Last year’s Rs82.38 billion supplementary budget was debated by the Punjab Assembly on Friday with the opposition as well as a treasury member questioning several expenditures.
The objections had to do, for the most part, with discretionary spending by the chief minister. According to the opposition, he had exceeded the approved amount by Rs80 million. They also criticised Shahbaz Sharif for spending Rs870,000 from the exchequer to purchase a falcon that he later presented to the UAE president, giving away Rs160 million to 312 people suffering from various diseases and distributing Rs970.64 million among MPAs and MNAs.
Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PML-N) Ayesha Javed was the lone treasury member to censure the government for “failing to correctly assess” the expenditures of various departments. She said the Planning and Development Department was responsible for preparing the budget. It was supposed to start working months before the document was presented in House for debate. She said that the board had held (supposed to hold) as many as 25 meeting with each of the departments to assess the money they would require to meet their expenses for the next year. Why was it then, asked Javed, that the government had ended up using such a large amount beyond the approved budget. Either the department had failed to do its job or there was “poor governance,” she said.
She also said there would be no need for a debate on supplementary budget if the House committees were made more powerful. Such committees, she said, should authorise any additional expenditures.
Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, the leader of the opposition, listed what he said was a “misuse of supplementary grants”. Rasheed said Shahbaz Sharif had used Rs870,000 from the public kitty to purchase a falcon for the UAE president when he visited him in Rajanpur. The UAE rulers can afford to buy falcons, said Rasheed, but not Punjab’s taxpayers. He criticised Sharif for not sticking to his ‘austerity drive’.
He also objected to “61 per cent” of the Rs770.61 million listed under the head of miscellaneous expenditures being used for projects in Lahore. The chief minister, he said, had also distributed Rs970.64 million among MPAs and MNAs.
The Metro Bus Project came under fire. Lahore Development Authority director general Ahad Cheema, said Rasheed, had distributed Rs40.8 million among labourers as a “reward”, which he said was unfair to the public.
He also questioned the Rs40.8 million used to purchase CCTV cameras for polling booths. “None were installed,” he said. The opposition leader said the Rs3.44 billion grant to police been a waste too since they had failed to control crime.
Caretaker chief minister Najam Sethi did not escape the opposition leader’s either. He is not poor, said Rasheed, but he used Rs780,000 from public funds for ‘security’.
PML-Q’s Samina Khawar Hayat questioned the use of discretionary funds. Rs30 million was allocated for the financial year 2012-2013, said Hayat, but he used Rs110 million. She wanted to know why the chief minister had given away Rs160 million to 312 patients when the whole province had been affected by several outbreaks.
She drew the attention of the House to Dr Tauqeer Shah, the chief minister’s secretary, who she said had renovated his office at the assembly chambers. Shahbaz Sharif, she said, had announced that no one would be allowed to purchase new furniture, “Sharif should start by implementing what he says in his own party.”
Finance Minister Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman defended the supplementary budget, saying that the rules allowed a supplementary budget up to 10 per cent of the current expenditure.
He said of the Rs82 billion, Rs38 billion had been for purchase of wheat purchase and Rs28 billion for technical purchases which amounted to transferring the money from one head to another. The rest (Rs17 billion) was actual spending which, he said, was only three per cent of the expenditure.
Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan adjourned the session till Saturday morning (today) after Rehman ended his speech. The House will take up demands for grants for the supplementary budget on Saturday (today).
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2013.
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