KARACHI: The debate on the provincial budget for 2012-2013 continued for a second day in the Sindh Assembly with several MPAs highlighting how the money that is allocated is actually spent.
Speaker Nisar Khuhro presided over the session on Friday that began half an hour before its usual time of 11 am, even though there were few MPAs in the house.
One of the issues raised in the assembly before the debate on the budget began was about power outages in Hyderabad. In response, Local Government Minister Agha Siraj Durrani and Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah offered an explanation for the power outages: circular debt.
Durrani said that successive governments had only done “temporary” solutions and it was now up to the current government to find a permanent fix for the issue.
Shah, on the other hand, looked fairly irked. While he underscored the need to resolve the issue and explained how the government had reconciled its bills with utility companies and clarified how many connections it actually had, he also hit out at the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) and the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa).
“Wasa is an autonomous body that has been mismanaged,” said Shah. “It has to be audited. Otherwise they’ll be back to ask me – I mean, us – for a bailout. This is the same case with KWSB; we’ve had to help them out as well.”
The usually unflappable finance minister appeared quite irked. “They need to act like semi autonomous bodies. The departments also have a role in reconciling their dues.” To underscore his point, he asked Speaker Khuhro, “What if the government gave you money to pay the Sindh Assembly’s electricity bill and you didn’t? How is this the government’s fault?”
“It is not the fault of the people either,” Shah said.
The debate on the budget continued in the Sindh Assembly, with speeches by MPAs from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
PPP MPA Sardar Jam Tamachi Unar, who also chairs the public accounts committee of the Sindh Assembly, offered suggestions to the government to help achieve its development-heavy budget. “Population is a huge issue. People have six or seven kids… we need to have more gap between children and family planning.” Unar also asked the government to hold a population census so it can ascertain the number of people in the province and their needs.
MQM MPA Heer Ismail Soho was appreciative of the government’s moves to help women, but also said that there was an insufficient number of schemes for women development. Soho also called for more funds for the Thatta, Badin, Ghotki, Jacobabad and Kashmore districts. “If they can’t be given equal funds, at least they should have district packages or mega projects,” Soho said.
Soho also highlighted the need for an inquiry into the disbursement of funding for transport in Thatta.
MQM MPA Fahim Ahmed asked for a focus on funding of flood-hit districts and for urban cities to be allocated money in districts.
MPAs also noted that of the money that is allocated in the budget, nothing is spent until April and then a spending spree starts. Contractors are asked to move rapidly and as a result “there is no quality of work” or assessment.
Missing in action
The Sindh Minister for Minorities Affairs Dr Mohan Lal was critiqued by minority MQM MPA Hargundas Ahuja. “I do not recall the minister going to any district to inquire about the issues of minorities,” Ahuja said. “This money for the repair of 400 mandirs, churches and graveyards that is mentioned in the budget… I don’t think even a 100 were repaired.”
“For four months, the department’s secretary isn’t there, then the director isn’t there for the next four,” Ahuja said about the minorities affairs department. “Then the minister is on leave for a month.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.
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