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KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly on Thursday initiated a general discussion on the provincial budget of Rs1.04 trillion for financial year 2017-18.

The house reassembled at 11.45am after a two-day break with Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani in the chair. On the first day, 15 lawmakers could participate in the discussion. Seven of them were from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, six from the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement, besides Shaharyar Khan Mahar and Saeed Ahmed Nizamani of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional. Mr Mahar took the lead to begin the discussion.

Almost every speaker across the house criticised power loadshedding. They deplored that despite assurances given by electric utility services to the federal and provincial governments that there would be no loadshedding at the time of Sehri and Iftar, the people not only suffered 16 to 20 hours of power outages, but had to face an acute water shortage owing to the power supply disruption to water pumping stations.

The other issues of the budget highlighted by the legislators from the treasury side were achievements of the government and the increased allocations, particularly to education, health, law and order and development of infrastructure. The opposition pointed to the discrimination by the government in the sanction of millions of rupees development funds to the schemes of lawmakers belonging to the ruling party while neglecting the opposition’s constituencies in implementing development schemes.

Treasury lauds, opposition criticises allocations

From the treasury side almost all speakers congratulated the chief minister for presenting a ‘people-friendly budget’ which, they said, reflected the aspirations and expectations of the people.

Rs30bn special package for Karachi demanded

From the opposition side, MQM parliamentary party leader Syed Sardar Ahmad’s speech covered almost all shortcomings of the budget. He demanded that at least a Rs30 billion special package be announced for Karachi.

Recalling that last year a Rs10bn package was given to Karachi, but hardly Rs2bn was used during the year for want of initiative and decision making.

He also called for empowering the local government institutions, saying that across the world local government had great importance and metropolitan governments had more powers to manage the affairs and discharge their responsibilities.

He highlighted the need for a drastic change in budget to make it from an accounting to a performing budget.

He pointed out that at the time of making the budget no consultation was made with the opposition.

Lahore is one dist, Karachi six dists

Syed Sardar Ahmad said that Lahore was one district while Karachi had been divided into six districts. As such it was more important to make local government institutions effective.

He also called for winding up the food department. He said on one side the government complained of a shortage of funds while on the other every year Rs150bn to Rs200bn was being invested from provident funds but where were its returns being deposited was unknown. He also highlighted the need to generate “our own resources as at present our resources are the federal government, which contributes 80 per cent, and our own share in the revenue is only 20pc”. And in the last months when the federation failed to give its share, the development projects suffered for want of funds.

Mr Ahmad also referred to the urban and rural divide, which the government failed to cover in the budget by denying the due share to the three urban districts — Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur.

The lawmaker also reiterated his stand on agriculture income tax by pointing out that at present the government estimated income from agriculture every year between Rs500 and Rs650 million but could not actually cross Rs300m to Rs350m.

He suggested that if only four crops — wheat, cotton, rice and sugarcane — were assessed on the basis of their production and their sale price and 50 per cent of total production was exempted from tax and the remaining 50pc was charged with 2.5pc withholding tax, the government could generate from Rs750bn to Rs800bn.

He also said that when irrigation and land tax was enforced in 2002, at that time the wheat flour price was Rs31 a kilogram and now it was Rs48 a kilo. Similarly, the prices of rice, cotton and sugarcane had also increased by three to five per cent, as such the government recovery from the four crops should be between Rs7bn and Rs8bn.

Shaharyar Khan Mahar in his speech said: “We have never criticised the government for the sake of opposition but for reforms in the government.” Pointing out that the chief minister had claimed in the budget speech that the PPP government was practising a policy of political understanding in Sindh but its attitude was exposed to everyone as the government had given millions of rupees to members of the ruling party for carrying out development work in their constituencies but ignored the constituencies of the opposition as if they lived in “enemy territory”.

He said what type of political understanding it was that “people belonging to us” were implicated in false cases. He said if the claims made by the chief minister that development works were carried out without any discrimination in the province were true, he should point out the opposition constituencies where uplift schemes were executed.

He said loadshedding in Sindh was not a new phenomenon as it had persisted here for the last many years. The PPP for the last three years played into the hands of the prime minister but now when elections were coming close, it had started staging protest sit-ins over loadshedding against the federal government in an effort to fool the people.

Dr Sohrab Sarki greeting the chief minister for presenting a good budget, said that during the last nine years Sindh had made progress in every department and had served the people and better health and educational facilities were available.

Other speakers from the MQM were Sabir Husain Qaimkhani, Jamal Ahmad, Rashid Khilji and Deewan Chand Chawla. From the PML-F, Saeed Khan Nizamani and from the treasury Peer Mujeebul Haque, Shamim Mumtaz, Dr Sattar Rajpar, Dr Mahesh Kumar Mullani and Sajid Jokhio spoke.

At 3.45pm the chair called it a day to reassemble on Friday at 11am.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2017