Following Federal Government’s decision not to increase salaries and pensions of its employees, the salaried class have started countrywide protests. The office bearers of All Pakistan Clerks Association (APCA), WSSP Workers Union, Workers Welfare Board and other employees of government departments held one such protest in front of Peshawar Press Club in the provincial capital. They were holding banners and placards inscribed with their demands. They chanted slogans condemning federal government for not increasing their salaries and allowances. The protesters demanded increase in salaries in accordance with growing inflation in country. Almost, all opposition political parties have supported the protesters demands and ask government to reconsider its decision.
The protests have started at such a crucial time when corona pandemic has hit hard the whole world. There is a widespread agreement among the economists that most of the major economies have lost at least 2.4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Global stock markets have suffered historic fall while leading world oil and energy companies have crashed; millions have lost their jobs, Governments are giving bailout packages and trying to avert economic collapse. The corona onslaught for the developing countries like Pakistan and others is even more disastrous as major portion of the Pakistan’s budget goes to debt servicing leaving very little space for relief packages, salaries increase or development sector. Meanwhile according to Finance Division, in case salaries and pensions are increased by 10 percent, government would have to bear an extra burden of Rs 25 billion.
In such grim economic situation, isn’t it very unfair or selfish to demand rise in pay, when 98 percent non-salaried population of the country is worried for its two meals a day? Actually, the salaried class has emerged as the least affected from the current situation. Despite a partial lockdown, the employees are receiving an uninterrupted pay and without any deduction. While all other industries and businesses have been hit hard, government has neither discontinue or deducted pay of the government employees. This in itself is a great gesture as government currently have very less fiscal space due to corona pandemic. The government employees need to realize that the country is undergoing a major pandemic and the least they can offer is a sacrifice of an expected increase. This protest has also exposed the opposition parties as they are fully aware of the situation, however, to criticize government, they still opted to support an unfair demand of a salaried class. Government employees needs to show solidarity with the non-salaried population of the country who are badly affected by the corona pandemic. It should shelve such protests while offering a 10% deduction in their salaries till corona pandemic is averted.
The second unfortunate thing on social media is the circulation of disinformation and propaganda against Pakistan Army in the garb of comparison between defence and education-health budgets; few social media accounts are distorting and molding facts to serve their vested interests. As per their claim, Rs 1289 billion has been allocated for the defense while only Rs 68 billion for education and Rs 20 billion for health. There is no denying the fact that education and health are most important public sectors and governments should consider it as a priority. But it is also fact that after 18th constitutional amendment both health and education sectors have been delegated to the provinces, they are provincial subjects now, while defence is federal subject and the comparison of budget of an exclusively federal subject to that of provincial subjects is unfair. A 57.5 % of the total NFC is given to all provinces and it is the responsibility of the provincial governments to give priority to health and education in their respective budgets. Punjab provincial government has allocated an amount of Rs 390 billion for health while Rs 350 billion for education in its budget 2020-21, similarly all other provinces would allocate funds for health and education alongwith other sectors. Not a single penny has been allocated for defence spending by Punjab government because defence is a federal subject, neither other provinces are under any obligations to allocate funds for defence spending.
It is also pertinent to mention that despite very hostile borders Pakistan ranks 24 when it comes to defence spending. US military budget is $ 721.5 billion, China is $ 178 billion, and Indian military budget is $ 66.9 billion while Pakistan’s defence budget is only $ 7.1 billion that makes only 1.6 percent of our GDP and 16 percent of total government expenditures. Similarly, Pakistan is spending the lowest per soldier which is yearly $ 12549, US is spending $ 394702, India $41667, Saudi Arabia $ 371795 and Iran is spending $23396 per soldier. According to the World Bank stats, Pakistan military expenditures as percentage of the GDP has come down by 50% in the last 30 years or so. Today main problem of our budget is not the defence spending but the debt servicing on which we spend thousands of billions every year yet we need fresh loans which is further piling on our current debt.