The Punjab Budget for 2012-13 will be presented on June 8 to the provincial Assembly. According to a report in this newspaper, the total outlay is expected to be about Rs 750 billion, with a development component of Rs 255 billion. This will be the first major assignment for Rana Asif, who assumed the portfolio only recently, after it had been vacated since March, when the incumbent, Kamran Michael took a seat in the Senate. The details of the budget obviously remain shrouded in secrecy, but it has been learnt that health and education are to get 15-20 percent increases in development spending. The populace of the province would find that welcome, and would want those increases also reflected in the non-development budgets of these two sectors, which need much greater funding than they get at present, if Pakistan is to take an honourable place in the comity of nations. As these sectors are entirely the province of the provinces, apart from the private sector or local councils, it is expected that the budget will make suitable provisions.
The PML-N and the Punjab government have been severely critical of the federal budget for its shortcoming. They must make sure that the Punjab budget is free from them and there is a tangible evidence in the allocation of funds to show their concern for the welfare of the people. The time left before the budget is presented is, no doubt short but last minutes changes, if required, could be made. One of the main points of criticism of the federal Budget has been its failure to address the loadshedding, why it has not pushed harder for alternative energy, and what it is doing to promote it, particularly as the 18th Amendment has given it greater control over alternative energy. Leave alone hydel projects, there have been no provincial wind or solar projects. The cupboard is bare where power projects are considered. Though a meeting of the PPP Punjab Assembly party with the Prime Minister and the President’s sister decided against responding in kind to the Oposition's over-the-top protest in the National Assembly, and that PPP MPAs would participate fully in the Budget debate, only the actual presentation will determine whether the decision is abided by.
Under these circumstances, the Punjab budget is more significant than usual. That it is the budget before the next election heightens its significance and that it will contain no new taxes affords some satisfaction. It remains to be seen whether Southern Punjab is given the importance it deseves, especially in face of the PMLN struggling against the PPP's successful canvassing for the sympathies of the people from these areas.