ISLAMABAD: After a six-hour-long meeting, special committees of ruling PML-N and its main ally PPP on Friday seemed to reach a consensus over the latter’s reservations on the recently announced federal budget 2024-25 and development plan for Punjab.

However, there was no official word from either side after the first meeting of the special committees, held at PM House.

At a public meeting earlier in Karachi, PPP Chair­man Bilawal Bhutto-Zar­dari expressed the hope that the government would address his party’s reservations on the budget, which was outright reje­cted by the opposition and even some treasury members in the National Assembly session on Friday.

A source in the PPP told Dawn that the six-hour huddle was split into two parts — the first one was focused on Punjab and the other on PPP’s reservations over budget.

The PML-N team, hea­ded by Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Rana Sanaullah, compri­sed Punjab Assembly Spea­ker Malik Ahmed Khan, Khawaja Saad Rafiq and Marriyum Aurangzeb who joined the meeting via video link from the UAE. The PPP side, led by Raja Pervez Ashraf, was represented by Yousuf Raza­Gilani, Sherry Rehman, Nadeem Afzal Chan, Naveed Qamar and Ali Haider Gilani.

The PPP leaders made it clear that the party must have a say in development projects being executed in those constituencies of Punjab from where PPP had won elections. Sources said the government had almost agreed to meet all PPP’s demands regarding Punjab.

In the second round of talks, the PPP expressed the reservations that it had not been taken into confidence on budget and other key decisions. Sources said it was realised in the meeting that if the PPP had been consulted earlier, there would have been no issue on budget.

Sources in the PPP said although the meeting remai­ned ‘successful’, the PPP chairman would decide whether it would take part in the budget debate in the National Assembly, though the PPP was actively participating in the budget debate in Senate.

When contacted, Sen­ator Sherry Rehman said the PML-N government had almost addressed all reservations of the PPP. She said: “We have made substantial progress, especially in Punjab. There will be more follow-up meetings with respective teams on both sides.”

Responding to a question, she said the party chairman would make a final decision about PPP’s participation in budget debate in the NA.

The PPP chairman, however, on Friday gave a veiled assurance of his support to the PML-N-led government in the Centre to pass the budget from the parliament just a day after his meeting with PM Shehbaz Sharif to settle the differences.

Addressing a rally in Karachi marking the 71st birth anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, the PPP chairman called for a dialogue among all political forces, including opposition, to make the parliament stronger and bring an “end to politics of hatred”.

“It would have been much better if the government would have taken us, its allies, onboard while preparing the budget,” he said. “We could have advised about the poor, farmers and working class of this country. But still we need to move forward together. Our [PPP] team in Islamabad is still holding talks with the government to find out way forward so our complaints can be addressed and can pass this budget together from the parliament.”

Imran Ayub in Karachi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2024

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