Contentions between the opposition and treasury benches on budget expenditures for the current fiscal year continued on Thursday as the Sindh Assembly prepared to wind up debate on the issue today (Friday).
For the opposition lawmakers, the budget has been merely a jugglery of figures. But the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party lawmakers insist that it was an exemplary budget under which record development took place in almost all sectors of government.
The former continued to grill provincial ministers on the performance of their respective departments. The education and irrigation departments and the Covid-19 expenditures came under scrutiny in the house.
At the onset of the session Opposition Leader Haleem Adil Shaikh requested Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani to extend the discussion by another two days as many lawmakers wished to speak on the matter.
However, this proposition was swiftly opposed by Sindh Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla. “We principally decided to spare five days for it. The time is now over. Tomorrow [Friday] we are winding up the debate with the speech of the opposition leader and the chief minister,” he said adding that the session could continue till Sehri if members wished to speak further on the matter. “We have only one day. Let’s wind up the debate till late night today,” he suggested.
The speaker also denied the request and remarked that most lawmakers have already spoken on the matter.
With these remarks, Durrani gave the floor to Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQM-P) Kanwar Naveed Jameel, who drew parallels between the budgets allocated to the irrigation and education departments.
“Around 99 per cent of the irrigation department’s budget has been spent but the situation on ground has only gone from bad to worse. Growers have been protesting in every district of Sindh owing to shortage of water and government apathy to re-silting canals,” he said.
In comparison, observed Jameel, the education department has utilised only 27 per cent of its budget thus far at the expense of delaying several development schemes.
In response, Sindh Agriculture Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal maintained that his department had spent over Rs20 billion on various schemes. “We have rebuilt infrastructure in the irrigation department,” he claimed.
Taking the floor, Grand Democratic Alliance’s (GDA) Arif Mustafa Jatoi noted that Rs5 billion was allocated in the budget books for coronavirus response. “But expenditure is zero. We want to know why funds have not been utilised to deal with the pandemic. Where has the allocated money gone?” he asked.
Jatoi also raised the issue of the Gorakh Hill develoment scheme. “For this scheme Rs3 billion was earmarked in budget books, but development work on it is in doldrums.”
He added that he has been hearing about the scheme for the past two decades but there has been no progress on it. “I wish to take my family to the tourist spot of Gorakh. But I don’t think it will be completed in my lifetime.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Firdous Shamim Naqvi stressed on growing street crime in the province and urged the Sindh government to take measures against dacoits and petty criminals.
During the session, PPP’s Qasim Soomro paid tribute to health workers who have risked their lives to protect people from the pandemic and to those who died in the process.
He refuted the opposition’s claims of a poor health system in the province and referred to health facilities in Sindh, especially its cardio vascular institutes, which provide free of charge healthcare.
PTI’s Khurram Sher Zaman, Sindh Women Development Minister Shehla Raza and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal’s (MMA) Abdul Rasheed also spoke during the session before it was adjourned till today.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2021.