Social sector projects and schemes under the Annual Development Programme will be prioritised in the budgetary allocations for the 2016-2017, Minister for Finance Ayesha Ghaus Pasha told the Provincial Assembly as she concluded the week-long pre-budget debate on Wednesday. She said a fourth of the budget will be dedicated to education.
Pasha told the session that the government would prioritise projects in line with its economic growth strategy. Pasha particularly spoke on projects with foreign funding, on-going schemes in advanced stages and leftover schemes from the previous year.
Pasha said steps would be taken to address economic disparity between various districts. She said social sectors would be strengthened through collaboration with the private sector.
“Education, health, sewerage facilities and provision of safe drinking water are part of the development programme,” she said. The minister said there would be less block allocations and token funding.
Allocations under the recurring budget would focus on maintenance of assets, direct subsidies, social sectors and disaster management.
Expansion of social protection will also be part of the recurring budget. The minister said salaries and pensions of civil servants would also be covered under the recurring budget. “Strengthening the economy through service delivery should be our priority. That is what the government is working towards,” she said.
The minister also addressed the reservations of some lawmakers regarding the pre-budget debate. She said a report was being compiled based on the recommendations made in the House. She said this report would be presented to relevant departments to incorporate suggestions that were in line with the government’s priorities.
The minister said during the week-long exercise, lawmakers had identified education, health and law and order as the top three priorities.
“Disparities affecting the south Punjab as well as repair and maintenance of the roads network have been prioritised.”
Pasha also discussed the government’s plans for agriculture.
She said the agriculture sector had been suffering largely due to fluctuations in the international market. She said deliberations on how to improve the situation were underway. “The government is looking into subsidies, a procurement policy and research in agriculture.”
As many as 100 lawmakers took part in the consultation. Of these, 60 lawmakers participated in the pre-budget debate. The others sent their recommendations through forms provided by the Finance Department.
Earlier, at the commencement of the concluding session, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) lawmaker Aamir Sultan Cheema had pointed the lack of quorum, suspending the session for nearly ten minutes. Reservations over the temporary absence of the finance minister were raised by the treasury benches.
The Leader of the Opposition Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed took up his adjournment motion over the Panama Papers. On Wednesday, Rasheed said he had received a letter from the assembly secretariat saying that under the rules of the House, his adjournment motion could not be taken up. Rasheed asked why the matter was not being taken up in the House. When the speaker adhered to his ruling, the joint opposition in the Punjab Assembly staged a walkout.
The issue of lack of media coverage of the proceedings was taken up by treasury lawmaker Sheikh Alaud Din who complained about the poor quality of the live feed provided to the electronic media.
He said the print media ignored serious issues taken up in the House. Several lawmakers agreed with him, including the law minister and the leader of the opposition.
The Chair ruled that a committee would be formed to resolve issues pertaining to media coverage. The Speaker said deliberations were under way on whether to install cameras at a new building of the House or at the old building.
Passage of bills
On Wednesday, the House passed five bills: the Provincial Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2015, the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (amendment) Bill 2015, the Fort Munro Development Authority Bill 2015, the Punjab Local Government (3RD Amendment) Bill 2016 and the Punjab Animals Slaughter Control (Amendment) Bill 2016. All the bills were passed in the absence of the opposition.
The session was adjourned till Thursday morning.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2016.