Punjab being the largest among the federal units is expected to play the leading role in cutting down expenses on an oversized government. However, what has happened over the last three years is the opposite. Instead of living within its means, the PML(N) government has been on a spending binge seeking loans from the banks to maintain the untenable style of governance. The downsizing announcement on Sunday is welcome though there are still important areas where reforms are still badly needed.
According to the senior advisor to Punjab CM Sardar Zulfiqar Khosa, the government has accepted the recommendations of a committee it had appointed recently. The adjustments made are supposed to help it save Rs. 6.1 billion annually. A number of project management units and companies have been abolished or downsized. Similarly some of the government departments have been merged into others. A number of administrative posts both in district management and police departments have been downgraded and a number of officers working on deputation in Punjab are to be repatriated to their parent departments in the federal government. This is sound policy and there is a need on the part of other provinces also to remove some of the fat accumulating around their respective administrations.
What needs to be done is to shun undertaking costly but often unsustainable projects for political benefits like the much criticised Sasti Roti Scheme which was scrapped reportedly only after the Rs7.85 billion loan debt accrued from commercial banks was left unpaid by the food department owing to non-provision of funds earmarked in the financial years 2009-10 and 2010-11. Instead of helping the poor, the scheme was misused by vested interest groups. There were frequent reports of pilferage in subsidised wheat flour, nepotism in grant of quota and lack of a proper mechanism to monitor the self-proclaimed, pro-poor scheme. The establishment of four medical colleges, and that too without the approval of PMDC, is yet another costly exercise The Danish School system which is to finally comprise 87 schools has also been criticised for mismanagement and for being unsustainable. There is a need on the part of the Punjab government as well as for governments in other provinces to learn to cut their coat according to their cloth.