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Provincial budgets

Updated May 16, 2018

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THE provincial governments, it would seem, have largely given up their responsibilities as the end of their terms approaches.

The latest example of this comes from the government of Punjab, which has shied away from announcing a budget at all, giving as their justification “the limit of our mandate” and the need to avoid “passing the burden of our development works on to the next government”.

For its part, Balochistan has presented a full-year budget, but with a massive deficit that is 70pc of its development expenditures.

Clearly, very little thought has gone into formulating this budget and finding ways to balance out its priorities and obligations.

Both governments perhaps stand on opposite ends of the spectrum: Balochistan is not worried about leaving an uncontrollable fiscal situation to its successor, while Punjab would have us believe that it is so concerned about the sensitivities of the next government that it will not even announce a budget or authorise expenditures beyond the end of the provincial government’s term.

Both stances are disingenuous.

The authorities in Lahore cannot be so concerned about the end of their mandate that they would practically halt disbursements to ongoing schemes once their term ends.

Halting work on development projects under implementation does nobody a service, not even the incoming government.

If the authorities in Lahore were actually worried about the prerogatives of the next setup, there were better ways of addressing the issue instead of shying away from announcing a budget.

Doing so smacks of disingenuousness.

They could have, for instance, issued an authorisation for the interim rulers to continue with the expenditures, while approving funds for those projects that are already under way, and leaving behind an unallocated portion in the development budget for the next government to use as per its wishes.

Likewise for Balochistan, hiking development spending by 25pc while programming lower revenue growth shows that the province is more interested in spending rather than worrying about where the funds to pay for all the projects will come from.

What Punjab and Balochistan have done is to simply signal that they have lost all interest in what happens once they are no longer in office.

That is not respecting the mandate of the incoming government.

In fact, it is a dereliction of duty to not prepare for a handover of power while ensuring that the process remains smooth and orderly.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2018