The budgets for education development and police, and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s claims of austerity came under fire from the opposition in the Punjab Assembly on Monday during a discussion on the budget. The opposition lashed out at the chief minister’s claims of good governance and austerity. The treasury defended the budget and criticised Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s budget in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Leader of the Opposition Mian Mehmoodur Rashid said the budget should have been prepared by elected representatives rather than “bureaucrats loyal to Shahbaz Sharif”. He said standing committees should have been empowered to present budget proposals to the government six months ago. “The budget does not reflect the will of the people.”
Rashid said the government’s claim of economic growth during the outgoing fiscal year was a lie. The rate of growth was presently 5.5 per cent compared to 7.5 per cent in 2007. He said the budget document also mentioned that the government had a Rs450 billion debt. When Shahbaz Sharif became chief minister in 2008, the provincial kitty had a surplus of Rs100 billion, he said. He said of the Rs290 billion for the Annual Development Programme 2013-2014, the government had only managed to utilise Rs110 billion. He said that indicated the government’s poor experience.
He said despite claims of slashing the chief minister’s office expenditures by 30 per cent in austerity measures, the budget document showed they had in fact increased by 100 per cent. He said Rs190 million had been allocated for expenditures in 2013-2014, but Rs390.52 million was utilised. “If Rs1.1 million is the daily cost of the chief minister’s office expenditures, that explains the state of debt the province is under,” he said. He said Rs10.2 million had been allocated for gifts but the amount spent was closer to Rs30.82 million.
Rashid said the 16 per cent increase in the police budget was not justifiable as the crime rate kept rising. He said 54 police stations of the total 84 in Lahore were run by SHO convicted of various crimes.
While Article 25-A of the Constitution granted free and compulsory education to children aged five to 16 years, the government had prioritised transport infrastructure development over education development. He said of the Rs273 billion allocated for education, 80 per cent would go towards salaries and Rs48 billion would be used for development. The government had allocated Rs40 billion for the Metro Bus in Rawalpindi-Islamabad and Rs30 billion for the Metro Bus in Multan, much higher than the budget for education development, he said.
He said the chief minister’s talk of four new housing schemes was just that. Rashid also expressed apprehensions over the allocation for south Punjab and for local government elections.
MPA Ayesha Ghaus Pasha said the Punjab budget was reformist and reflective of the PML-N’s medium-term framework of development which would be completed within the next four years. She said the provincial economy could sustain Punjab’s debt. MPA Sheikh Allauddin said the Transfer of Property Act should be revamped and proposed ways to deal with people who concealed the actual value of their property while transferring it. MPA Mehmood Qadir Leghari defended the budgetary allocation for south Punjab and said allocating Rs119 billion was an excellent gesture by the government.
The speaker adjourned the session until Tuesday morning. The general discussion on budget will continue for four days.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2014.