Punjab moving forward on power generation
11 June, 2012
LAHORE: The newly appointed Punjab Finance Minister Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman was unable to give satisfactory answers at the post-budget media briefing, resorting to mere repetition of the budget speech. Nevertheless, he termed the provincial budget for fiscal year 2012-13 as balanced and pro-poor.
Punjab chief minister's (CM) Senior Adviser Sardar Zulfiqar Khan Khosa, P&D Chairman Javed Aslam and Finance Secretary Tariq Bajwa were also present at the CM house during the media briefing to rescue the minister from any odd queries put forward by the media.
Opening the press conference, Khosa said that that all MNAs and MPAs were consulted for budget proposals that were prepared by various committees keeping in view the requirements of all districts of the province.
He said the committees also had to face problems in forming budget proposals for various sectors, including energy, due to the 18th Amendment.
Rehman said that allocation of Rs 10 billion had been proposed for the energy sector, while the government had chalked a comprehensive policy for establishment of up to 50MW coal-fired projects at six places, besides establishing an Energy Fund to provide incentive package to investors for energy projects.
To a question about insufficient allocations for the important energy sector, Khosa interrupted to explain that Rs 10 billion would be spent on promotion of public-private partnership in energy projects. The government in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank has initiated a programme for power plants' installation on canals and feasibility reports of 10 projects has been completed. The plants will cost Rs 29 billion and generate 80MW. The feasibility report of a 120MW hydel power project at the Taunsa Barrage has also been completed, he added.
To a query about percentage of GDP allocated for health and education in the budget, the newly appointed finance minister, who is also the education minister, seemed blank. At this point, the finance secretary immediately wrote some figures on a paper and put it in front of Rehman. Later, the finance secretary himself explained that 2.5 percent and one percent had been allocated for educational and health, respectively.
To a question about motor vehicles' lifetime token tax proposals in the budget, Rehman, who also holds the portfolio of Excise and Taxation Department, was unable to give any facts in this regard. However, Khosa, the chairman of Planning and Development Department along with the finance secretary once again covered up for Rehman and explained that new motor cars would be charged one time/life token tax, while old vehicles would be given a life token after payment of outstanding tax by the their owners under a prescribed table of tax rates.
The finance minister said that the government would also provide a total of Rs 15 billion for youth-specific programmes, which entailed Rs 2 billion for provision of 20,000 tractors on subsidised rates under Green Tractor Scheme for Agricultural Youth and Rs 500 million for newly graduated youth, who would be offered four-month internships in various provincial departments at Rs 10,000 per month stipend. Also, Rs 500 million would be given for establishing Innovative Development Fund to polish the skills of talented and brilliant students. He said that 125,000 more students would be given laptops worth Rs 4 billion during fiscal year 2012-13 and Rs 500 million for continuation of youth festivals, to be held from UC to provincial level.
Mentioning another component of the budget speech, Mujtaba said the government has also proposed Rs 34 billion allocation for public subsidy in the FY 2012-13, out of which Rs 27.5 billion would go to maintain the wheat flour prices, Rs 4 billion to balance the prices of daily use items during holy month of Ramazan, Rs 2 billion for improving public transport facilities, Rs one billion for provision of solar panels to poor families in urban and rural areas to give them relief from power load shedding.
To a question about Rs 27.5 billion across the board wheat flour subsidy instead of targeting the poor segments only, Finance Secretary Tariq Bajwa took the mike and answered that targeted food subsidy could not prove successful without introducing an IT or computerised system.
The finance minister said that the labourer's monthly remuneration had been enhanced from Rs 8,000 to Rs 9,000. Also, regularisation process of Kacthi Abadis would continue in rural areas and it would benefit around 231,000 families.
To a question about unnecessary increase in intra-city public transport fares, Rehman tried to satisfy the journalists by saying that old fares were still in place and showed his ignorance about any increase in public transport fares.
The urban bus services operating under Lahore Transport Company (LTC) has increased
their stop-to-stop fare by Rs 5, jacking up the total fare to Rs 20, despite the fact that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, on many occasions, assured the masses of provision of luxury but inexpensive transport facilities.
To a query about misuse of Yellow Cabs, Khosa expressed his concern over the situation and added that government had followed strict merit policy in the distribution of taxi cars. However, the P&D chairman added that a tracker system is also installed in all Yellow Cab vehicles, but did not give any figure on vehicles being misused or parked in private garages.
The finance minister told media that another Rs 2 billion would be added to the Punjab Educational Endowment Fund enhancing its base to Rs 10 billion and beneficiaries to 50,000 students, and Rs 6.5 billion has been allocated for Punjab Education Foundation providing educational funds to 1.1 million poor and deserving students of private schools, and Rs 2 billion for eight new Danish Schools to be constructed in districts of Vehari, Layyah, Lodhran and Bhakkar.
He also mentioned the proposed allocation of Rs 14 billion for women welfare and development and their 15 percent job quota in government departments.
To a question, the P&D chairman claimed that not a single penny was transferred from south Punjab funds to central or northern Punjab.
To a query about Rs 57 billion outlay of supplementary budget for FY 2011-12, the finance minister could not reply, however, finance secretary explained that Punjab government had to release Rs 33 billion for increase in pay and pension as well as 15 percent ad hoc relief to government employees, while Rs 24 billion of different heads were spent on other projects. The figure shows a major anomaly in the current budget that no allocation was made prior to announcement of raise in pay and pension of government employees, while another hefty grant was not spent on the specified projects.