It is no secret that the country is going through an economic downturn presently. While the economy was struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic, the virus spread can potentially lead to mass unemployment and a fall in business activities. A budget in a time of economic downturn then should aim to cut government spending where it can. At the same time, it needs to empower consumer purchasing power, which it can do so by reducing taxes or not imposing any new taxes. Lastly, the government should focus spending on deep-impact service delivery projects to revive the economy out of depression.

This appears to be the approach that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government is taking with its budget for the financial year 2020-2021. The budget, which was unveiled in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly by Finance Minister Taimur Saleem Khan Jhagra, is a Rs923 billion budget, which PTI ministers claim is “tax-free”.

The two areas which the KP government has decided to focus on are development for settled and merged areas, with an allocation for Rs317.8 billion, and health, with a record Rs124 billion reserved. The government’s ambitious plans for health could produce laudable results if it follows through on them. It focuses on the Sehat Insaf Card Programme, a poverty alleviation drive to provide access to quality healthcare to citizens, with the highly ambitious goal of providing Insaf Cards to every family in the province, which if achieved, could be an example for other provinces to follow.

It is a good budget proposal under the circumstances: the KP government has been efficient in identifying the sectors most in need of funding, and for finding creative ways to reduce taxations. With the coronavirus pandemic rising, with KP being the first province to cross 100 deaths, the increase in resource allocation towards health shows that the government is taking the issue seriously.