LAHORE - Budget is supposed to be a secret document unless formally made public by the finance minister.
“A copy of the budget speech to be given by Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh later today (Friday) has been obtained by —-” said a TV channel in its special transmission. Some other channels also showed the budget documents to their viewers.
Almost everything about the new budget was, thus, known before a stormy session of the lower house of parliament started in the afternoon. And since the prime minister had already announced many days ago that no new taxes would be imposed this time, there was just nothing left secret about the figures given in the official documents. The availability of the finance minister’s speech to the media much before it was given in the house makes it obligatory that Dr Hafeez Sheikh should resign - and without any delay.
He failed to maintain the confidentiality of a document which is the country’s roadmap for the new year. Leaking it enables the vested interests to exploit the information available to them before time. It’s a sheer lapse. He failed to keep a national secret. Had it happened in the tenure of a civilised government, severe action would have been taken against those who failed to perform their duties.
If the finance minister’s speech was available to the media so easily several hours before the elected representatives heard it in the house, the possibility of the minister sharing important features of the budget with the vested interests cannot be ruled out. This means, such a man cannot and should not stay in the office any more. He is not capable of running this ministry - and his failure to improve the economic situation gives his critics yet another argument to seek his removal from office. The only possible explanation of the government making his speech available to the media much before delivery is that it wanted to outmanoeuvre the opposition, which was determined to heckle him and embarrass the prime minister. And once the speech and other budget documents are in the hands of journalists, the opposition’s protests in the house would make little difference. This is not a plausible argument.
In the past, opposition parties have been protesting in the budget sessions - and even in other sessions - and the presidents and the prime ministers have been completing their speeches. At times they used earplugs to be able to focus on their speeches.
Critics say that when the finance minister’s speech was already available to the media and was being analysed from all aspects, there was no need for a session of the National Assembly, on which millions of rupees are spent in allowances of the lawmakers in a single day. Also, there was no need for a farce of the cabinet meeting, which approved the budgetary allocations for the next year.
Superfluous to point out that the government has already failed in solving people’s problems over the past four years. Prime Minister Gilani says that 80 per cent of the PPP manifesto has been implemented.
Realistically speaking, if 80 per cent of the manifesto implementation has failed to bring slightest improvement in the situation, but has multiplied the miseries of the common man, no improvement can be expected from the implementation of the remaining 20 per cent as well.
Recalling the difficulties the people are facing on account of corrupt practices and wrong policies of the government would only mean wasting the space.
The prime minister’s eligibility to hold the office already faces challenges.
The Supreme Court convicted him on contempt charges which deprived him of any justification to cling to power. Although the NA Speaker - a party loyalist - has tried to rescue him, the matter is again pending with the apex court. In such a situation the best relief the rulers can give to the masses is that they should step down immediately.