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KARACHI: Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said on Tuesday that his government gave top priority to education, health and security for which it made hefty allocations in the new budget for financial year 2017-18.

In his post-budget press conference, he made it clear that the budget he presented on Monday was tax free as no new tax, or even the property tax on houses measuring 120 square yards, was imposed.

Accompanied by provincial ministers Nasir Shah, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani and Mukesh Kumar Chawla, he said that his government earmarked Rs202.2 billion for education, Rs100.32bn for health and Rs92.91bn for law and order in the new budget.

In response to a question, the CM claimed that even “the poorest of the poor” were not ignored in the provincial budget as his government had announced an Eid and Ramazan package for them for which a sum of Rs3.40bn had been allocated.

Insists budget for new fiscal is tax-free

He said that under this package Rs2,000 each would be paid before Eid to all 1.7 million people enlisted in the Benazir Income Support Programme.

To another question, Mr Shah said that an inordinate delay in the 9th National Finance Commission Award was actually the failure of the federal government.

He said that the Sindh government had demanded of the federal government that sales tax collection on articles be transferred to the provinces and Karachi be given a special package being the largest contributor to the public exchequer.

‘Karachi not ignored’

Mr Shah clarified that his government did not ignore Karachi in the budget 2017-18, as it allocated Rs12bn for mega projects, besides earmarking funds for the K-IV water supply project and S-III sewerage scheme.

He regretted that Sindh had always been given step-motherly treatment as it never got its due share.

Giving the example of the current financial year, he said that the federal government had to give Rs480bn but during the last 11 months so far Sindh still had to be paid Rs440bn.

Centre accused of loadshedding in Sindh

Mr Shah once again lodged a strong protest against the federal government for carrying out prolonged loadshedding in Sindh.

He said that the performance of all power distribution companies, including K-Electric, was very poor in Sindh. “We are accused of stealing electricity although we have cleared the outstanding dues of Rs27 billion.”

“Who are the real thieves? Are we or those who issue inflated bills,” he asked.

He disputed the claim of the federal government regarding producing record 19,000 megawatts. He asked as to why the federal government was committing ‘excesses’ with Sindh by carrying out loadshedding for 16 to 20 hours on a daily basis.

He said Sindh, despite producing 70 per cent energy, continued to face hardships in the sizzling weather. “We would get our constitutional rights,” he declared.

He repeated his warning that if the federal government failed to provide relief to the people from loadshedding, it would not be possible for the Sindh government to keep the masses under control and his government would have no option but to join their protest.

About the upcoming development budget, he said it would be Rs344bn but many non-development expenditures were also part of the development budget.

He said Rs25bn was allocated for maintenance of government buildings.

In reply to a question, he said unlike past when schemes used to be initiated but could not be completed even in a decade, 816 new schemes had been launched under a new strategy which would be taken up for implementation and would be completed within the year.

49,000 new jobs

He said that during the tenure of the PPP government, appointments had been made on a “need basis” and only on merit.

For the next financial year, “we have created around 49,000 posts,” he said.

He said over 25,000 employees of the lady health workers’ programme would be incorporated in the service of Sindh.

Besides, 10,000 youths would be recruited in the Sindh police, he added.

The chief minister said that during the current financial year Rs60bn was earmarked for local councils in Sindh. “For the next financial year, we propose an allocation of Rs71 billion, including Rs5 billion for development schemes to be undertaken by local councils. Distribution mechanism amongst local councils would be determined by the provincial finance commission which has started its deliberation on a resource sharing formula.”

He said another important proposal being considered was the devolution of collection of the urban immovable property tax. “The devolution of collection of taxes at the appropriate levels increases efficiency and transparency. At present, the collection of Rs2bn in lieu of urban immovable property tax is dismally low and has a huge potential.”

The CM said that the development portfolio of the local government department for 2016-17 was Rs20.73bn for 422 development schemes. For the next financial year, the government had earmarked Rs28.78bn for 411 development schemes of the LG department, he added.

He said that in 2016-17, a sum of Rs14bn was earmarked for the development of the irrigation sector, including the ‘water sector improvement project’ and reconstruction projects of embankments and canals.

The chief minister said that a Sindh Growth Strategy had been prepared in line with Vision 2025. “Previously, we have been taking steps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but now with a proper road map in shape of growth strategy the government would be able to achieve the broad objects of Vision 2025 and SDGs. At present, amongst other initiatives are three community development plans that are being implemented in Sindh,” he added.

He said a Rs3bn community development plan aimed at bridging the gap in areas of health, education, women empowerment, legal aid, water and sanitation and skill development would be launched in the next fiscal year.

About the union council-based poverty reduction plan, he said after the successful implementation of the first phase of the Rs2bn plan, the project had been extended for an additional cost of Rs4.9bn. The programme aimed to reduce poverty, improve the quality of life of poor and marginalised communities especially women, build capacity of households through social mobilisation, asset creation, income generation and social protection, he added.

Mr Shah said that the Chief Minister’s Secretariat had adopted stern austerity measures. The revised estimates for the CM Secretariat were pitched at Rs750m against an allocation of Rs2.1bn. For the next financial year, a sum of Rs521m was allocated.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2017