The federal budget for financial year 2018-19 is all set to be presented on April 27, if all goes well in the prevailing circumstances. This will be last budget presentation of the incumbent federal government which completes its constitutional tenure of five years on May 31, 2018. The federal budget is being presented even earlier than last year because of holy month of fasting, Ramzanul Mubarik, starting around May 17 to ensure the budget is presented, discussed and passed by the National Assembly well before its stepping down on May 31. President Mamnoon Hussain has already called the session of the National Assembly on April 27, apparently for budget presentation.
Federal budget mainly comprises two parts i.e. current (non-development) budget and development budget which is also commonly known as the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) of the Federal Government.
Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) is the driver of economic growth and also ensures sustainable socio-economic development . PSDP investment helps in bridging the infrastructure gap and providing a conducive environment to attract private and foreign investment necessary for the economic growth. PSDP is formulated through broad based consultations and active involvement of stakeholders with the objective of undertaking development programmes and projects according to sectoral and regional priorities and felt-needs of the people are also given due consideration in this regard.
PSDP 2016-17 was of total outlay of Rs800 billion and overall size of the PSDP 2017-2018, outgoing financial year was kept much higher at Rs1001 billion , regarded to be the highest in the history of Pakistan so far. The allocations so made for various ministries, divisions etc in the PSDP for implementation of their approved projects are released by the Planning Commission according to a mechanism already well in position. Accordingly, out of approved funds, 20 per cent each are released for first and second quarters and then 30 per cent each are released for third and fourth quarter of the financial year ensuring that minimum pace of implementation is maintained by the executing agencies and the projects are not delayed on any account.
According to the latest figures available from the Planning Commission sources, federal ministries and divisions have been provided total of Rs138927.164 million, Corporations (National Highway Authority and WAPDA (Power) Rs279018.613 million, and Special Areas of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and FATA) Rs48150. 870 million against their allocations till March 31, 2018.
While the PSDP for the current fiscal is under implementation with higher allocations, the overall size of the financial year 2018 -19 is being discussed and debated mainly between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms.
The Finance Ministry has indicated overall allocation for next fiscal’s PSDP approximately around Rs 750 billion whereas the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms , or to say the Planning Commission has demanded much higher allocation of around Rs 1003 billion particularly in view of slowing down of funding for various projects in energy, infrastructure and other sectors under great game changer China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and also for maintaining the ongoing tempo of development process.
Under PSDP 2017-18, total number of 1002 projects were listed for financing priority-wise out of which larger number of 631 projects with total estimated cost of Rs 6.6 trillion were on-going and only 371 new development projects estimated to cost on the whole Rs 1.3 trillion were included in the PSDP.
Financial year 2018-19 being the election year, no new development projects can be launched and included in the PSDP and the Election Commission of Pakistan has already imposed a ban on launching of any new development project at any level throughout the country.
The incumbent federal government will be stepping down on May 31 and can utilise the time to accelerate pace of implementation of development projects included in PSDP 2017-18 ensuring that maximum number of these are completed and inaugurated by that time. The caretaker set up, which is yet to be finalized between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Opposition leader Khurshid Shah by May 15, will be at the help of affairs for three months during which the new general election will also be held and the new federal government will be taking over sometime in August or September 2018 depending mostly on the date on which the elections are held and the newly-elected government is inducted in office accordingly.
If the present ruling party returns to power, for which its leadership is quite confident and hopeful despite couple of major setbacks, then it will go ahead with the implementation of already approved PSDP and the projects and programmes included therein making a steady beginning of its new constitutional tenure of five years. If any other party or alliance comes into power the it will quite obviously have its own development priorities and will attach importance to its own development projects and programmes for implementation rather than those listed in the already okayed PSDP and projects listed therein.
Though the National Assembly session has been summoned for April 27 and the incumbent government is all set to present the budget for 2018-19 as its last budget, some opposition parties are questioning this and want that the caretaker set up present its own budgetary requirements for the short period it is incharge of the national affairs and the required expenditure, essential in nature, can be authorised by the president accordingly as per the constitutional and legal provisions in this regard. This will all hopefully become crystal clear within next few days.
The writer in Lahore-based freelance journalist, columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News) Radio Pakistan, Islamabad.