Saturday, June 13, 2015
Daily Times Editorial June 14, 2015
Punjab budget In a first, Punjab’s budget 2015-16 has been presented on Friday by a woman. The development should not be celebrated as pure tokenism since Punjab Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha is a redoubtable economist in her own right and needs no ‘positive discrimination’. Dr Pasha has presented a Rs 1.45 trillion balanced budget. Provincial revenues are estimated as Rs 256.07 billion, of which taxes are expected to contribute Rs 160.59 billion and non-tax sources Rs 95.47 billion. The Annual Development Plan receives Rs 400 billion, 15.9 percent more than last year. Current expenditure is estimated at Rs 735 billion. Relief measures for government servants include a raise in salaries and pensions of 7.5 percent, medical allowances 25 percent, minimum wage in line with the federal budget of Rs 13,000 and the ad hoc relief in 2011 and 2012 being merged in the basic pay scale. Allocations for education pan out at Rs 310 billion, health Rs 166 billion (14.5 percent of the total outlay), agriculture Rs 144 billion and law and order Rs 106 billion (including Rs 94 billion for the police). Ten more services have been brought into the tax net, comprising public relations services, chartered accountants, auditors, corporate law consultants, air travel and cargo, chartered flights, machinery and equipment hiring, debt collection, supply chain management, photography and sponsorship. Women’s development has been given Rs 32 billion, human rights and minorities Rs one billion, and the disabled Rs two billion. Specialist doctors get Rs 1.5 billion, clean water schemes Rs 11 billion, rural roads Rs 150 billion, livestock Rs eight billion, health insurance Rs 2.5 billion, chief minister’s rozgar (employment) scheme Rs two billion, Metro Bus Multan Rs 26 billion, Safe City Programme Rs four billion, Punjab Education Foundation Rs 10 billion, Punjab Education Endowment Fund Rs two billion and the courts Rs 18 billion. The Punjab government intends to continue the Ashiyana Housing Scheme, Daanish Schools, Orange Line Lahore and the Apna Rozgar Scheme. Small farmers will receive 25,000 tractors at prices that will cost the provincial government a subsidy of Rs five billion. The Punjab government has started work on three projects that will produce 2,620 MW of electricity by end 2017. They comprise the Solar Power Project Bahawalpur, Sahiwal Coal Power and the Pind Dadan Khan energy project. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, after attending the budget session, told media persons that his government’s emphasis was on the rural areas, southern Punjab, education, health, infrastructure and the social sector. Earlier the Punjab cabinet had rejected the proposals to impose sales tax on the internet and an infrastructure development cess, a decision that speaks well of the cabinet’s appreciation of the importance of encouraging modern tools like the internet and not burdening the people further regarding development. Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha during her budget speech had attempted to delineate the strategy thrust of the Punjab government’s policy. Since private sector investment is shy because of the energy crunch, policy deficiencies and security concerns (reflected in the shortfall of investment last year of a hefty Rs 105-110 billion, 30-32 percent of the target), large public infrastructure projects are being pursued to escalate economic growth to 7-8 percent by 2018, which will assist in achieving the target of creating one million jobs per annum for youth, and in the process attempt a doubling of private investment by 2018. Ambitious as this sounds in the light of the missed last year’s target, the elimination or at the very least rolling back of terrorism and protection of the lives and property of the masses are a sine qua non for persuading a reluctant private sector to put its money where its mouth is. The Punjab government’s budget 2015-16 reflects its emphasis on power, roads, urban transport and water. Reservations about the relative size of the allocations for these and the social sector notwithstanding, these are clearly the areas for the provincial government to concentrate on, even if the label of an ‘election budget’ has been latched on to by the opposition.