Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'Gross anomalies' in Punjab budget, says Moonis Elahi & Mohsin Leghari

LAHORE- During budget debate in Punjab Assembly on Monday, the Opposition censured the Treasury for not maintaining financial discipline in its expenditures and committing what it called ‘gross anomalies’ in the present budget.

The Treasury members, on the other hand, termed it an excellent document, containing panacea for problems of common man.

According to them, this was the best possible budget presented at a time when country’s economy had been hit hard by global recession and growing menace of terrorism. They praised it as a poor-friendly and tax-free budget that would not burden the common man in any way.
While majority of members who took part in Monday’s Assembly debate on the budget either criticised or acclaimed it merely for political point scoring, a few however, had studied the document in detail and made a fair comment on it.

It was good to see Finance Minister Tanvir Ashraf Kaira taking notes of suggestions coming from assembly members about the new budgetary proposals. The Minister remained present in the House throughout the debate, recording concerns of legislators about the new budget.

Leader of PML-Q, Moonis Elahi during his speech strongly criticised the alleged lavish spending on CM’s Secretariat in the concluding financial year while pointing out certain financial anomalies in the new budget.

He pointed out that approved budget for the CM Secretariat last year was around Rs. 120 million, but the govt burdened the provincial exchequer by spending an additional amount of Rs. 150 million.

He described it govt’s failure in controlling the lavish expenses of the CM secretariat and a glaring proof of its incompetence in managing financial affairs of the province.

Moonis also criticised the govt for what he called a drastic cut in education budget. He alleged that Rs. 10 billion taken out of education budget, would be utilised to foot the bill of CM’s plane and chopper.

He was highly critical of the use of Zakat and Baitulmaal funds for what he called the ‘fraudulent sasti roti politics’of the Shahbaz government.

The PML-Q leader was of the view that had the Government offered subsidy on wheat instead of spending millions on the promotion and publicity of the sasti roti scheme, the entire population of the province could have enjoyed a cheaper roti.

He remarked that at present the said scheme was only focused at selected urban areas and even the tandoors located in the Sharif’s home constituency in Lahore were not selling the roti at less than Rs. 3.

He accused Shahbaz government of playing up with the issue of cars purchased by the previous govt and pointed out that in stark contrast to its announcement of observing austerity, the Shahbaz government was spending billions of rupees on buying new cars for mushrooming task forces in the province, comprising un-elected and incompetent favourites.

He told the House that an amount of Rs 35 million was allocated previous year under the head of gifts and entertainment, but Shahbaz government had spent over Rs 100 million instead. Moonis reminded the rulers of their promises of eliminating poverty and diverted attention of House towards what he termed wide spread poverty and hunger in the province. He called the budget an incomplete financial document and a report of the ‘extravagant and whimsical expenses of the Shahbaz Raj’.

This was maiden speech by young Moonis Elahi in the House on Punjab budget, but he seemed to have full grasp on the subject. At least he seemed to have full understanding of what he was talking about.
Another Opposition member, Mohsin Leghari was critical of the Government for its inability to implement different schemes announced in the previous budget. Counting failures of Punjab Government in this regard, Leghari mentioned the plans of establishing price control boards, low cost housing schemes for the poor, performance based incentives for teachers, plying of air-conditioned buses for school children in seven major cities and generation of 350MW of electricity, and said that neither of them was implemented in the concluding year.

He wondered that if no new tax has been levied in the current budget than as to how the Government has enhanced tax collection target for agri-tax from Rs 600 million (previous year) to Rs 1100 million and for property tax from Rs 5000 million (previous year) to Rs 1,000 million.

A PML-Q member Dr. Faiza Asghar gave some good suggestions regarding protection of destitute children. She said that child protection bureau, which she was heading at the moment, should be given the status of a full-fledged department with its own minister. She also called for setting up of child protection centres in all districts.

Senior Minister Raja Riaz assured her that Government would consider her suggestions and try to implement them.