KARACHI: After deliberating and debating over it for nine days, the Sindh Assembly finally approved on Thursday the Rs739 billion budget for the fiscal year, 2015-16 along with a supplementary budget worth Rs31 billion for the year, 2014-15 and the finance bill. The government managed to pass the bill amid protests and two walk-outs by the joint opposition.
During the session that was chaired by speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, the government turned down a total of 700 cut motions tabled by opposition parties to reduce the revenue expenditure. “We have rejected the budget,” said the opposition leader, Khawaja Izharul Hassan, while leaving the house with the other opposition members.
The opposition members tore copies of the agenda and shouted slogans against the government. At the start of the session, finance minister Murad Ali Shah moved 50 demands for grants for the supplementary budget, 2014-15.
Around 131 cut motions of over Rs800 million were moved by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Muslim League - Functional (PML-F) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) members against the supplementary budget. Some of these members requested to reduce the of chief minister’s helicopter and pilot office expenses. “You have shown Rs66,300,000 under the head of CM’s helicopter and transport in the supplementary budget. I request you to please reduce this amount by Rs6,300,000 seemingly because it is an unnecessary expense,” said PML-F’s Nand Kumar.
But the finance minister rejected his plea. “The funds cannot be slashed as it is mandatory for the CM to travel in cases of emergency,” he said, adding that the helicopter was purchased some years ago and required maintenance.
Another MPA Saeed Khan Nizamani moved a cut motion to reduce Rs1 (one rupee) from the Rs1,500,000 allocated for the chief minister’s secretariat and said: “There is no explanation for this amount allocated for the chief minister house.”
The finance minister, opposing the cut motion, suggested the speaker to put it in the house for voting. It was rejected by a majority vote. Seema Zia of the PTI requested to reduce Rs800, 000 from the Rs10, 800,000 allocated to hire vehicles for the police. “A huge amount has already been allocated for the purchase of vehicles for the police. There is no need to earmark the budget for hiring vehicles,” she said. In response, the CM said: “In case of emergency, the police hire private vehicles to follow criminals, which is why the funds have been allocated.”
Members of the opposition parties moved dozens of cut motions to reduce expenditures incurred to purchase furniture, air-conditioners and luxury vehicles for ministers and bureaucrats, but the government turned a blind eye towards their pleas.
Addressing the session later, the chief minister termed the opposition’s protest a political gimmick to gain cheap publicity in the media. “We have not imposed any additional taxes on the common man,” he claimed.
Token walkout against water crises
Earlier, the opposition members protested and walked out of the session over the water crises in the city. Screams of “Pani do, pani do” echoed in the house. “The chief minister’s plan to provide 3,000 water tankers in the month of Ramazan has now failed,” said Khawaja Izharul Hassan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2015.