Islamabad: Pakistan’s education budget is suffering a decline and no tangible effort is made by the state to ensure the delivery of the Right to Education even after two years since the constitutional right was created. The serious concern showed by the education experts and civil society during round-table policy consultation dialogue titled: ‘Education Budget: Post-devolution scenario – two years down the lane’ was organised on Thursday afternoon by the Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) here in Islamabad at the Marriott Hotel. These included more than 70 representatives of civil society organisations, experts of education policy, international development organisations and policy makers including members of the parliamentary standing committees on Education.
The gathering was addressed by Ms. Zehra Arshad, National Coordinator PCE. She stressed that education experts, policy makers and political parties should engage to develop an implementation plan around RTE. Pakistan is no.1 in producing world’s largest number of illiterates. Ms. Nargis Sultana of ‘Foundation for Open Society Institute’ highlighted the importance of developing evaluation indicators for following budgetary expenditures in education at different tiers of government.
Mr. Ahmed Ali from Institute of Social and Policy Sciences presented a case study of the Punjab as a financing model for education. He analysed the efficiency and allocation of resources and suggested ways to maximise output from existing resources in light of good governance policies towards the implementation of Right to Education. Dr. Baela Jamil of Idara e Taleem o Agahi presented her analysis on out of school children in Pakistan in light of the findings of the ASER 2011 report. The participants stressed the importance of a continual dialogue and consultations between the government and civil society for collective action to achieve more effective implementation of government policies on education.
The round table discussion concluded with demands made to policy makers:
• Federal and provincial governments must immediately take effective steps to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution. Since it is now a fundamental right and requirement, the government is bound by law to arrange for the required resources. Lack of resources can no longer be an excuse in the way of implementing this fundamental right.
• Government must take steps to raise revenue through an effective, progressive and fair taxation system. All the tax exemptions given to privileged sectors must be done away with; while the tax evaders must be brought into the tax net without discrimination.
• Effective steps must be taken to ensure that funds allocated for non-salary current expenditures and development projects are efficiently and responsibly utilized. For this purpose, the government must invest in building requisite capacities of all relevant stakeholders.
• All information and records related to budget allocations, release of funds, revisions, supplementary grants, re-appropriations, utilization, and other relevant qualitative aspects must be proactively disclosed and published through websites and other media.
• Reports of quarterly budget reviews must be presented before the parliamentary committees on education and published on the websites.
• Provincial governments must direct all the respective district governments to treat all budget documents and related information as open to public access. There should be strict and clear guidelines for withholding any information.
• Parliament and parliamentary committees, provincial assemblies and provincial committees on education must take effective steps to improve their procedures and capacity for scrutinizing budget documents and making useful inputs in the budget making process. They should also require the government to stop changing the approved budget allocations through re-appropriations or supplementary grants without prior parliamentary approval.