Legislators from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party in power in Punjab, hailed the annual provincial budget of 2011-12 as “an ideal document” on Tuesday, while lawmakers from the opposition – made up mostly of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) – slammed it as a PML-N “plundering spree”.
Participating in budget discussions at the Punjab Assembly, PML-N lawmakers said the provincial budget of 2011-12 was balanced and public welfare-oriented in nature, in which many concessions had been given to the poor segments of society. They hailed the budgetary allocations, especially to the Annual Development Programme (ADP) and said the significant aspects and focus of the budget were controlling inflation, providing employment opportunities and protecting the poor.
Former provincial finance minister and PPP legislator Tanveer Ashraf Kaira said no so-called pro-poor schemes – such as the Sasti Roti Scheme, Ramazan Bazaars, Punjab Food Stamp Programme and Daanish Schools Project – initiated by the PML-N-led Punjab government had proven to be workable over the last three years.
He said the same fate awaited Daanish Schools, the Yellow Cab Scheme (YCS) and Ashiyana Housing projects. He said the futility of these projects would be exposed within the first six months of fiscal year 2011-12.
Calling upon the government to complete its cabinet and activate ministers by giving them tasks such as monitoring the ADP, Kaira stressed the need to strengthen important public sectors such as education and health instead of launching such “flop schemes”. “We will not let this government be abolished and continue our support in every matter of public interest,” he said.
The Punjab Assembly session had begun an hour late on Tuesday at 11am under the chair of Speaker Rana Iqbal Ahmad Khan. Although CM Shahbaz Sharif came to the Punjab Assembly Secretariat and spent some time at his chambers, he did not join the session and left the assembly premises after a while. He also held some meetings with officials and parliamentarians.
In the House, Azma Zahid Bukhari of the PPP showed documents from previous budgets to the chair and said that in the budget for 2008-09, the Punjab government had promised to transform 144 schools into centres of excellence, provide a free air-conditioned bus service for students and 1,000 air-conditioned buses for public transport services, generate 350 megawatts of electricity through small power projects, allocate Rs 15 billion to upgrade school laboratories, computerise land revenue records and convert the former CM’s Secretariat on Club Road into an information technology university for women, but none of the commitments had been fulfilled.
She claimed that in the budget for fiscal year 2010-11, the government had introduced 22 mobile hospitals in southern Punjab but at the end of the fiscal year, only four mobile hospitals were made available to the people. She said further that the government had also announced the construction of a cardiology hospital in Quetta, launching Ashiyana Housing Scheme for low-income families and solar-powered tube-wells, but they proved to be hollow claims.
Opposition member and parliamentary leader of the PML-Q Chaudhry Zaheeruddin and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)’s Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood were also key participants in the budget debate. Both leaders raised the issue of southern Punjab, declaring the separation of the area the only solution to its woes.
Unification Bloc member Sheikh Allaudin supported the Punjab government’s new projects.
Opposition members, including Shaukat Basra, stood on their benches in response to Sheikh’s statement and told the speaker that they were ready to accept Sheikh’s challenge so he should announce a committee to check the schemes’ records. The general discussion on the budget will continue today (Wednesday).