QUETTA: Balochistan’s Rs282.77 billion budget for the next financial year aims to massively boost its investment in transport, education, health, infrastructure and productive sectors and security to attract foreign investors and turn the province into a regional commercial and industrial hub.

Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri unveiled the deficit budget in the Balochistan Assembly on Sunday evening.

The government has pitched its development expenditure for the next financial year at Rs71.18bn, up by almost a third from the original estimates of Rs54.50bn for 2015-16. But the total available resources, including foreign project assistance of Rs6.18bn, are estimated to be Rs34.70bn, or less than half the size of the proposed development spending.

The difference between consolidated estimated revenues and consolidated expenditure stood at Rs37.53bn, but the government’s decision to divert the surplus of Rs1.05bn in its food account for other budgetary operations pulled down the budget deficit to Rs36.48bn.

The total provincial consolidated fund for 2016-17 is estimated to be Rs289.37bn as it includes an expenditure of Rs6.58bn for state trading in food.

The budget was announced by the chief minister against the backdrop of a massive National Accountability Bureau’s corruption investigation against his former provincial adviser on finance Mir Khalid Khan Langov and finance secretary Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani.

Both Langov and Raisani are in the custody of the anti-corruption agency, which recovered about Rs650 million in cash — in local and foreign currencies — from the finance secretary’s home last month. NAB arrested Langov days after he resigned from his post to clear the way for inquiry into the case.

The budget size, excluding the food account, is just over 16pc heftier than the present year’s Rs243.53bn.

The revenue estimates include federal transfers, including straight transfers of Rs196.84bn, tax and non-tax receipts of Rs9.12bn, GDS arrears of Rs10bn, ways and means debt of Rs17.70bn, loan recoveries of Rs5.38bn and foreign development assistance of Rs6.18bn.

The budget proposes current expenditure of Rs184.76bn on service delivery; of this, an amount of Rs30.26bn has been earmarked for security, Rs43.67bn for education, Rs17.37bn for health, Rs17.79bn for social protection and pro-poor subsidies and Rs28.29bn for general public services. Likewise, Rs26.83bn have been earmarked for the capital spending and Rs18.9bn for debt payments while an investment of Rs3bn will be made in the provincial pension fund and Rs1bn in the education endowment fund.

Mr Zehri claimed that the budget had been formulated with a view to tackling problems of common man by boosting development spending. He said his government had created `Balochistan Investment Board’ in order to attract foreign direct investment to exploit natural resources of the province and encourage industrial and commercial activities.

‘Game changer’

He described the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a game changer for the province as well as the rest of Pakistan and cautioned critics against impeding work on the project. He said Balochistan would soon emerge as the hub of regional commerce after completion of the project. He was hopeful that Gwadar port would play a crucial role in the prosperity and development of Pakistan in the coming years.

Therefore, he said, his government had allocated a considerable portion of its resources for projects that are important for the development of Gwadar, including New Gwadar International Airport, Gwadar Development Authority and clean drinking water for people.

He appreciated the federal government for spending the funds allocated for his province in the federal development programme for the outgoing year.

The chief minister made an indirect reference to ongoing low-intensity insurgency and religious militancy in parts of the province, saying the coalition government he is heading had made several laws to improve criminal justice system and control crime.

“We are allocating significant fiscal resources from current and development budget to improve performance of police and levies for eradicating terrorism and crime and making the province a secure destination for foreign investors.”

He also spoke at length on the measures taken by the coalition government for improving the quality and expanding the coverage of public service delivery in the education and health. He said his government was paying attention to the development of agriculture, livestock, fisheries, etc., as these are major sources of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of households in the province.

He said the government would create 3,220 new jobs in the public sector. He announced an increase in the salaries and allowances of schoolteachers, doctors and pharmacists, and said hundreds of public sector jobs had been upgraded.

He said the pay and pension of government employees has been raised in line with the federal government’s decision and minimum wage had been fixed at Rs14,000 per month.

Key initiatives

Some major development initiatives for the next year announced by Mr Zehri included an allocation of Rs10bn for providing water from the Patfeeder canal under the Rs40bn Quetta Water Supply project, Rs5bn for special development package for Quetta, Rs2bn for Quetta Mass Transit system being established with the help of China, Rs1bn for the Quetta Green Bus project, Rs3bn for beautification of all divisional headquarters, and Rs1.5bn for bringing improvement to district headquarters hospitals.

Moreover, local councils will be provided a development assistance of Rs5bn while students will get laptops worth Rs500mn. Toilets will be made available at all public schools at a cost of Rs1bn.

The chief minister said that the government had been implementing austerity measures to cut expenditure and improve tax revenues in order to reduce its budget deficit. Among the initiatives taken during the outgoing year are the establishment of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority and the Balochistan Revenue Authority, ban on purchase of luxury cars and medical treatment abroad, creation of a monitoring mechanism for development spending, computerisation of pension payments as well as the launch of a financial reforms programme with the help of foreign lenders.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2016


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