The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) government in the Punjab, as well as the Centre, is likely to delay the budget for 2013-14 by three or four weeks, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The federal budget is usually presented in the assembly in mid-June, while the fiscal year ends on June 30. At a PML-N meeting on Wednesday to discuss the provincial budget, presided over by Shahbaz Sharif, party leaders stressed that the first budget that the new government in the Punjab presents should be comprehensive.
Besides Sharif, who is expected to resume the post of chief minister in the government, senior party leaders including Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastgir, and bureaucrats attended the meeting.
The participants in the meeting decided to advise the government in Islamabad to delay the federal budget. The provincial budgets are presented after the federal budget.
“If the federal government is sworn in in the first week of June, it will need more time [than until the traditional mid-June] to prepare and present a budget that reflects the people’s voice,” said Dastgir. “The Punjab government will also need more time.”
He added that the meeting had set general principles for the provincial budget and these would be developed at the next meeting. These included a focus on electricity production, cuts to non-development expenditure and better water management.
Much of the meeting focused on the extreme electricity shortage. The participants suggested that “all available fiscal space” in the budget should be devoted to tackling the energy crisis. Much of the annual provincial development budget would be allocated to the energy sector. The aim would be to completely erase load shedding in the Punjab.
Improving economic growth would be another major aim of the Punjab budget. This could be achieved by exploiting water and mineral resources in the province. Building water storages would generate hydropower while coal could be mined for use in power plants, the participants suggested. The chief minister, with support from the federal government, would also try to encourage local and foreign investment in the Punjab.
The Punjab government would make the same commitment as the federal government to reduce non-development expenditure by 30 per cent. A freeze initiated by the last government on the purchase of new vehicles and furniture for government offices would continue.
The provision of clean drinking water in rural and urban areas was also noted as a budget priority. The government would take steps to check the stealing of irrigation water.
Metro Buses all around
In an official handout issued after the meeting, Sharif said that the people had voted for the PML-N because of the “excellent performance” of the Punjab government. He said that Metro Bus services would be introduced in all major cities in the Punjab and the Ashiana Housing scheme, laptop scheme and youth initiatives would continue.
Addressing the meeting, he said that the PML-N believed in practical work rather than theoretical promises. Any party would be proud at the five-year term of the previous Punjab government. “We did what we said we would,” he said. The new Metro Bus service in Lahore, new cardiology hospitals, housing schemes and programmes for young people were proof of the government’s sincerity.
He said that education will remain a high priority for the provincial government. New Danish schools would be built while other government schools would be provided with missing facilities. “Like the new rapid bus service, we will introduce a rapid education system for making revolutionary changes in the education sector. Rs700 billion will be spent on education during the next five years,” he said.
Sharif said that the PML-N’s continuing popularity and credibility rested with their future performance in government. The party’s assembly members must work as hard as possible. Those who do not discharge their responsibilities honestly would be discarded, he said.
The public had bestowed a heavy responsibility upon the PML-N, he said. Even those who did not vote for the PML-N were hopeful that, led by Nawaz Sharif, the next government in Islamabad could bring real change to the country, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2013.
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