Saturday, 4 July 2015

Open letter to DFID regarding Alif Ailaan, Part II

I wrote a letter to DFID, UKaid a few weeks ago expressing my concern over a campaign by Alif Ailaan unfairly targeting the federal government to increase spending on education to 4% of GDP. I have now received a response from DFID. Since Alif Ailaan (AA) ran a public campaign and I raised my objections via an open letter it's only appropriate that I share their response publicly as well. Their letter is reproduced below

Following are some of my comments in response.

The letter says that the campaign does not exclusively target the finance minister. I am not aware of all the fine details of Alif Ailaans campaign but as a member of the general public I found the targeting was quite obvious. Not only did the campaign directly address the finance minister, it completely omitted the four chief ministers with whom the decision to allocate resources actually lies. The four provincial governments in Pakistan are headed by four different political parties. Alif Ailaan could have ran a better campaign by encouraging healthy competition between the four governments. By making the federal government a convenient escape goat for the provincial governments, AA has actually done a dis-service to the cause of education in Pakistan.

The main argument put forth by DFID/AA for targeting the federal government is that the centre needs to create 'fiscal space' for the provinces, enabling them to increase their education spending. Firstly, as the DFID letter clearly states, fiscal space needs to be created through the National Finance Commission. This allocation is not made in the federal budget! What then is the purpose of this campaign at the time of the federal budget apart from political point-scoring? Secondly, the share of provinces was increased from 47% to 57.5% when education was devolved from the centre to the provinces creating fiscal space for them. It is up to the provinces to allocate resources as per their priorities from these funds. Thirdly, even if the centre were to increase the size of the divisible pool it would have no constitutional authority to dictate education spending to the provinces. The finance minister is not legally empowered "to ensure that 4% of national income is spent on education."

The response also mentions a "write a letter" campaign where public were asked to urge the finance minister to increase education spending. I have not seen any such campaign perhaps because it was not as aggressively promoted. Nevertheless the target of these letters should have been the provincial Chief Ministers and not the Finance Minister.

Most importantly, DFID/AA need to re-assess the validity of their assumption that it's the lack of fiscal space that is hampering education spending by provinces. Recent news stories suggest otherwise. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government could spend only Rs9.3bn of the total development budget of Rs19.9bn for elementary and secondary education as of June 5, 2015! 

I believe that the AA campaign is based on false assumptions, is wrongly targeted and poorly executed. I have little doubt that, sadly, it will fail in producing any tangible results.

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