The budget speech itself might have been uneventful but on Tuesday the opposition members blasted the budget proposals, the government and its ‘bad governance’.
Only 16 members attended the debate. The session was scheduled for 10 am but started at around 11:40 am with Deputy Speaker Rana Mashood Ahmed in the chair.
Raja Riaz, the leader of the opposition in the House, opened the debate by criticising the Punjab government for presenting a budget that had not been prepared by a finance minister. Party members were not taken on board either, he said, adding that “Ishaq Dar prepared the budget sitting in Raiwind”.
He described the budget as a “jugglery of words and a pack of lies”.
“I will not congratulate Mian Mujtaba Shujaur-Rehman for preparing the budget,” Riaz said, “but I do appreciate Rehman’s quick reading of the speech.”
He objected to the government allocating Rs4 billion to distribute laptops among “well off” students “when there were thousands [of children] studying in schools without toilets, even buildings”. He cautioned the PML-N against hoping to get votes by distributing laptops and taxis. “Only a mad man would vote for the PML-N considering their callous policies,” Riaz said.
The opposition leader bashed the Punjab government for “failing to set up even a megawatt of energy” during their four-year term. Riaz added that he would resign if the Punjab government provided proof of generating a “single megawatt of energy”. He said the provincial government had hosted an energy conference but had not implemented its recommendations.
He claimed the government had sold gunny bags for Rs80 to Rs100 each when they were supposed to have been distributed free-of-cost. “Poor sugarcane farmers were exploited by the sugar mills, most of them owned by the Sharifs,” he said. Riaz also dismissed Punjab government’s interest-free loans scheme as “an attempt to buy votes”.
The Punjab government’s allocation of Rs2 billion for Daanish Schools –lower than last year’s allocation of Rs3 billion – for Riaz, amounted to admitting that the project had failed to produce the desired results.
He then turned his guns towards the chief minister. “[Shahbaz Sharif] likes to keep the departments of education and health with himself but their performance is among the worst”, said Riaz. He said everybody knew about the government’s huge failures like the deaths caused by a contaminated batch of Isotab and the death of 12 babies in the Services Hospital fire.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, in his short reply, denied Riaz’s claims. He said the Sharifs had paid sugarcane farmers. Ninety-eight per cent of other sugar mills did not exploit the farmers either, he added.
PML-Q’s Zafar Zulqarnain Sahi lambasted the Punjab government for allocating a huge amount for Daanish Schools, adding, “the provision of missing facilities in other schools is not a priority of the government”. He said the government should have spent the millions it spent on advertising the laptop scheme on ensuring the provision of missing facilities in public schools. He also said the government had earlier announced that it would cut the Chief Minister’s Secretariat budget by one-fourth but had not. PPP’s Tanveer Ashraf Karia, the former finance minister, asked why the Punjab government had not appointed a finance minister well in time for the budget. He criticised the government for obtaining Rs12 billion in foreign loans despite earlier statements that it would not accept any foreign assistance. Kaira also cited a study supervised by Sartaj Aziz, Shahid Burki and Hafeez Pasha, according to which Punjab’s growth rate was 3.6 percent, lower than other provinces.
Kaira said Nawaz Sharif was responsible for the current electricity crisis. In 1996, the PPP government was about to ink an agreement for the production of 1,700 MW of electricity, he said. “Our government was toppled,” he said, “and the PML-N government later ignored the agreement.”
Ahsan Naulatia described the Punjab government’s Rs10 billion allocation for energy as “insufficient”. The Sindh government has allocated Rs25 billion, he said.
Unification Bloc’s Sheikh Alauddin urged that the government “overhaul” the Irrigation Department to protect the province against floods. Among his other demands were transparency in distribution of green tractors, outsourcing of TEVTA examination and a ban on private practice of doctors working at government hospitals. “The government should impose a tax on guest houses, which are a source of vulgarity in the province. They should be regulated,” Sheikh added.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2012.