LAHORE: The general debate on supplementary budget on Thursday went so “general” that the treasury completely forgot that it was about the budget as well: stubbornly refusing to outgrow the opposition syndrome, it kept reminding the House what the PML-N did during its tenure rather than justifying budgetary allocations it made.

It took Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, spokesman for the PML-N, to get up and tell the Treasury: “If your only job is to tell what the previous government did, then what are you there for? As once Margaret Thatcher, first woman prime minister of the UK, said don’t remind me what I did because I know what I did. Tell me what you are doing.”

The Treasury, however, refused to listen. One after another speaker, including cabinet stalwarts like Murad Raas and Aslam Iqbal, kept recounting what happened between 2008 and 2018 – the PML-N stints in Punjab. “How can you criticise the supplementary budget when the PML-N itself had presented so many. These supplementary budget allocations were used for political purposes: to win by-elections, to promote mafias, to promote corruption and make money. After all, who promoted sugar mafia, cement mafia or steel mafia? It was the PML-N and supplementary budgets were used for the purpose.”

This prompted Sheikh Allauddin to took the mike and challenge Aslam Iqbal, provincial minister for industries, to prove what he said: how the PML-N promoted (sugar) mafia? When the PML-N left the government, sugar was sold at Rs44 per kilogram. Now, after nine months of the PTI rule, the price has gone up to Rs80 per kilogram. The entire sugar making process is local. Then how price is allowed to increase by Rs36 per kilogram, or by a whopping 81 per cent? Is the PML-N promoting the sugar mafia or the PTI?

“The House should form a committee to fix the responsibility and I will prove who is who in the mafia and who is making what?”

Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan was also spot on. “The PML-N did present supplementary budgets but it was grilled by the PTI for the same and had been accused of financial indiscipline Now, why has it overspent Rs90 billion (cost of supplementary budget)? What kind of discipline is this? How can two models of austerity (the Chief Minister and Governor House) ask for Rs160 million and Rs80 million respectively in addition to their original allocations? Is not it a mockery of so-called austerity?

The advocate general office, where an army of lawyers is making political cases against opposition, is asking for another Rs560 million. Out of total Rs90 billion, Rs89 billion are for expenditure. The PML-N was overspending on development, not for wasteful expenditure.

His speech, though listened in pin drop silence, was soon forgotten as Murad Raas took the mike and told the Opposition it was only resisting and debating the budget because it was shamed into doing it by its leadership. “Yesterday, Rs2.3 trillion budget was passed in 20 minutes and the Opposition did not care. Today, it was locking horns for only Rs90 billion allocation only because the leadership pulled its ears and asked it to perform. So, it is politically inspired critique, not based on understanding or opposition to allocation.

“The PML-N could not give clean water to people and spent money on socially unimportant schemes – roads, bridges, metros etc. The PTI will bring real change in people’s lives.”

The debate was still going on when the chair prorogued the House for Friday afternoon.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2019