LAHORE: The Punjab government has plans to freeze recruitment against all seats vacant for the last two years except in health and police departments besides rationalising the new recruitments in the upcoming budget for financial year 2020-21 to meet the challenges owing to the ravages of lockdown.

Though the government was suggested to impose 10 per cent salary cut for three months for officers of BS-18 to BS-22, the proposal could not get through and a decision was taken not to cut salaries of the government employees. The government, however, decided not to increase the salaries and pensions.

Sources say the Punjab government intends moving away from subsidy culture and save Rs38 billion during the next financial year. It intends to set aside Rs98 billion for Covid-19-related expenditure. The break up of Rs98 billion shows Rs10 billion for new recruitments in health departments; Rs35 billion for 20 per cent of the existing workforce in health department; Rs13 billion for Covid-19 specific block allocations on current side; Rs30 billion for economic stimulus package for micro, small and medium enterprises; and Rs10 billion for tax relief package.

In order to fine-tune the upcoming budget for 2020-21 ahead of the Punjab Assembly budget session on Monday, the Punjab government has called the provincial cabinet meeting in the morning to deliberate on and give a go-ahead for annual budget for the financial year 2020-21 and supplementary budget statement for 2019-20.

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has also called the PTI Provincial Parliamentary Party meeting soon after the cabinet meeting to formulate strategy with regard to the Punjab Assembly budget session.

According to the budget estimates, the Punjab government expects its revenue of Rs2.241 trillion against current fiscal budget estimates of Rs2.3 trillion. It has estimated expenditure to the tune of Rs1.779 trillion leaving Rs462 billion resources available for the Annual Development Programme. However, the government wants to allocate Rs337 billion for ADP and keep Rs125 billion as Provincial Surplus under the IMF Programme.

Estimates presented to the chief minister suggest that the government has not agreed to the budget demands of the primary health, specialised health, school education and police departments but sparsely increased next fiscal budget estimates from current year’s budget estimates. The government has put a budget cut in all other departments.

It is learnt that the primary health department had demanded Rs148 billion but it will be offered Rs121.8 billion against current fiscal budget estimates of Rs110.4 billion. Similarly, the specialised healthcare department had demanded Rs152.7 billion but it is being offered Rs128.3 billion against current fiscal budget estimates of Rs122.9 billion.

The school education department had demanded Rs344 billion but it is being allowed a budget of Rs319 billion against current financial year budget estimates of Rs304.5 billion.

The police had demanded Rs158.3 billion but they are being offered Rs131 billion against current fiscal budget estimates of Rs115.6 billion.

It is learnt that the other Punjab government departments had demanded Rs702.5 billion in total but they are being allowed Rs618.2 billion budget estimates much less than the current financial year budget estimates of Rs645.4 billion.

The Punjab government also plans to reduce ADP budget for the education and health sectors from current year budget estimates of Rs42.9 billion and Rs47.5 billion to Rs33.1 billion and Rs33 billion, respectively.

The government also plans to strongly discourage purchase of physical assets especially vehicles; offer no increase in allocations for POL and utilities besides strict scrutiny of all supplementary grants.

Punjab Finance Secretary Abdullah Khan Sumbal confirmed that the government would not abolish the vacant posts in the government departments but it would freeze recruitment to a bare minimum to meet economic requirements in these testing times of coronavirus pandemic. He acknowledged that there would be no cut in government employees’ salaries but there would be no increase in salaries and pensions either.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2020