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Punjab shies away from presenting budget

Updated May 15, 2018

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Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha.—APP
Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha.—APP

LAHORE: The Shahbaz Sharif government on Monday revised downward its development and current expenditure projections for the outgoing fiscal year by 3.6pc from the original budget estimates of Rs1.97 trillion to Rs1.89tr because of a big hole created in its expected income by a shortfall in federal transfers and provincial tax collection, as well as non-realisation of a large part of Chinese loan for its controversial $1.65bn Lahore Metro Train Project.

The revised budget estimates were tabled in the Punjab Assembly by Finance Minister Ayesha Ghaus Pasha for approval.

The government has presented only the revised estimates for the outgoing fiscal year in the assembly instead of announcing the next fiscal year’s budget as has been done by Sindh and Balochistan.

Reveals only revised targets for current fiscal year

“We had authority under the article 125 of the constitution to give next year’s budget as the (two) other provincial governments have done. But we decided to respect the limit of our mandate and kept from passing the burden of our development works onto the next government,” the minister noted.

The term of the federal and provincial governments ends on May 31 with caretakers replacing them from the next month to organise elections late July. “We have given the next government an opportunity to spend public money freely according to its political priorities,” she said.

The decrease in projected income for the year meant that the provincial government significantly cut its development investment by 9pc from Rs635bn to Rs576bn but its revenue expenditure (excluding spending on the commercial, federal and foreign debt repayment, and provincial investments) by almost 3pc from Rs1,020.8bn to Rs1,049bn.

The revised current spending estimates also include expenditure of Rs85.4bn that were neither part of the provincial budget nor the government had sought approval from the assembly at the time of its presentation in June last year.

Officials told Dawn that the province had received Rs22bn less than its share from the federal divisible pool this year owing to a revision of the tax target by the federal government.

Moreover, the provincial tax collection has also fallen short by Rs20bn of our original estimates of Rs230.9bn with China holding back Rs30bn from the loan it has pledged for the metro train project in Lahore because of work slowdown on the scheme because of a court order.

An official had told Dawn a day before that the caretaker government will now be in a position to give four-month budget for the next fiscal year. “We have prepared a complete budget document for the next financial year to facilitate the caretakers and the next elected government,” he had said. The officials claim that the Punjab government funding for projects and programmes has already been suspended for the rest of the outgoing fiscal year.

In her speech, the minister contended that Punjab had made massive progress in the last 10 years under chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. “There is a visible difference in the quality of governance and public service delivery in the province since the PML-N returned to power in 2008 and 2013.

“We have worked hard to improve law and order, and social and economic infrastructure in the province through massive increase in allocations for development. Our tax collection has soared by 345pc in the last 10 years. Our performance has been acknowledged and commended by international organisations as well as foreign governments,” she said.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2018