Following Sindh’s presentation of its provincial budget despite opposition and protests, the Punjab government, it seems, had been bolstered to present its supplementary budget as well. In view of the major vehemence and opposition of the presumptuous presentation of the federal budget for the year by the departing government, it was a smart move for the incumbent Punjab government to take heed to limit the budget for its remaining term. However, in testament of the reigning government’s current legacy of mismanagement and afterthoughts, it has presented only the revised estimates for the outgoing fiscal year in the assembly owing to discrepancies in the projected budget.
The revised budget itself is a vivid portrayal of the crux of the economic woes of the state with major regressions on development and current expenditure projections for the outgoing fiscal year. Where the shortfall in funds can be unequivocally blamed on our vacuous tax collection system and obsolete economic policies, both in federal transfers and provincial tax collection, the fact remains that the original budget was a highly ambitious and magnanimous presentation that was completely oblivious to the economic and fiscal realities of the state.
With the term of the federal and provincial governments ending on May 31, the incoming government is faced with reassessing the financial shortfall and discrepancies. The flailing projected income for the year also means that provincial governments are faced with further slashing of budgets, following the previously reduced amounts allocated to them in the original plan. Where the initially proposed budget, in wishful largesse relied heavily on funding and exorbitant loans from foreign countries for development projects, the suspension in payments, which should have been accounted for through drawing up the budget, have further derailed targets. Where almost every department has shown over spending in non-development projects, especially those in infrastructure and construction, it is a testament to misplaced priorities that almost all departments of Punjab failed miserably to utilize their development funds fully.
Previously Punjab’s caution in refraining from exhibiting a full budget might have had more to do with PTIs government refusing to present a budget in deference for the incoming counterpart’s mandate. However, while the incumbent government is quick to point out its thoughtfulness in ‘respecting the limit of their mandate’ and refraining from passing the burden of their development works onto the next government, the gesture falls under its’ ethical obligation. It can only be hoped that the incoming government is able to reprioritise and redesign the budget to better reflect our financial realities and needs.