Given financial constraints, the Sindh government is likely to slash its annual development budget from Rs185 billion to Rs165 billion.
Meanwhile, the finance department has submitted a proposal to the chief minister to hand over the collection of four taxes — property, land utilisation, transaction and capital value — to the local government. Official sources told The Express Tribune that a majority of the lawmakers belonging to the treasury and opposition parties endorsed the finance department's proposal to shift tax collection authority from the excise and taxation department to the local government during a briefing in the Sindh Assembly committee room.
"After its collection, 80 per cent of property tax is released to the local government. The provincial government only gets 20 percent of the tax as facilitation charges. Therefore, a majority of the MPAs support the proposal," said Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Mohammad Hussain, adding that the tax was collected by the local government department in the past as well.
The chairpersons of the provincial assembly standing committees were invited to the closed-door briefing. "The government wants to make a realistic budget that relies mainly on provincial resources," said Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Dr Sikandar Mandhro.
He said that the provincial government had high hopes of receiving its share from federal receipts but so far only a meagre amount has been released by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, which has affected many of the development schemes. "We have initially proposed that the budget for Annual Development Programmes (ADP) for the 2014-15 fiscal year will be Rs165 billion, out of which, Rs25 billion will be given to the district governments."
During the meeting, opposition members complained that the funds for various development schemes have still not been released. "Only 25 per cent of the health development budget has so far been utilised," said one of the MPAs.
However, Dr Mandhro's version was slightly different. He said that Sindh has taken the lead in terms of utilisation of the funds. "Sindh has utilised 70 per cent of the funds of its ADPs and 34 per cent of its development expenditure.”
He further said that the law and order situation will be the top priority of the government, despite the fact that the federal government has not released the promised funds for it.
Pakistan Muslim League-Functional leader Nand Kumar said that 52 government departments had submitted 2,463 development schemes, with a total of Rs165 billion, out of which only Rs51 billion has so far been spent. "Most of the education schemes have not even been initiated 11 months after the last budget."
The provincial government has yet to fix the date to present the budget, but sources in the government cite June 12 as the likely date.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2014.