Sacrificing Our TODAY for the World's TOMORROW
FATA is "Federally Administered Tribal Area" of Pakistan; consisting of 7 Agencies and 6 F.Rs; with a 27000 Sq Km area and 4.5 m population.
MYTH: FATA is the HUB of militancy, terrorism and unrest in Afghanistan.
REALITY: FATA is the worst "VICTIM of Militancy”. Thousands of Civilians dead & injured; Hundreds of Schools destroyed; Thousands of homes raised to ground; 40% population displaced from homes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The budget and food security: Pakistan's scenario - By Dr. Akmal Hussain (Express Tribune, 16 May 2011)

Courtesy: Daily "Express Tribune, Pakistan", 16 May 2011 
The budget and food security
By Dr Akmal Hussain
If the budget is to have any relevance for the people of Pakistan, it must address the twin problems of deep recession and high inflation which, together, are causing acute distress to a large proportion of the population. A consequence of per capita GDP growth becoming negative has been a rapid rise in poverty and unemployment. At the same time, the 25 per cent food inflation rate is placing large chunks of the population into a very desperate situation. As much as 74 per cent of Pakistanis are food insecure. The challenge in the short run is that under tight budgetary constraints, fiscal space must be found to provide at least atta to the poor at an affordable price. The challenge in the medium term is to revive the economy and place it on a new growth path that is both equitable and sustainable. Let us see how the short term objective can be achieved in the next fiscal year.

Last year, the peasantry produced a food surplus and yet, food grain slipped out of the grasp of the bottom 30 per cent of small farmers, who are net buyers of grain. Also, a large proportion of the non-farm rural and urban population are now finding it difficult to buy wheat flour. It is likely that a significant proportion of the food grain that the government procured last year was lost in storage. The government is envisaging export of the six million tons that remains in its possession at a price that is now lower than the price at which it was purchased last year. It is a poignant paradox that the government is thinking of exporting food grain at a time when the majority of the population is food insecure.
It would be better economic logic to supply the surplus food grain to the poor population at an affordable price and thereby insulate them to some extent from the ravages of food inflation. This can be done by issuing plastic ration cards to each poor household that has been identified in the recent World Bank survey of poor households. This card would entitle a household to acquire 40 kilogrammes (kg) of wheat flour per month from utility stores at a fixed, subsidised price of about Rs800 for one 40 kg bag. The total cost to the government of this subsidy to 60 million poor households would be, a maximum of, Rs108 billion. This can be financed by reducing the subsidy on fertilisers which predominantly goes to the large farmers who, in any case, last year, enjoyed a selling price of Rs950 per 40 kg bag — higher than the world price. While the cost of the wheat flour is modest, the human welfare resulting from the protection of the poor from inflation would be immense.
In the medium term, the government can find the fiscal space to stimulate the economy through four measures: (i) I have estimated that Rs91.5 billion can be saved by reducing the number of unnecessary and overlapping government departments and ministries. The government needs to rightsize itself, instead of spending tax payers’ money in ‘accommodating’ its political allies and redundant government officials. (ii) Restructure and privatise public sector entities which are currently generating Rs140 billion losses, which have to be financed by the government. (iii) Reduce the existing Rs343 billion of badly targeted subsidies and refocus them to benefit the underprivileged sections of the population. (iv) The government ought to stop trading in commodities, for which it has neither the storage capacity nor the marketing skills, but on which it spent Rs450 billion last year.
The government needs to drastically cut down its wasteful expenditures on an oversized government, prevent corrupt and mismanaged public sector enterprises from haemorrhaging the exchequer, pull out from trading activities which are better done by the private sector and reduce unnecessary subsidies. This will provide the fiscal space for stimulating economic growth in the medium term and provide succour to the poor in the short term. The cry of the hungry citizens, who have no voice in the market, must be heard by the government which purports to represent them.

The writer is distinguished professor of economics at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore 

Note: The viewpoint expressed in this article is solely that of the writer / news outlet. "FATA Awareness Initiative" Team may not agree with the opinion presented.

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