buzdar government plans to create a District Delivery Fund (DDF) to tackle lopsided development and abject poverty in the least developed districts of the province, particularly in South Punjab, as part of its push for regional equalisation under the new [provincial] growth strategy.
The fund will use a targeted approach to identify and implement problem-specific projects to address key dimensions of deprivation in the backward districts, according to the five-year Punjab Growth Strategy 2018-2023 developed by a team of the Punjab Economic Research Institute (PERI) led by Dr M Aman Ullah, the chief economist at the provincial planning and development department.
Initially, the fund will be launched for the 10 most deprived districts in the south and central Punjab, and the development schemes will target key SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) indicators in the areas of health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene. 'The pilot projects will later be scaled up for multiplied impact... additional development funds can be channelled into most deprived districts to bring parity,' the strategy adds.
In order to achieve regional equalisation, the provincial government will reduce variance in development investment across the districts by at least five per cent a year, cut multidimensional poverty in the deprived districts by at least 10 percentage points, and improve parity in education, health and water indicators by 50pc in next five years.
Initially fund will be launched for 10 most deprived districts in south and central Punjab
The government estimates that 1pc decrease in the inequity ratio will help reduce multidimensional poverty by almost 0.4pc.
The rising regional disparity in the province is blamed on the previous Shahbaz Sharif administration's focus on large infrastructure and transport projects in the northern districts, particularly the ones closer to the centre of political power in Lahore and along the G.T. Road.
The PML-N government spent only Rs221 billion or 17.5pc of the total actual provincial public investment of Rs925bn in south Punjab - much less than the region's share of 31pc in the provincial population - in its second term in Punjab in 2013/2018. The remoter, poorer central districts too were hit hard by the low development spending of Rs171bn or 18.5pc of the total public investment during that period.
'The pattern of poverty (in the province) is a direct result of the previous public investment decisions... a quick analysis of the disparities suggests that over the last four years to 2018, if the government spent Rs100 per capita per annum in Lahore on development the second highest spending was only Rs26 per capita per annum in Multan,' says the draft new growth strategy expected to be launched later this month. '... the expenditure per capita falls down to under Rs10 for at least 15 out of the 36 districts with the districts like Bahawalnagar, Layyah and Pakpattan just getting Rs5 per capita per annum for development.'
Out of just less than 29pc poor in Punjab, more than 42pc live in the southern districts as compared with 19pc in the rest of Punjab. Over 52pc of households in D.G. Khan are estimated to be poor followed by 42.7pc in Bahawalpur and 32.3pc in Multan, according to the latest multidimensional poverty index, which is based on four main development indicators - education, health, living standards, and water and sanitation.
The provincial finance minister, Makhdum Hashim Jawan Bakht, has repeatedly criticised the previous government for ignoring south Punjab by allocating far less development funds for the region than its share in population and re-appropriating allocations for projects in Lahore and elsewhere in northern districts.
The PTI government has placed an 'administrative ban' on re-appropriation of development allocations for south Punjab in future.
Planning and development department (P and DD) officials often blame weak state machinery and capacity to execute development projects for low utilisation of development allocations in south Punjab and other remoter central districts. '... the issue (of regional equalisation in the remoter districts) can be tackled by providing additional development funds and strengthening the administrative structure there,' P and DD secretary Iftikhar Sahoo told this reporter on Thursday.
Hence, the growth strategy suggests launch of the south Punjab administrative set-up and appointment of competent and delivery-oriented officers there to decrease development deprivation on a war footing. 'This will also require separate planning and additional development budget for the southern districts, use of spatial mapping to identify infrastructure gaps in the deprived districts - especially the farm-to-market and connectivity roads, universities, stock of schools and hospitals and technical and vocational training centres. These spatial gaps will be used to make targeted infrastructure investments in the deprived districts,' says the draft strategy.