Debate on budget kicks off in Punjab Assembly

LAHORE: General discussion on provincial budget for fiscal year 2011-12 presented by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government kick started on Monday with an opening speech by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Opposition Leader, Raja Riaz, who disclosed several lacunas in the announced development schemes in the budget.Raja Riaz, while criticising the budget of Rs 70 billion allocated to the southern Punjab, announced that such steps from the Punjab government were forcing the people of Saraiki belt to launch their demand for an independent province, adding that his party was ready to support them.He declared that his party was not only going to entertain the demand of a Saraiki province as a separate one from Punjab but would also struggle for it along with the people of that area.Raja Riaz also claimed that although the PML-N government had announced a 25 percent reduction in the Chief Minister (CM) Secretariat’s budget, he did not believe that the announcement would be fulfilled. Raja Riaz said that he had this belief because in the previous budget too, a similar reduction of 25 percent in CM Secretariat’s budget was announced which never actually took place. In fact, the budget was exceeded by Rs 130 million, making the total expenditure Rs 266.4 million.Interestingly, the CM who was sitting in the House at the moment, stood up on a point of order and clarified his position on the CM Secretariat budget, saying that the figures presented by the opposition leader were incorrect as the actual amount allocated for his secretariat was Rs 266.4 million and he had not spent any extra money in this regard. However, Raja Riaz did not accept the correction and said that his claims could be proved through the record of last year’s budget allocations.

Declaring the CM to be a “misfit” for the job of governing the province administratively, he said that PML-N patron Nawaz Sharif should hold the post of Punjab CM himself to avoid more deterioration in the provincial governance. On this occasion, the Speaker warned Raja Riaz to avoid giving such suggestions to the PML-N government as some suggestion could also be put forward in return from the treasury benches against the PPP. Consequently, Raja Riaz did not dwell on the issue much longer and moved forward.Raja Riaz also criticised different development schemes like the Sasti Roti Scheme, Yellow Cab Scheme, Ashiana Housing Scheme and Danish Schools announced by the government in the next year’s budget for 2011-12 in the Annual Development Programme (ADP) and claimed that all such schemes would fail because of prevailing corruption, lack of team work, non-cooperation of the bureaucracy and the poor performance of the government.Raja Riaz also compared the last year’s allocations and utilisation of funds on the development projects with those listed in the budget 2011-12.

He informed the House that the Punjab government had allocated Rs 80 million for information technology in the last budget but used more than Rs 460 million in this sector. He asked the government to explain to the House as to where the extra money was spent since no marked development was seen in the sector.Raja Riaz said that due to lack of team work and coordination among the authorities, government had failed to use Rs 5 billion allocated for five different departments, including food, agriculture, irrigation, forest and livestock. Also, out of a total of Rs 13 billion, more than one billion rupees allocated for pro-poor subsidy on wheat had not been spent which was a great negligence on part of the PML-N government.Talking about the Sasti Roti Scheme, he said that his claims regarding it had been proved right since the PML-N government itself withdrew the scheme from the budget 2011-12, the scheme being the biggest failure of the PML-N-led government. He also urged the government to provide details of funds of Rs 5 billion allocated for the scheme in budget 2010-11 and asked it to inform the House about the spending of the allocated money.

Highlighting the issue of the Ashiana Housing Scheme announced by the PML-N government in Punjab, Raja Riaz demanded the Finance Minister Kamran Michael to inform the House as to where in the budget allocations did he mention the allocation for the particular scheme. He also strongly criticised the Punjab government’s new Yellow Cab Scheme, declaring it a scheme introduced as an “election stunt” to facilitate the PML-N workers.Raja Riaz rejected the idea of Danish Schools by the PML-N government and said that it would create discrimination and separation amongst the children belonging to the underprivileged segment of society. He informed the House that the government had already spent more than Rs 3 billion in establishing only six Danish Schools and it planned to establish another eight schools within the next year. He declared it as a “waste of public exchequer”.

Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan tried several times to correct the figures presented by Raja Riaz in the House, saying that Raja Riaz was trying to misguide the audience and he would not let him do so. However, the Speaker stopped him and said that he could present the factual position of the government when his turn to speak came.On the occasion, both the leaders, Raja Riaz and Rana Sanaullah, exchanged harsh words.It is also pertinent to mention here that due to the typical Punjabi style of speech and poor pronunciation of some English words, like “prosecution” and “information technology”, some of the treasury members constantly kept hooting at Raja Riaz during his speech. However, they were silenced after Raja Riaz said that he knew the PML-N MPAs who were involved in back-biting of their leadership and was proud to be a Punjabi and educated from local government school. The CM too witnessed the entire episode in the House.

After the opening speech from Raja Riaz, Dr Asad Moazam, Tahir Khalil Sindhu, Samina Khawar Hayyat, Dr Ashraf Chohan and Dr Ghazala Rana also delivered their speeches regarding budget allocations. Later, Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan adjourned the session till today (Tuesday) at 10pm. It is pertinent to mention here that the budget session started one hour and 43 minutes late from its scheduled time of 3pm under the chair of Speaker Rana Iqbal Ahmad Khan. – Dailytimes