The new as well as the experienced lawmakers of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the Punjab Assembly delivered stinging criticisms of the provincial spending plan for 2013-14 during Thursday’s budget debate.
PTI’s Leader of the Opposition Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed started the debate with a comprehensive speech mainly covering taxation measures, development spending, and security and education. Rasheed, who has been elected to the assembly a third time, was followed by younger PTI members new to the house.
In his opening remarks, the opposition leader pointed out the impossible task that MPAs had in assessing the budget, since it had been just days since they had been handed the “20-kilo budget books”. In other countries, he said, the budget was prepared months in advance and then sent to the standing committees concerned so lawmakers could propose changes. The rules of procedure should be amended so parliamentarians here could get more time to study the budget plans, he said.
Rasheed said that the Punjab budget was not tax-free. The government had imposed taxes on five-marla residences as well as properties larger than two kanals, a levy that he described as a “jagga tax” (extortion). He said that it was unclear what benchmarks would be used to decide which properties the so-called luxury tax would apply to.
He said that the government had set a target of Rs31 billion in direct taxes, over 30 per cent more than the previous year, and Rs89 billion in indirect taxes, 48 per cent more than the previous year.
He pointed out that in its previous term, the PML-N government had proposed to collect Rs100 million in a new tax on farm houses, but ended up collecting just Rs4.7 million.
In the previous budget, the government had allocated Rs10 billion for energy projects, yet not a single megawatt was generated. Therefore, the allocation of Rs21 billion on power projects for the next year was to be met with scepticism, he said.
The opposition leader said that the release and utilisation of funds was one of the biggest problems with budget spending. He noted that of the total Rs250 billion allocation for development spending in 2012-2013, Rs137 billion (55%) was released and utilised. In 2011-12, Rs136 billion (62%) was utilised out of Rs220 billion.
He said the unreleased funds were diverted to other schemes as current expenditures. Meanwhile, the government was Rs4.45 billion in debt, 90 per cent of which was in foreign loans. The government should use unreleased funds to pay off the debt, he said.
He was highly critical of the raise in allocation for general administration from Rs23.38 billion in 2012-13 to Rs101.6 billion for the next fiscal year. He also pointed out that the bloated spending of the chief minister’s office, which had been allocated Rs260 million for 2012-13 but had spent Rs420 million, or Rs1.166 million per day.
In Lahore, Rasheed said, the government should construct MPA hostels, the assembly hall extension, an overhead bridge at the Campus-Canal crossing, railway track from Thokar Niaz Beg to Jallo Park and complete the Ring Road, but avoid digging up Multan Road yet again for the construction of a new Metro Bus route.
Law and order
The PTI leader was highly critical of the performance of the Punjab Police. Of the Rs93.71 billion outlay in the budget for public order and safety, the police would get 76% (Rs63 billion, a Rs2billion increase from last year). But the police performance was extremely poor, he said, with around 30,000 people being murdered in the province in the last five years. He suggested that the government introduce an online FIR system for the reporting of crimes.
He also raised questions about the performance of the new Forensic Science Laboratory. He said that the lab had been allocated Rs20 million in 2012-13, but had consumed 10 times that amount. Now it had been allocated Rs660 million for 2013-2014, but its output appeared to be negligible. He said that the Rs10.2 billion allocated to the courts was “peanuts” and called for the establishment of mobile courts.
Rasheed said that the chief minister’s claims about a significant increase in education spending were hollow. In 2012-13, Rs195 billion or 24 per cent of the total Rs781 billion budget, had been allocated to education. That ratio had remained steady for the next year’s budget, at Rs210 billion of Rs897 billion, he said. The primary school budget made up just 2.44 per cent of the education budget, which was totally inadequate since there were 7.7 million children in government primary schools. He said that the government had made no attempt to make a uniform education system.
In 2012-13, the government allocated Rs2 billion for the establishment of eight Danish Schools, while for next year, it plans to spend Rs3 billion on just six schools. He said while the government was spending Rs15,000 per month per student on Danish Schools, it was barely spending 15 paisas per student on regular schools. The expenditure on one Danish School was enough to upgrade 500 public schools.
Young PTI MPA Malik Taimour also criticised the education spending plans. The government had allocated Rs1.5 billion for school councils, but the compositions of these councils was unclear. He feared that these would be made up of PML-N political appointees who would end up doling out jobs in schools as patronage.
He said that Rs3 billion had been allocated for the provision of textbooks, but students did not get their books before the start of their classes. The Rs16,000 stipend for computer teachers with MSc degrees in schools was insufficient.
Apart from the budget discussions, the day also features an ugly exchange between Uzma Bukhari of the PML-N and Samina Khawar Hayat of the PML-Q. The session, which resumed at 11am on Thursday morning, was adjourned by Deputy Speaker Sher Ali Gorchani at 3.20pm for Friday morning.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.