MUZAFFARABAD: In a loud session of the region’s legislative assembly, Azad Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Chaudhry Latif Akbar presented the government’s Rs68 billion budget for fiscal year 2016, one in which the government promised there would be no new taxes.
Of that amount, the AJK government announced that Rs11.5 billion, or 17% of the total budget, would be spent on development, with a priority towards improving the transportation infrastructure of the region. The remaining Rs56.4 billion would be spent on the recurring expenses of running the AJK government.
The budget session was marked by a very loud protest organised by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. Members from the PML-N used black plastic sticks to beat their desks to record their protest against the budget, though it was not made clear by any member of the opposition which specific policy proposals of the budget they were opposed to. During his speech, the finance minister, along with Deputy Speaker Shaheen Kausar Dar who was presiding over the session, repeatedly asked the opposition members to listen to the government’s proposals, but the opposition did not end their protest.
On the revenue side, the AJK government expects to raise Rs16 billion from its own resources, Rs780 million from the royalties on the Mangla dam’s water use, Rs13 billion from the AJK government’s share of the Kashmir Council, and Rs16 billion in transfers from the federal government.
The Rs11.5 billion development budget will be spent by the AJK government’s 21 departments. The government will receive Rs600 million in foreign assistance for those development projects.
On the spending side, the AJK government will spend Rs11.5 billion, or 17% of its total budget, on education, followed by Rs4.7 billion, or 6.9% of the budget, on transportation infrastructure. Healthcare, meanwhile, will get just Rs340 million, or less than half of one percent of the budget.
The AJK government will spend Rs2.1 billion on the social sector.
The finance minister said that Rs50 million have been earmarked for civil defence, Rs50million for environment, Rs135million for information technology/media development, Rs40million for social welfare and women’s development and Rs140 million for the sports department.
The finance minister said that infrastructure was the top priority of the AJK government. In addition to the Rs4.7 billion for roads and bridges, the government will spend Rs150 million for local development authorities, Rs780 million for physical planning and housing, Rs800million for local government, Rs110 million for Kashmiri refugees settlement, and Rs35million for districts affected by the 2005 earthquake.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2015.