GILGIT: The Gilgit-Baltistan government on Monday unve­iled the budget of Rs140.17 billion for the 2024-25, allocating Rs86.6bn for non-development expenditures and Rs34.60bn for development projects.

Presenting the budget in the GB Assembly amid noisy protests by opposition members, Finance Minister Engineer Muhammad Ismail announced that the federal government will provide a grant of Rs68bn. Additionally, Rs6.40bn is estimated as non-tax revenue, and Rs1.33bn will be collected by the GB revenue authority.

The budget deficit is estimated at Rs11.92bn, which will be fully borne by the federal government. The finance minister said Gilgit-Baltistan’s development depends heavily on financial grants provided by the federal government and limited revenue generated by the local government.

He proposed Rs6.50bn for federal PSDP-funded projects, Rs4bn for the prime minister’s initiatives, and Rs19.70bn for subsidised wheat. He announced a 25 per cent salary increase for employees in grades 1 to 16 and a 20pc hike for employees in grades 17 and above. The minimum salary for contingent paid staff, local bodies, and waste management department staff has been proposed at Rs37,000.

Sets aside Rs34.60bn for development projects, Rs19.70bn for subsidised wheat

Finance Minister Ismail said that despite a reduction in the development grant from the federal government in the previous fiscal year, the current government successfully managed to run all GB sectors efficiently through prudent frugality and effective economic planning.

He announced a 36pc increase in local revenue collection in the current fiscal year, with Rs3bn collected against a target of Rs3.8bn. He pointed out that the Northern Areas Transport Corporation, which had been in financial deficit since 2011, has not only covered its deficit for the first time but also become a profitable organisation. He said the government has successfully reduced expenditures on fuel and maintenance of official vehicles.

The finance minister said that, in light of financial difficulties, the GB government has decided to continue its austerity measures and cut unnecessary expenditures in the next fiscal year. He announced that the government has imposed a ban on purchasing new vehicles, except for motorbikes, school buses, ambulances, and fire brigade vehicles.

He said the transfer of government employees from one project to another for higher salaries would be prohibited, and the utilities expenditures of principal accounting officers would be minimised. He announced that expenditures on the purchase, maintenance, and operational expenses of government assets would be reduced.

The finance minister said outstation meetings will now be conducted via video link. He also announced a ban on government employees traveling abroad, except for meetings deemed essential for state and national interests.

He declared a complete ban on introducing new allowances, and prohibited the holding of ceremonies in expensive hotels and venues. He also announced a ban on hiring personnel on a contingent basis, except in necessary circumstances and with prior government approval.

Mr Ismail announced that funds for the development of health, education, tourism, social welfare, communication, power, technical and special education, information technology, natural resources management, forest, wildlife, environment, minerals, irrigation, and sports have been increased, and new projects identified in these sectors.

Opposition protest

When the budget session began in the house, opposition leader Kazim Mesum and opposition members initiated a protest, deeming the budget inappropriate for neglecting key sectors like health and agriculture.

They alleged discrimination in development projects, claiming funds were only approved for schemes benefiting treasury bench members.

The opposition members tore copies of the budget speech, surrounded the speaker’s desk and the finance minister, and used loudspeakers to disrupt the proceedings, making it difficult for others to hear the budget speech.

They chanted slogans, decrying the perceived injustice. Fifteen minutes before the end of the budget speech, the opposition members boycotted the session and left the house.

The speaker adjourned the session until June 26 to discuss the budget.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2024

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