• Special meeting floats proposals for ‘drastic cut’ in govt expenditures
• Officials in Islamabad await nod to finalise targets, prepare summaries
• Budget may be delayed to second week of June due to PM’s China visit

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: The ruling PML-N on Wednesday held a special meeting at the Sharifs’ estate in Jati Umra to review budget preparations for the upcoming fiscal year, where it decided to prepare the financial plan in line with the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and also discussed proposals for “drastic” cuts in government expenditure.

The ‘people-friendly’ budget envisaged by the ruling party, however, might be delayed to the second week of June as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will be visiting China on June 4-8, making the presentation of the federal budget on the scheduled date of June 7 unfeasible.

The federal budget has to be presented in parliament immediately after its formal approval by the federal cabinet, led by the prime minister.

As of now, sources say, the meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) will be held on June 3, before PM Shehbaz’s departure to Beijing. The visit would have certain bearings on the budget process and foreign exchange indicators.

Led by the prime minister, NEC — the country’s highest economic decision-making forum — consists of four chief ministers and four federal ministries, while the prime minister of Azad Kashmir and chief executive of Gilgit-Baltistan participate in its meetings as observers.

Jati Umra monitoring

The budget process is directly being monitored by newly-minted PML-N President Nawaz Sharif and his team, and the relevant forums in Islamabad were waiting for final clearance from Jati Umra on Wednesday for the finalisation of macroeconomic targets and determining the size of the public sector development programme (PSDP) for the next fiscal year, as well as preparation of formal summaries and their circulation for the Annual Planning Coordina­tion Committee meeting, slated for May 31.

Against this background, planning commission officials indicated certain additions to the Rs1.2 trillion federal development outlay prepared by the planning ministry on the basis of an indicative budget ceiling provided by the finance ministry in line with its discussions with the IMF ahead of the 24th bailout.

In Lahore, the special huddle chaired by PM Shehbaz Sharif and ex-PM Nawaz Sharif lasted more than three hours as the ruling party discussed ways to come up with a “people-friendly” budget.

Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, federal ministers Rana Tanvir Hussain, Atta Tarar, Awais Leghari, and Jam Kamal participated in the meeting along with federal and provincial secretaries of different departments. There was no official word from the PML-N or the federal government, but sources said the meeting discussed budget proposals.

The huddle reviewed the areas in which the government could afford to give relief to the public. “As the elder Sharif trusts his relative the former finance minister Ishaq Dar the most in economic affairs, the meeting had his input in this regard,” a source said.

The elder Sharif reportedly directed the participating ministers to engage the other party lawmakers to gather suggestions to make a people-friendly budget.

It was also proposed to have a drastic cut in government expenditures and provide relief to those using electricity up to 200 units. “The meeting was informed that the government will prepare the budget in line with the IMF programme,” sources said.

The federal and provincial secretaries also presented suggestions regarding improvement in their respective departments.

Both federal Information Minister Atta Tarar and PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb did not respond to Dawn‘s queries about the Sharif brothers’ huddle on the economy.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2024

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