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How Sindh’s Planning Bureaucracy Is Negatively Affecting Development In The Province

All policies require sincere human interventions in order to be successful. Such interventions have to be collaborative, recognising the strengths and energies of everyone involved. No one has a right to brandish their fragile egos by using administrative force for their own selfish purposes. However, when it comes to Pakistan’s bureaucracy, personal egos always reign supreme over moral principles.

Untamed hubris has plagued any recent dialogue between Centre and the provinces while human resources have been compartmentalised in hierarchies of command and obedience in order for expedient bureaucrats to maintain their power.

Alternative views are dealt with iron hands and disciplinary proceedings only end in favour of influential individuals. This is what ails administrative governance in Sindh. It is ironic that everyone in a position of power is a feudal lord or lady of sorts, an idea heavily borrowed from the British colonial powers of the past. No doubt cultures affect institutions but conscientious individuals live by certain values. Sadly, there is hardly any space for such people in the Sindh government as they are deemed useless when it comes to carrying out selfish motives. There is hardly any consensus involved in decision-making because sound technical advice is given cold shoulder.

Plans and policies are framed in silos by the expedient bureaucrats and compliant consultants. This sad state of affairs is causing severe mismanagement, the brunt of which the common man is forced to bear.

One of the major issues with planning bureaucracy in Sindh is the lack of will and capacity to diversify the development portfolio while formulating the provincial Annual Development Plan. Every year quite a few ongoing development schemes are haphazardly deleted from the ADP midway and that too after incurring considerable expenditure, thus causing huge cumulative financial outlay from provincial exchequer without achieving intended deliverables.

The provincial planning consultants do not seem to realise that this practice has serious snowball effect on the fiscal creditworthiness of the province, which is the only invisible strength of the province. There is no institutional thought-process in the selection of development schemes since a good number of schemes are mostly identical or rather duplication in scope, design and implementation arrangement. Similar nature of development schemes reflected in provincial ADP are mostly sent for federal government for reflection in the federal PSDP, likewise the scope of some components of the foreign funded projects also remain similar to many schemes reflected under provincial portfolio. And unsurprisingly, the same schemes are duplicated in the district ADP as well as financed through undocumented Non-ADP portfolio of the province.

Sectoral allocations are arbitrarily determined without considering the actual need or performance of the relevant executing agencies. Least priority is given to sectoral policies and action plans. There is no upstream policy and regularly framework aligning plans with sectoral strategies. Rational internal voices are shut out since serving officers can’t speak before a retired consultant in internal meetings. In an age when global development practitioners are talking about ensuring the citizens’ engagement, Sindh’s planning bureaucracy bars its own staff to be part of a consultative process.

One relevant example for the purpose of clarity is that of the declining quality of surface water bodies in the coastal areas. Water bodies are toxic and contaminated due to continuous industrial waste discharge and they have been rendered unsuitable even for the irrigation. Now if our planners plan to undertake an experimental cultivation on huge mass of coastal land without taking into account the unsuitability of irrigation water, then that is the disaster of their own making. Subsequently, such planning blunders are concealed by deleting such schemes midway, thus causing huge loss to the much needed growth and productivity built on limited resources.

Many factors such as: decrease in the river flows to the delta resulting in a reduction in sediment deposition, surface and subsurface seawater intrusion, land subsidence, sea level rise, climate change, and anthropogenic activities — have all contributed to the shrinkage and degradation of one of the largest ecosystems of the world. During the flourishing days of the delta, there were seventeen river mouths (creeks) which are now decreased to only two active creeks viz. Khobar and Khar.

One of the major issues in the coastal areas is the declining quality of surface water bodies. The water bodies are unsuitable even for the irrigation.

In coastal areas, groundwater salinization is associated with increased dissolved minerals and some other chemical constituents, such as chloride, magnesium. The groundwater contamination is increasing continuously, saline water from the sea enters the aquifers as seawater contains salts and metals. Hence people usually use surface water to fulfil their water demand. Freshwater lakes can play a vital role in providing drinking water to the communities and can work as groundwater recharge hotspots.

To safeguard coastal areas and the marine ecosystem from likely climate change impacts, it is imperative to ensure optimal river water flow for continuation of sediment and nutrient transfer to the marine ecosystem and to reduce intrusion of saline sea water into coastal regions. Additionally, it is also important to diversify the livelihood opportunities for the local coastal communities to limit inland migrations.

The incompetence of provincial planning bureaucracy is augmented by some handpicked retired planning consultants who are only interested in the expediency of perpetrating his own consultancy services. Development is a perpetual work in progress — the extension of ultimate human freedom from poverty, vulnerability, disaster and marginalisation. Therefore, it is important to diversify the development portfolio to ascertain maximum benefit to the lives and livelihoods of the peoples instead of pleasing some contractors, consultants and construction companies.

Unfortunately, the Planning bureaucracy in Sindh is currently being ill advised by a retired planning consultant who is too visionless to identify the appropriate nature of development schemes to be reflected both in the provincial ADP as well as in the federal PSDP.

The 350 kilometers long coast area with its inland sprawl is home to 1.6 million people living in 150 thousand household spread over 8 talukas and 718 revenue villages. These coastal communities deserve better than the ill conceived plans of a retired planning consultant in Sindh.

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