Punjab Finance Minister Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman presented a Rs 782 billion Budget for 2012-13, with a development component of Rs 250 billion. Mian Mujtaba was drafted in at the last minute after the replacement for now Senator Kamran Michael, Rana Asif Mahmood, had doubts cast on his nationality. He delivered the speech in silence thank to a cooperative Opposition eschewing the opportunity to respond to the hullabaloo during the Federal Finance Minister’s budget speech. With the Punjab government presenting its last budget before the general election, it was perhaps inevitable that it should not include even revisions of old taxes, let alone impose any new ones. Other measures which were presumably taken with an eye on the election are the giving of a 20 percent raise in salaries and pensions, the giving of 125,000 more laptop computers to students. Other schemes that would be continued include the Yellow Cab and Yellow Tractor schemes, as well as the Ashiana housing scheme.

The Punjab Budget included Rs 10 billion for power generation, which may have indicated the Punjab government’s realization that the provinces are allowed by the 18th Amendment to carry out the power generation projects once a federal preserve, but a meagre allocation of Rs one million for the design and feasibly study of the Kalabagh Dam is simply an eyewash. There is no need for any feasibility of the dam that has been done in all its aspects. It would have demonstrated the government’s seriousness about executing the project and mitigating the people’s suffering if major allocation for the construction of the much-needed reservoir had been made.

The flaw is perhaps to be laid at the door of the fact that there was no strong minister at the helm, but the provincial budget did not remedy the defects that the party presenting it pointed out in the Federal Budget, and against which it launched such a vigorous protest. That neither of the two major parties, which together control the federal government and the government of the country’s largest province, have a solution, not necessarily a good one, but any solution, to the biggest problem facing the country, does not bode well, not for the parties, the country, or the very system itself. Within this context, the Punjab Budget 2012-13 was not just important as that of the country’s largest province, but also as representing the philosophy of the country’s largest opposition party. It remains to be seen whether, during the coming budget debate, the Opposition can bring out the differences between itself and the PML-N. For this, the Punjab government should have worked out much earlier just who was the Finance Minister.