Dismal turnout in PTI’s first full-fledged Punjab budget

Updated June 15, 2019


Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar signs on the document of provincial budget 2019-20. — APP
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar signs on the document of provincial budget 2019-20. — APP

LAHORE: Amid sloganeering by the opposition, finance minister Hashim Jawan Bakht on Friday presented the PTI government’s first full-fledged budget in the Punjab Assembly.

Unlike the past practice, the budget session started almost on time. It was also for the first time in the recent history that almost half of the members, a majority belonging to treasury, did not turn up at the budget session when Chief Minister Usman Buzdar was present.

Most treasury seats remained empty and the ones reserved for treasury in the gallery of the House were deserted. The attendance of opposition members too was thin.

As the finance minister began his speech lambasting the previous government for its wrong policies that caused serious damage to Pakistan’s economy, the opposition members sprang up and created chaos in the House and chanted slogans. The treasury members remained calm and displayed only placards bearing inscriptions “Chor machaey shor”.

Even many treasury members did not attend session

The opposition torn down the budget documents, while some members came forward and stood in front of the Speaker’s dais. The opposition members led by Azma Bukhari continued chanting slogans such as ‘Go Imran Go’.

Finance minister Mr Bakht skipped a few paragraphs and wound up his speech within half an hour.

The Speaker immediately adjourned the session till 3pm on Monday. The chief minister did not allow the media to talk to him and left the Assembly premises soon after the session.

Earlier in the day, the chief minister chaired the 12th Punjab cabinet meeting at Chief Minister’s Secretariat and unanimously approved the Punjab budget for 2019-2020 and finance bill 2019.

The Punjab government in line with the federal government’s move also accorded approval to 10pc cut in the salaries of provincial ministers.

Since the PTI government came with a narrative to develop the ignored south Punjab, the provincial cabinet approved allocation of 35pc of the Rs350 billion Annual Development Programme. The government allocated funds for three divisions of south Punjab – Multan, Bahawalpur and D.G. Khan – and accorded approval to do ring-fencing of development funds so that it could not be withdrawn as was the case in the Shahbaz Sharif government.

The finance minister in his budget speech said the PML-N government claimed that it had allocated development funds proportionate to the population in south Punjab but the figures showed that it had deprived south Punjab of its Rs265 billion during the past seven years.

Saying the next fiscal is based on the recently launched Punjab Growth Strategy 2018-23, Mr Bakht added the present government had set its direction on three priorities – social protection, human development and regional equalization.

Mr Bakht said this government had also established an active Local Government System within a short time of just eight months and added that it would ensure devolution of power to local level in real terms.

Of the Rs350 billion development budget, the finance minister said Rs125 billion had been allocated for social sector, Rs88 billion for infrastructure development, Rs34 billion for production sector, Rs21 billion for services sector and Rs17 billion for other sectors.

For health sector, the minister claimed the government had allocated Rs279 billion which was 20pc higher than the budget allocated by the Shahbaz Sharif government for 2017-18. The government plans to establish nine new modern hospitals besides beginning of work on Fatima Jinnah Institute of Dentistry.

He said the “Sehat Insaf Card” facility would be extended across the province during the next financial year. He also informed that the government allocated Rs383 billion for education sector.

For agriculture sector, Mr Bakht said the government had proposed comprehensive reforms under the Punjab agriculture policy and announced a package of Rs125 billion spread over the next five years. For this year, he said, the government allocated Rs40.76 billion for the agriculture sector.

In order to serve the poor segment of society, the minister said the Punjab government had launched a “Punjab Ehsas Programme” for the benefit of elderly, widows, orphans and disabled persons. It also launched “Panahgah” to provide safe stay and food to poor travellers.

Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz, who came to attend the session on production order, rejected the Punjab budget. He said the government was out to squeeze money even from the blood of the poorest segment of society.

Speaking to media persons after adjournment of the budget session, Hamza said the government’s all priorities were based on “revenge”. Referring to the arrest of Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Saad Rafique, Salman Rafique and his own, he asked the prime minister, “You have arrested all, now show your performance and drive the country’s economy out of massive crisis.”

He said the present government could allocate just Rs350 billion for development budget against the PML-N government’s 2017-18 development budget of Rs630 billion. He also claimed that the PML-N government had allocated Rs238 billion for south Punjab but the present government allocated just Rs122 billion.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019