PESHAWAR: The government on Thursday came under severe criticism by the opposition in the provincial assembly for presenting a “deficit budget” worth Rs648 billion by the provincial government earlier in the week.
“I was expecting a new Pakistan’s budget with some vision and directions to be followed to address the problems but I do not see it,” lamented Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) Inayatullah Khan.
Pointing to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Finance Minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra, Inayatullah stated that “you being a technocrat and having a competent finance secretary still have continued to follow the traditional budget.”
The JI leader rejected the government’s claims of calling the fiscal year 2018-19 finance plan a ‘surplus budget’, noting that the surplus was hinged on foreign assistance which too they were unlikely to get as per available projections.
“How can you call it surplus, when you do not get more than 50 per cent of foreign assistance?” Inayatullah asked, adding that the provincial government has had a history of budgetary shortfalls worth Rs70 billion in their revenue projections every year.
Referring to Jhagra’s criticisms of policies of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and Awami National Party (ANP) governments, the JI leader said that the current fiscal space enjoyed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government was a result of those very policies of getting the Net Hydel Profit (NHP) and the National Finance Commission (NFC) award which gave 57 per cent share to K-P.
The finance minister was also asked to explain his claim of spending around four per cent of the provincial gross domestic product (GDP) on education.
“How do you calculate the provincial GDP?” Inayatullah asked, adding that while the PTI government claims to have prioritised spending on education and health, the budget document betrays that health has, in fact, dropped down from second to the third position in terms of allocation.
The JI leader pointed out that health had been replaced by allocations for security and police in the budgetary allocation priority.
A senior member of local government in the last government, Inayatullah asked Jhagra to provide assurances to release the Rs29 billion allocated for the district government given that since the inception of the local government system, the provincial government has released around half of the allocated sum or Rs52 billion out of Rs102 billion.
The leader of the Opposition in K-P Assembly Akram Khan Durrani told the house that the government included incorrect and inflated revenue estimates in the budget.
"Last year's budget had a Rs57 billion deficit according to the White Paper. This year's budget has a Rs60 billion deficit," the former provincial chief minister said, adding that straight transfers have Rs2 billion deficit, Rs3 billion in tax revenue while the provision of a Rs5 billion loan is also unexpected.
Earlier, Durrani had complained about the absence of any senior official of the K-P Finance Department in the assembly to debate on the provincial budget.
"I do not see any senior official of the finance department in the house," he said, adding that the inspector general of the provincial police department and the K-P chief secretary should be present in the house during the sitting as he referred to his tenures.
The opposition leader slammed the government for failing to allocate sufficient funds for developmental projects while the allocations included comprising a major chunk for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in Peshawar and the Billion Tree Tsunami.
Durrani demanded that a parliamentary committee should be formed on BRT.
"Why did the project’s cost escalate by Rs18.6 billion?" he asked.
ANP’s Khushdil Khan said that Jhagra’s budget speech was more focused on criticising past governments particularly the ANP and the MMA. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) parliamentary leader Sher Azam Wazir also complained about discrimination in the distribution of developmental funds.
K-P government spokesperson Shaukat Yousafzai said that poor fiscal decisions of past governments had forced them to take tough decisions.
“After 100 days, we will give a plan,” he said referring to the PTI’s fabled three-month turnaround plan which was in part devised by Jhagra.
Yousafzai, though, took the opportunity to aim a dig at former federal finance minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Ishaq Dar for the current price hike and rupee devaluation.
PML-N parliamentary leader Sardar Aurangzeb Nalota, though, asked the government to categorically declare if the Hazara Division was a part of K-P or not since there was no clear allocation in the budget for the region.
“The developmental schemes should be divided division wise, however, the PTI has limited the budget to just five districts,” Nalota complained.
“We ask about the K-P budget but we get answers about the federal or Punjab or Sindh governments,” he lamented.
"Where is the equal education system which we were promised? You say we do not need buildings. If you do not need buildings then where would you teach the children? Under the open sky?" asked Nalota.
He also asked the government to inform the house how many lawmakers and government officials had enrolled their children in government schools.
MMA Minority Seat Lawmaker Ranjeet Singh complained about how minorities had been ignored in developmental schemes.
“We are three members in the provincial assembly and the developmental funds given to the minorities are always meagre,” he complained as he sought to divert the finance minister’s attention towards their issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2018.
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