Development priorities

THE new development budget for the next fiscal year shows some skewed priorities at play. Irrigation projects have been reduced, as have health and education, under the argument that these are now provincial responsibilities. Outlays on roads have been increased, and there is a mammoth Rs100bn hike in spending on IDP repatriation and `related security expenditure`. Additionally, Rs20bn have been allocated for the prime minister`s miscellaneous youth related initiatives, such as laptop distribution. This is a little puzzling and some questions necessarily arise.

Why is `security-related expenditure` being budgeted in the development plan for next year? And how does the bill for IDP repatriation add up to Rs100bn, especially considering the announcements that repatriation may be delayed further? And why do the prime minister`s youth-related initiatives merit Rs20bn while other vital programmes such as health and education are brushed off to the provinces? Roads are useful infrastructure projects, but why is railway not being touted as a bigger priority if communications are important? Water-related infrastructure at a time of climate change and repeated annual flooding must go beyond just the lining of water courses and building dams. It must include appropriate flood warning and control infrastructure as well, which should be retained as a federal priority, but it seems as if the government is not interested in pursuing these. The development plan appears to reflect the government`s preference for high-visibility infrastructure projects and schemes to distribute goodies instead of investing in social service delivery. The extraordinary allocation for `security-related expenditure` also raises serious questions about whether or not this belongs in a development plan or if it should be met through current expenditure instead. If the government is getting ready to tell us that this is its plan for lifting the growth rate up to 5.5pc for next year, we can only say that it is likely to be met with scepticism. We hope that the budget itself will reflect more coherent thinking.

Published in Dawn