Politics dominates budget debate in Punjab Assembly

LAHORE   -   The debate on the provincial budget for the year 2024-25 continued for the second day in the Punjab Assembly with members targeting each other politically more than discussing the budget.  Opposition members claimed that the government was not ready to forget May 9, and whenever they give a call for a protest, Section 144 is imposed. Rana Aftab Ahmad Khan of Sunni Ittehad Council told the House that police had started arresting the PTI workers after a call for peaceful protests for release of the party founder Imran Khan. “Under what law have they banned peaceful protest rallies”, he asked.

Other opposition members claimed the police were only focused on arresting them and that the government was not ready to move on from May 9. They accused the government of not boycotting Jewish products out of fear of upsetting their political patrons and criticized the ruling party for various issues including the lack of a judicial commission on May 9, the suppression of farmers and journalists, the recurring rule of the Sharif brothers, and the continuous police raids which seem to justify the allocation of 187 billion to the police. The treasury members countered by accusing the Opposition of causing disruptions during the budget speech, referencing past incidents involving political appointments and misconduct. They stated that Maryam Nawaz had outperformed even Shehbaz’s pace and urged the PTI members to stop their antics and allow the province to develop.

Responding to the allegations of opposition members, Punjab Minister for Finance who also holds the portfolio of Parliamentary Affairs, told the House that there was no ban on peaceful protests. However, the government would take action if the protesters tried to block roads to hamper flow of traffic.

The minister said that May 9 was the darkest day in the country’s history and would be remembered as such in future also. He also recalled the mistreatment meted out to the PML-N when Ch Parvez Elahi would sit on Speaker’s chair. He said the government had no intention to raid the residences of political workers.  

Earlier, at the outset of the Assembly sitting, only five members, two from the Treasury and three from the Opposition’s side, were present in the House. Zakia Shah Nawaz and Mehwish Sultana were seen on the treasury benches while Rana Aftab, Rana Shahbaz and Brig. (R) Mushtaq Ahmad were conspicuous with their presence on the opposition benches.  

The Assembly session was initially adjourned for an hour due to the absence of the finance minister. The Opposition’s harsh criticism of the finance minister even drew the displeasure of the deputy speaker. The Opposition pointed out that there were only two government members present in the house to whom they could present the budget proposals.  The deputy speaker noted that he had clearly ruled that the session would start on time, but the government’s lack of seriousness was evident.

An hour later, the debate on the provincial budget began when the finance minister arrived. Opposition members argued that Punjab is not anyone’s fiefdom and that more development schemes were given to some areas while their constituencies were neglected.

The PPP member Murtaza Chang threatened to sit on the opposition benches if the issues in his constituency were not addressed. In a satirical tone, the PPP member suggested that if the problems of his district cannot be solved, it should be included in Sindh.

He added that if Maryam Nawaz couldn’t resolve their issues,  he would join the Opposition.  He offered 50 acres of his land for the government to establish a university campus in his constituency. The budget debate will continue on Saturday(Today).