Economic issues: Punjab Assembly winds up budget debate

CM warned that backing power rioters could cause situation to spiral out of control.


Abdul Manan June 19, 2012

LAHORE:


The treasury benches wound up the general debate on the budget under the watchful eye of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as he made a rare appearance in the Punjab Assembly on Monday.


The session resumed at 3.45 pm on Monday, with Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal announcing that he would allow a fifth day of debate on the budget. After the debate, Finance Minister Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman gave his winding up speech. Voting on the budget is scheduled for the next two days.

Leader of the House Shahbaz Sharif participated in the proceedings on Monday, giving the treasury benches support while the opposition benches thumped their desks and created a general ruckus.

Rehman said in his speech that the government would incorporate the MPAs’ suggestions for the budget made during the debate.

He said that the Punjab government had collected 24.7 per cent more taxes from the province last year than the year before.

He said that the Punjab Revenue Authority would be functional from July 2012 and would help improve the rate of tax collection.

Rehman said that the government would generate 50 megawatts of electricity for industries in the province and establish an energy fund. He said that Tanvir Ashraf Kaira of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had been right in saying that growth in the province had been slow, but he had neglected to mention why. He said that the biggest cause of the slow growth rate was load-shedding, and the PPP-led federal government was solely responsible for the long hours of power outages in the Punjab.

He said that the Punjab government had in 2010-2011 stopped getting foreign loans on strict terms. He said that the government had borrowed from the Asian Development Bank and other donor agencies for infrastructure projects, but the loans had no political conditions. He said that the federal government frequently borrowed money at strict terms from the international community in order to meet the budget deficit.

Rehman rejected claims that the Punjab government had cash reserves of Rs100 billion when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took over the provincial administration in 2008. He said that the actual amount was Rs1.5 billion, while last year the government had Rs24 billion. He said that Punjab’s budget should not be compared to the Sindh budget, as the latter got several grants from the federal government.

He said that 32 per cent of Rs80 billion of the Rs250 billion development budget had been allocated for schemes in southern Punjab, which accounted for 31 per cent of the population of the province.

Rehman claimed that the crime rate was decreasing “day by day”. The Punjab government would convert all its police stations into “model police stations”. He said that 80,000 jobs would be created in the province. He said that Rs25 billion had been allocated to the Education Department, including money to buy missing facilities for schools. He said that a separate allocation of Rs4 billion had been made for Danish Schools.

Earlier, Samina Khawar Hayat of the PML-Quaid sought to raise the issue of Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of the chief justice, and Malik Riaz. She said the matter should be discussed in the house, but the speaker told her not to as the matter was sub judice.

Unification bloc leader Mian Ata Maneka, on a point of order, raised the issue of protests over load-shedding and warned the government not to go overboard in supporting the protesters. He said that former chief minister Mian Mumtaz Daultana had instigated people to protest against the Ahmedi community back in 1953, which quickly spiralled out of control and resulted in the infamous anti-Ahmedi riots.

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, talking to reporters outside the assembly building, said that the PML-N supported the protests against load-shedding.

He said people had a right to protest against the “unjust” power outages, but urged them not to damage government property.

Published In The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012.

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