As Sindh Assembly completed 100 days of the parliamentary year, the opposition members made clear how unhappy they are with the way the money has been handled in the province.
They demanded the government divert the funds from procuring helicopters for the chief minister to investing in development schemes. During the budget discussion in the Sindh Assembly on Monday, the opposition members discussed last year's budget and pointed out that only 30 per cent of it was utilised on development schemes in the past nine months.
The government was, however, unperturbed and commended itself on setting a new precedent while utilising a lot of money on several different schemes. Sindh became the first assembly in the country to review the past budget before announcing one for the next year, which is scheduled for June.
As deputy speaker Shehla Raza gave the floor to the opposition members, Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) MPA Nusrat Seher Abbasi accused the chief minister of excessive personal expenditure. "Around Rs1 billion were allocated for the CM's helicopter and Rs3 billion for vehicles for the local government department," she pointed out. "Please divert this budget for development."
Abbasi also claimed that there was a nexus between incompetent bureaucrats and people sitting in the government, who misappropriate the funds together. "Why are engineers appointed in the planning and development department to plan education and health schemes?" she gave an example. Moreover, Rs20 million were allocated for solar energy schemes in the CM's hometown, Khairpur, where the cost of each electric pole is claimed to be Rs400,000. After a few months, even this scheme collapsed, she claimed.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) Dr Seema Zia said the government has yet to release even a single penny for a preventive and nutrition programme. "Allocation is a good omen but we need to utilise the funds," she said, adding that only Rs8 billion were released for the health department out of the Rs17 billion allocated. Of this, only Rs5 billion was utilised.
The new opposition leader, PML-F's Shaharyar Mahar, also pointed out that workers are demanding their salaries on the streets even though their departments have sufficient funds allocated to them. Meanwhile, Irfanullah Marwat of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz wanted to know why the fate of Thar coal project was hanging in the balance even though billions of rupees were allocated. "People in Thar are dying, the roads in Sindh are in dilapidated condition and there are no basic health facilities in a majority of the rural areas." he said. "I want to know where you spent all this money."
The CM rejected the accusations of funds embezzlement. "The members of the opposition parties believe in gossip and fake stories in newspapers when it comes to the utilisation of the budget," he said. "We have broken all records of development."
Earlier, the government used to spend all the money in the last three months but this government has already utilised Rs74 billion, out of a total of Rs105 billion released, he said. A total of 131 ongoing schemes have been completed and the government will try to finish the 525 old and new schemes by June this year, he added.
The assembly also passed a unanimous resolution in which they recommended the Sindh government approach its federal counterpart to ban all illegal and unregistered SIMs in the country. The resolution was moved by PTI's Dr Zia. "Illegal SIMs have become a cause of major crimes and terrorism within the country so it is high time we get rid of them," read her resolution.
Assembly rejects Arbab Ghulam Rahim’s leave application
The Sindh Assembly rejected the leave application of former chief minister, PML-N's Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, who has been absent since he took oath on May 17 last year.
When the assembly secretary read out his leave application, the MPAs from the treasury benches shouted "No, no". "We have received the application in which Dr Rahim has stated that he has been living abroad since March 21, the day the present session commenced," said Shehla Raza. "What do you say about this," she asked the minister for parliamentary affairs, Dr Sikandar Mandhro.
Senior Minister Nisar Khuhro pointed out that Rahim is in the country. "He is issuing statements in the press and attending various programmes," he said. "We want to know why he is avoiding attending the sessions in this August House."
Even Irfanullah Marwat, who belongs to the same party as Rahim, accepted that the former chief minister was in the country.
Sharjeel Memon suggested looking at Rahim's passport to check the date of his exit from the country. The deputy speaker liked the suggestion and summoned his passport. Later, the leave application was put before the lawmakers who rejected it unanimously.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2014.
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