Punjab budget session put off after ‘day-long drama’

Published June 14, 2022
LAHORE: A traffic warden uses a forklift to remove illegally parked cars from outside the Punjab Assembly building, on Monday.—Online
LAHORE: A traffic warden uses a forklift to remove illegally parked cars from outside the Punjab Assembly building, on Monday.—Online

• Elahi says will only let budget be presented after inspector general, chief secretary tender apology
• Cabinet approves budget outlay of Rs3.23 trillion
• Budget proposes 15pc more for govt employees, 5pc rise in pensions

LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly on Monday witnessed a daylong drama as Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi refused to conduct the session and allow the provincial budget to be presented, demanding the inspector general of police (IGP) first tender an apology to him and all cases lodged against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and PML-Q workers and parliamentarians be withdrawn.

After back-to-back meetings between the treasury and opposition for over six hours, followed by brief proceedings of the house, the speaker took a strong stance over the non-appearance of the chief secretary and the IGP and asserted that the proceedings would continue only when both officers were present in the assembly gallery. After keeping the proceedings paused till 11pm, Mr Elahi adjourned the session till 1pm on Tuesday (today) — without allowing the presentation of the province’s budget for financial year 2022-23.

The provincial cabinet had earlier approved the Hamza Shehbaz-led Punjab government’s first budget of more than Rs3.226 trillion for the next fiscal year that included the highest-ever Annual Development Programme of Rs685 billion — 22.3 per cent more than the ongoing ADP of Rs560bn.

The PA session that was scheduled for 2pm could not commence on time owing to three six-hour-long meetings between the treasury and opposition members to reach a consensus on withdrawal of all the cases instituted against PTI and PML-Q workers and parliamentarians over the recent long march and violence in the assembly on April 16.

The speaker and the opposition committee agreed after marathon meetings that the matter of apology from the CS and IGP should be decided after a probe whether they were even guilty of misconduct.

The budget session proceedings then began a few minutes past 8pm, but again faced turbulence when the treasury’s unelected minister Attaullah Tarar entered the floor of the house, which was objected to by opposition member Chaudhry Zaheeruddin.

Speaker Elahi, who belongs to the opposition, immediately halted the session and called the sergeant-at-arms to accompany Tarar out of the house respectfully. The PML-N spokesman and minister was however adamant he would stay, and even sought the PA Rules of Business to look for any clause that could allow him to sit in the house. The treasury members also blocked the sergeant-at-arms from reaching Mr Tarar.

The session remained suspended for over an hour until Tarar eventually left the building. Before walking out, he addressed the speaker and said he had accepted his ruling in protest, adding he did not want to block the budget from being presented for the welfare of the 120 million people of Punjab. Just before leaving, Tarar raised the assembly rule book and made an obscene gesture towards the chair.

The minister later tweeted: “My ego is not as big as Parvez Elahi’s. I walked out in protest despite being a minister and taking oath under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”

During the time the proceedings remained suspended, the speaker changed his mind and issued a ruling that he would not allow the budget to be presented until the CS and IGP were called in the assembly.

“The treasury should call the chief minister in the house and also beseech the chief secretary and IGP to appear in the assembly gallery,” he taunted the treasury.

Earlier, there were no signs the budget session would begin as scheduled as almost no member from either bench was present in the house on time. The bells continued ringing, inviting the parliamentarians to take their seats.

At the outset of the session, the treasury outrightly rejected both demands of the speaker and opposition regarding withdrawal of cases and calling the IGP to tender an apology over the police’s alleged torture on PTI and PML-Q parliamentarians in the assembly during the chief minister’s election in April.

The treasury though stated the police chief would only apologise if he was found guilty of any misconduct, which was acknowledged by the Parvez Elahi camp. The treasury and opposition later constituted an eight-member committee -- four members from each side -- to monitor the progress on withdrawal of cases.

PTI MPA Basharat Raja said detailed discussions were held among nominees of both sides, and it was decided that all the bogus cases registered against opposition parliamentarians would be withdrawn after a formal announcement on the floor of the house.

Speaking to the media after the adjournment of the session, Mr Raja said this was the first of its kind incident when a government could not present the budget on the first day of the session dedicated to it. “What else would be the failure of the government if it failed to present the budget on the budget day itself,” he remarked.

Maintaining that it was decided in the business advisory committee that the CS and IGP would be present in the assembly gallery during the proceedings, he questioned why the officials failed to turn up.

“In case both the senior officers do not come to the assembly on Tuesday (today), the speaker will give his ruling,” he added.

PTI MPA and former health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid protested in the House, saying the treasury did not honour its promise of ensuring the officers were present during the proceedings.

Ahead of the session, Speaker Elahi had notified PTI MPA Muhammad Sibtain Khan as the opposition leader. MPAs Raja and Mian Aslam Iqbal were notified as deputy opposition leaders.

On the other hand, PML-N lawmaker Malik Ahmad Khan declared the provincial government would not present the IGP and CS before the assembly. “We may find some other constitutional way to present the budget in the house but will not give in to the demand of the speaker and opposition to present the senior officers in the PA,” he stressed.

Budget proposals

Meanwhile, the budget earlier approved by the cabinet proposed a 15pc increase in the salary of public sector employees, 5pc raise in pensions of retired officials and Rs109.1bn for foreign-funded projects. The proposed budget envisages a wide range of subsidies and relief packages worth Rs190.58bn, and around Rs1.712 trillion for service delivery in various sectors – 20pc higher than the ongoing FY’s Rs1.428 trillion.

According to the budget document, the government’s flagship initiatives during the next fiscal have been proposed for Rs100bn for social protection (utility support programme), and Rs31.5bn for south Punjab alone.

The other flagship projects included Rs9bn for Road Rehabilitation Programme, Rs5bn for land acquisition for development projects, Rs1.35bn for minority development and Rs1.5bn for provision of laptops to students.

Punjab’s expectations of receiving Rs2,020.7bn from the federal divisible pool as its share under the National Finance Commission Award are based on the assumption that the Federal Board of Revenue will achieve its tax collection target of Rs7,004bn during the next fiscal.

The Rs190.58bn relief package included Rs5bn, Rs2bn, Rs17.32bn, Rs17.89bn, Rs0.44bn, Rs39.93bn, Rs2bn and Rs6bn as subsidy on ghee, Ramazan package, agriculture, transport, e-credit facility for small farmers, free medicines, drought and plantation and environmental/climate change challenges, respectively.

The proposed sectoral allocations would be Rs1,083.69bn for social and Rs216.68bn for infrastructure development, Rs127.32bn for production, Rs663.15 for services and Rs306.09bn for special initiatives sectors.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2022



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