LAHORE - The Punjab Assembly on Thursday failed to wind up the debate on the budget 2017-18 due to incomplete quorum.
During the course of proceedings, the House witnessed scenes when the Treasury and the Opposition stood against each other and traded barbs. The Treasury was highly offended by Opposition’s June 2 protest when the provincial budget was presented. The Opposition had torn apart copies of the budget. The Treasury said the budget document contained many sacred words, which were allegedly desecrated. Treasury member Asghar Ali Munda asked the Chair to take action or he would file a private complaint against the opposition members. He termed opposition (PTI) members agents of Jews and asked, Should the country be handed over to such people? Many treasury members backed Munda.
With Deputy Speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani in the chair, the House started proceedings with speech by Tamkeen Akhtar Niazi of Treasury who suggested that the people of areas having mines should be given mining training. This will help check urbanisation, Tamkeen added. Maulana Ghiyasuddin condemned the Opposition conduct on June 2 and said the budget would get respect only when the content therein would be respected. Saqib Khursheed of the Treasury termed the budget historic wherein special attention had been paid to problems of the agricultural class and revolutionary steps taken to end unemployment. Asghar Munda called for an inquiry into Opposition’s attitude on the budget day. He wanted to speak on the issue at length, but the Chair did not allow him extra time. In reaction, he staged a walkout.
Ahmad Khan Buchher found no relief in the budget and said it was much below what was expected of the government in the last year of its tenure. He said that Rs93 billion had been allocated for Metro train, but just Rs40 billion for education. He said that Rs20 billion were earmarked for agriculture in the 2016-17 budget, but only Rs7 billion were spent. The PML-N got votes on the promise that it would end loadshedding, but its seriousness in ending energy crisis could be gauged from the fact that just Rs3 billion of the Rs10 billon allocated for this purpose in the 2016-17 budget were spent. The government announced that it would set up 36,000 classrooms, but failed to do so. There is a gap in words and action of the government that must end, he said. He said that his district, Mianwali, had been deprived of its share in development for years and no attention had been paid to it even in the latest budget. This amounts to slaying the vision of development of the Punjab government, he said.
Treasury MPA Dr Farzana Nazir praised the budget as tax free and said it laid out record Rs35 billion for creation of jobs for the youth. She exchanged words with Mian Aslam Iqbal on the question of changing loyalty from PML-Q to PML-N and then with Arif Abbasi of the Opposition.
Mary Gill suggested that funds should be earmarked to buy safety gear for sanitary workers who were exposed to serious hazards at work.
Bao Akhtar of the Treasury accused Leader of the Opposition Mian Mahmudur Rashid of masterminding the protest on the budget day. Mian Rafiq approved of the budget. He however wanted the legislators to be given preference over bureaucrats and administrative officers. He said that legislators should not be carrying files behind bureaucrats to get them signed. He also supported the demand that development funds should be given to PTI members of the assembly like other lawmakers. Mian Rafiq wanted to speak more, but the Chair did not allow him time and he staged a walk out in protest.
Tariq Subhani praised the budget, while Ahmad Shah Khagga complained that no funds had been allocated for development in his constituency in Pakpattan. He said that a discriminatory policy was adopted even during distribution of gunny bags to various districts during wheat procurement. He said that low-cost tractors should be imported from India. “If we can import vegetables from India, why not tractors, which are much cheaper than tractors manufactured in Pakistan?” he asked. Similarly, there is a difference in the prices of agriculture implements made by two countries, he said.
Khadija Umar of PML-Q said that Rs300 billion, as per government claims, had been allocated for education, but education was being outsourced. “Why this huge amount if the government is not going to run the educational institutions?” she asked. She said the government was fooling the masses.
Dr Murad Rass of the PTI criticised the budget, saying it was nothing more than waste of public money. He said that even ventilators were not available for children at Children Hospital, but the government was making tall claims about best health facilities for the masses. Ali Raza Dereshek said the budget would make the rich richer and the poor poorer. He said that Rs600 million had been allocated to promote learning of Chinese language, but people had yet to learn their own language. He said the rulers must remember they would not be able to win the next elections. Jahanzeb Khan said that southern Punjab had been ignored in the budget and consequences of this decision would be seen in the next elections.
As Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha rose to wind up the budget debate, the Opposition pointed out quorum, which was found incomplete despite suspension of the proceedings for 15 minutes. On this, the Chair adjourned the session until 9am on Friday (today).