Petrol prices and the Punjab budget

CITY NOTES

You know, if you really put your mind to it, you can stop the inevitable from happening. The English have a story about King Canute, back in the first half of the 11th century, being told incessantly by his courtiers about how powerful he was, had his throne taken to the beach, and ordered the waves to stop. They didn’t. Well, Punjab Speaker Ch Pervez Elahi might like to take heed, because he stopped the provincial government from presenting the budget twice, but he couldn’t stop it forever, and with the other side having both Chief Minister and Governor, it was only a matter of time.

The situation is complicated. Look, Ch Pervez is serving as the last picture card of the PTI in Punjab, and trying to show the powers of the Speaker. He and his staff have it easy, for even if the Budget is not passed, they keep getting the money allocated to them because it’s charged expenditure. That means that the expenses of the Assembly (and its staff), the High Court, debt servicing and other commitments made by the provincial government, are charged to the Provincial Consolidated Fund. The Assembly does not vote on charged expenditure, but merely gets the details laid on the table by the Finance Minister when he presents the Budget.

Then there is the voted expenditure, the money the governments needs to pay salaries, buy newspapers, fill fuel tanks of official vehicles. And such like. These are in the form of the demands for grants, which the Assembly votes on. The demand for grant is not really money, but a sort of upper limit. If a demand for grant is passed, it means that that much money from the Provincial Consolidated Fund can be spent, but not that it has to be.

Nor is that money pressed into an official’s hot little hand, with a pat on  the back and the disbursing officer saying “Jaa puttar, ayaashi kar.” It’s an upper limit, which indicates the maximum that must be spent. If there is some other expenditure, the department must get a supplementary grant.

Supplementary grants do not necessarily mean that more money is needed. Say a department needs new air conditioners.  It had earlier had the money for a car approved, but hasn’t bought. So it would present a declaration that it wouldn’t buy a car, as well as a supplementary grant for the ACs. One of the documents presented by a Finance Minister, is the Supplementary Budget, which is a consolidation of all of these re-appropriations made during the year.

The Assembly duly votes on these supplementary grants, but long after theory’ve been ‘provisionally’ approved, and the money spent. What would happen if a supplementary grant failed to pass? Well, for a start, the government of theory would fall, but I think there will first be lightning bolt striking the offending official dead, with a ghostly voice above saying, “Bad boy!””

Anyhow, the Punjab Assembly does not have its Demand for Grant voted on. It’s a charged expenditure.

I doubt if Ch Pervez Elahi is much interested in this right now, what with his son Moonis being summoned by the FIA in connection with money laundering. Of course, the FIA would hardly be impressed by his being a former federal minister, what with having  a serving PM in its charge. Nor would Shehbaz have much sympathy for Ch Pervez, as his son Hamza faces an FIA investigation. However, Ch Moonis might find the charges more difficult to answer, for Shehbaz and Hamza had the case against them prepared by Shehzad Akbar.

Its legal advisers like Shehzad Akbar and Farogh Nasim who got him trouble, but bringing Hamid Khan on board will only help to get rid of Fawad Chaudhry. Will that be much of a loss? Not so long as the PTI has Shahbaz Gill on its side.

Meanwhile, the regular weekly fuel price rise occurred. The government is torn between blaming the IMF and the previous government. Funny, it doesn’t apply that logic to getting off the FATF grey list. For that, it takes the full credit. Of course, if coming off the list has any problems that come up later, then the previous government will get the blame.

It’s like kids. If they have any good quality, it’s because they inherited it from the side of the family the speaker belongs to. A father’s aunt always ascribes a child’s brightness to her brother, and a mother’s aunt to hers. So with governments.

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