On Tuesday, Punjab’s Rs1.452 trillion budget for the next financial year was presented in the Provincial Assembly and received a mixed reaction from the house. The budget is surely ambitious; it plans to create half a million jobs in the province through a massive development investment of Rs550 billion in large infrastructure, transport, irrigation, agriculture, water supply and energy projects, as well as heavily subsidise smallholders and landless cultivators to tackle the slowdown in the agriculture economy. While these are admirable goals one must pay attention to the several issues that were lost in this shiny new package.

“Schools, not the Metro Bus” has been a popular slogan for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), when it comes to criticising the PML-N government. While this adage is overused and often exaggerated, the new budget does seem to lend credence to PTI’s most vociferous complaint. Education has been allocated Rs73bn – a measly sum compared to the allocation for road building and infrastructure in the current expenses. Add on to these separate allocations for major infrastructural projects such as Orange Line train in the Annual Development Programme (ADP), a clearer picture emerges, where education and healthcare ranks very low in the government’s priorities.

By contrast, the imminent K-P budget not only allocates a larger proportion to education, but has several pilot programs related to modern education in its development budget.

The second major concern is the pileup of foreign debt. Punjab foreign debt stock is projected to steeply rise by a fifth to Rs620 billion at the end of the next financial year, mainly because of a Chinese loan of Rs85bn for the controversial Lahore Orange Line Metro Train Project. With the Metro Bus projected to not break-even for another decade or so, how advisable is it to undertake foreign loans – and the interest payments – it they cannot be paid back?

The government’s answer is increased tax revenue collection in the shape of a higher revenue target. That too, remains problematic. The government continues to rely on indirect taxation – such as General Sales Tax (GST) – for a bulk of tax collection and plans to extend GST to several other products and services. Strengthening the tax net has been a constant fixture of almost every budgetary speech, but there has been little real-world progress – which shouldn’t be surprising considering how many lawmakers in the room are tax evaders. Instead of direct taxation being the crux of the budget, it is relegated to the footnote territory; which means the common man will have to pay higher prices on normal purchases for another year because the government was unable to tax the rich.