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[ISLAMABAD] Pakistan has increased its science and technology budget by a quarter, boosting funding to science projects across a range of ministries.

The country will spend around 48 billion rupees (US$590 million) on science in 2009–2010, up from last year's around 38 billion rupees (US$573 million) (see Pakistan science increase marred by high inflation).

Pakistan's National Assembly approved the budget last week (25 June).

The new government has promised big chunks of its development budget to science and technology but many are cautious as heavy cuts were made in last year's approved budget (see Financial crisis hits Pakistani science).

The country also faces a severe cash shortage and depreciation of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, affecting purchases of science equipment and expenses relating to foreign scholarships, which are made in US dollars.

The Ministry of Science and Technology has been allocated US$40.3 million, an eight per cent increase from last year, for its 86 existing and 46 new projects, which include setting up computing centres, creating an infrastructure for vaccine production and acquiring a ocean survey ship.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) will spend US$196.7 million — 30 per cent more than last year — on scientific projects and scholarships in public-sector universities. Much of this money will be used to upgrade science libraries and laboratories and establish centres of excellence for nanotechnology, endocrinology, virology and bioinformatics.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture will receive US$42.5 million, an increase of about 20 per cent, for projects including research on olives, satellite monitoring of crop data and establishing a camel research centre.

The Ministry of Information Technology will receive only US$8.4 million, a cut of 57 per cent, whereas the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission will receive a 27 per cent increase to US$241 million.

This year's science allocation makes up 1.9 per cent of the total US$30.6 billion budget, compared with 1.8 per cent last year.

"We are clear that knowledge is the way forward for development, and the current increase in the science budget shows our resolve to boost this sector," the planning commission's science advisor, Ishfaq Ahmad, told SciDev.Net.

The HEC's executive director, Sohail Naqvi, says he is confident the government will deliver the money. "We got a revised amount last year and we are confident that the full amount allocated for the current year will be released to the HEC," he told SciDev.Net.

When asked how Pakistan's promises for science would be honoured, the prime minister's finance adviser, Shaukat Tarin, told SciDev.Net: "We hope to get aid from friendly countries, and even if we receive less than expected, we will go to the IMF for a loan."