Saturday Jun 18 2022

Budget 2022-23 is not for the people. Here is why

A representational image. — Geo.tv illustrations
A representational image. — Geo.tv illustrations

Pakistan’s budget for the fiscal year 2022-23 is out and has been presented through several intriguing headlines — at times so emotionally worded that for a while you actually believe something different is going to happen this time around.

Before I put up my case regarding the numbers quoted in the budget and how this budget once again is not for the people, I would like to pay attention to the language used to introduce us to the budget, and its presentation style. 

Where only big numbers are discussed to gain political capital without getting into the details of their real impact on a common citizen. Such bombardment of sensationalism is a vile emotional game played by politicians who are only politics-oriented and not people-oriented.

Budget 2022-23 dictionary: A one-stop guide for financial terms

For a regular person, the language used in the budget is nearly incomprehensible. This means that, while our government claims to plan for its people, it is actively disempowering them by keeping such important national-level information limited to only a few selected people’s understanding. Most people will only grasp the bits that are over-emphasized in budget debates, while not understanding what it means for them and how it affects their life.

In sociology, Stuart Hall introduces us to the idea of “dominant reading”, which means that media texts contain a variety of messages that are encoded (made/inserted) by producers and then decoded (understood) by audiences. Therefore, what we see is simply a re-presentation of what producers want us to see. This very concept can be applied to the language of the fiscal budget as well — where highlighted phrases, sympathetic words, and popular jargon are used to direct one’s way of thinking.

This in turn creates false consciousness. Where the general public is swept away by the sweet talk and the populist language. It is sad to say this, but these numbers and the government’s perfidious statements are even re-quoted very passionately in discourses regarding the country’s political and economic situation by party aficionados. Just like politicians pick and choose the right numbers to offer to the public in order to win over their votes. These party fans have learnt to cherry-pick information to boost their favoured government’s performance.

Watch: 5Ws of Pakistan's federal budget

What is important is to realise how from a level of false consciousness, we have gradually moved towards the dumbing down of the general public. Do the people possess the ability to understand where the subsidies are really going? 

And who is actually bearing the tax burden? All projections are made bearing in mind that inflation will be controlled at 11.5%  but does a regular person understand that price hikes will eventually mean that inflation rates are bound to rise, and a global super cycle is further going to make this situation worse unless a miracle comes our way? The common person will probably just live with the hope that the promised relief will come their way.

When the people are left out of the decisions that affect them, it creates a power imbalance which is then exploited by the powerful. And what is better than having the majority of the nation believe that unicorns are real? Once you achieve this level, it becomes very easy to create polarisation, curb the voice of dissent and inhibit change.

Read more: Post-budget analysis — any respite for the poor?

The government has announced Rs699 billion in subsidies and this is being highlighted all over. But the bitter truth is that its real impact will not transfer on to the neediest. In fact, Rs570 billion is going to make its way to the independent power producers (IPPs). 

And it is a well-known fact that IPPs are eating away at the country’s capital. Proper resource planning and investment in water reservoirs for hydroelectricity would have paved for sustainable and cheap energy for the country but once again when we have decision-makers working for their own benefit rather than the people it results in becoming increasingly trapped in contracts that work against the betterment of the country and its people just as in the case of the IPPs.

Now the poorest and even the middle class will be faced with the problem of load shedding due to electricity shortages, along with the hike in electricity prices.

Watch: 'Growth' budget 2022-23 at a glance

The budget cuts in development, education and health are going to further exacerbate the situation for the most deserving. Since the above mentioned is most needed by them and narrowing their spending means we will be pushing them down further the social ladder. 

As it is, the state of affairs is in complete chaos. Stripping people off the bare minimum that they get is going to have a huge social cost — with rising crime rates, mental health issues and much more.

It is high time our planners paid genuine attention to the needs of the poor and planned not just for immediate remedies but for long-term growth. A growth that is all-inclusive and not just for the landed elite.

Read more: Who gained and who lost in budget 2022-23?

What Pakistan needs is an increase in its productive capacity to be able to compete in the global market. And this cannot be achieved without investing in human capital, enhancing people’s skills and investing in research and development.

Relying on debt to run the economy is not only unsustainable but also eternally damaging to a country — and it must stop as our only way to go further. Also, the language used in the budget should not be disenfranchising for the people. It should be formulated in a way where it can be easily understood by people so that they are more enabled and aware, of a participatory budget-making process rather than becoming mere mesmerized cult followers.

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Architecture and Planning, NED, University Karachi. She can be reached at: [email protected]

Originally published in The News