“Action, not rhetoric is what we believe in”...claims the government of the Punjab. It’s not just a mere claim but the GOP has proven it right time and over again. Like many other firsts, it is another for the PML-N leadership that it has introduced the culture of savings in the mega projects. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, billions have been saved so far for the millions of people like us. The money is being spent on other social sectors, like health and education, for people like you and me.

Governments, usually, award contracts to lowest bidder under the PPRA rules. For that matter, our government has amended the rules for the benefit of common man and gone the extra mile and negotiated with the lowest bidders to ask for further savings, unlike before, in all mega projects. The list of savings is quite long but a few of them can be mentioned here.

To date, Rs 215 billion have been saved in energy, transport and infrastructure projects of federal and Punjab government and these resources are being spent on health, education and infrastructure projects. Baloki Power Project (1,223 MW) saved Rs 39.44 billion and the Bhikki Power Plant (1,180MW) saved Rs 37.21 billion. Rs. 4.6 billion have been saved in Metro Bus System (Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan) and the list goes on. It is just a glimpse of few projects.

This is just one example on the basis of which the economic mindset of the government can be interpreted that it wants to spend each and every penny for public welfare. This presents a very clear picture of how the government of Punjab under the leadership of administrator like Shehbaz Sharif is making untiring efforts and is committed to improving the lives of a common man by introducing the culture of savings. These savings are not notional but tangible.

Having said that, it is quite encouraging to review the Punjab budget of FY 2016-17 and it is even more pleasant to watch the government working hard to achieve the goals set by the budget. The budget of the province has proved to be a developmental budget in which increase in growth rate, public friendly tax collection system, social welfare projects, health, communication and measures for better performance of departments has been introduced by the Finance Minister Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, which shows the intention of Chief Minister of improving the living standards of this province vis-a-vis bringing prosperity. The most astonishing fact is that this budget was the pronounced shift of the PML-N government from infrastructure projects to social sector development addressing the criticism on the ruling party. For the first time in the country’s history, this time it is health and education which takes the lead in both federal and provincial government development budgets.

The government of Punjab has taken a very wise decision by focusing on ongoing projects in the budget 2016-17 instead of new schemes, so that they are completed at the earliest. Steps are meant to be taken according to the Punjab budget to check price hike.

This year’s budget was definitely dedicated to education and healthcare because about Rs 312.80 billion have been allocated for the education sector, where school education got Rs 22.62 billion, higher education Rs13.49 billion, literacy and non-basic formal education Rs 2.16 billion and special education Rs900 million at large. An amount of Rs 4 billion have been allocated for 400,000 laptops with Rs 1 billion reserved for Special Education in Punjab.

One of the latest examples is the education package for children working in brick kilns. According to which annual stipend of Rs. 2,000 will be given to the parents on admission of children in schools. A special stipend of Rs. 1,000 per month is allocated for every child going to school. All these steps have been taken to ensure 100% free education to those who can’t afford it. All the governments have served their purposes and motives and did little for the poor. This government believes in public welfare regardless of their class.

Compared with previous FY, the education budget has been increased to 47 percent coupled with enormous increase by 62 percent in the health sector. The total budget for Punjab health has been fixed at Rs 71.6 billion. Funds of Rs 26.191 billion have been proposed for the Health Department. However, some additional projects for health sector are also part of the budget. A total of Rs 5.20 billion has been allocated for upgrading the hospitals to meet modern and technological demands. Rs 30 billion have been allocated for the Chief Minister Saaf Paani Scheme.

This sends a clear message that government of Punjab is committed to healthcare as Shehbaz Sharif himself said:

“Healthcare is not about what politicians may desire, or bureaucracy may feel comfortable with, or for that matter what doctors may find convenient to practice. When doctors ensure selfless patient care, they become national treasure. I will stand by the doctors as long as they stand by the patient.”

The CM has also announced Rs. 3 billion healthcare allowances. The government has decided to invest any money to get medicines from anywhere in the world which will be required to treat the poor patients. The evidence to the efforts of Shehbaz Sharif is his surprise visits to hospitals to ensure the implementation of the healthcare policies.

It is such a great news that the government often accused of neglecting healthcare is working day and night to provide its people better health opportunities and for that matter, CM Shehbaz Sharif met Health Minister of Turkey H.E Dr. Recep Akdag during his recent visit to Turkey to explore the possibilities of mutual cooperation in health sector to improve the condition of public hospitals in his province.

Other mega projects like upgradation of ICUs and Operation theatres at Allied Hospital, Faisalabad, PMDC recognition of Ghazi Khan and Sahiwal medical colleges, construction of OPD Block at Service Hospital Lahore, construction of Phase II of Sheikh Zayed Hospital Rahim Yar Khan and disposal of 10 years pending cases of Provincial Quality Board is like Cherry on the top.

The budget was presented weeks ago. What’s the point of discussing it now? As a matter of fact, it is to tell the audience about the commitment with which the government is working to spend the allocated budget with great honesty especially on sectors like Health and Education. The government is taking all possible steps to ensure its implementation in letter and spirit.

Moreover, worth mentioning details are that over Rs 640 billion development projects have been included in the budget, out of which social sector development have gotten Rs 175 billion, local infrastructure development Rs 300 billion, services sector development Rs 48 billion, Chief Minister Special Initiatives Rs 55 billion. Over Rs 27 billion will be spent on roads in rural areas. A grand total of Rs 32.2 billion is presented to be spent on transport sector in next fiscal year.

Our farmers should be more than happy to know about this budget because in the agriculture sector, Rs 50 billion have been allocated for a special Kissan Package, while special loan schemes and subsidized rates for solar-powered tube-wells are also included in the next FY. For the already existing irrigation system, Rs 40 billion has been allocated to make it better, leading towards the prosperity of poor farmers. 

The government accused of destroying the environment has allocated total Rs 580 million for environment which is the indication that government of Punjab is determined to provide its people environment-friendly atmosphere. One billion rupees have been allocated for forests, while Rs 800 million will be spent on wildlife. Rs 1 billion has been fixed for the promotion of tourism in this beautiful province.

Furthermore, the Punjab budget has brought the happy news for senior citizens in the form of increased pensions. In the annual Punjab budget, 10% increment in salaries and pensions of government employees has been announced, and proposal of Rs 1,000 increase in minimum monthly wage of laborers is also part of the budget.

All the efforts made by PML-N leadership are an outcome of the commitment of bringing positive change in the lives of people. I earnestly believe that it’s time to celebrate these years of public service, transparency, deliverance and progress towards better and prosperous Pakistan.