House rejects all cut motions by opposition
Punjab Assembly on Wednesday approved supplementary demands for grants for the fiscal year 2015-16 worth approximately Rs 146 billion and rejected all cut motions presented by the opposition.
The process for approving the Annual Budget 2016-17 and Supplementary Budget 2015-16 was thus completed in the House. National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq also attended the session as a special guest.
Concluding the previous day discussion on the supplementary budget, Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghous Pasha informed the House on Wednesday that contrary to claims made by the opposition that the allocation of Rs20 billion for Prime Minister’s Kissan Package was necessary for the relief of farmers who would benefit from the 55 million rupees worth subsidy on agricultural inputs, including electricity, for farmers. In addition to this, Pasha informed that 8 billion rupees had been kept for pensions of government employees which were not included in the annual budget.
Pasha insisted in response to criticism of the government availing the counsel of Supreme Court Advocate Khawaja Harris that it had the right to appoint private lawyers for special cases even in the presence of Advocate General Punjab. Pasha denied that any recruitment had been made in the Sahiwal Coal Project as it was completely run on Chinese investment and said trips of government officials to foreign countries were necessary to improve the country’s image and attract potential investors.
She added that additional salary honorarium for assembly staff would soon be released.
Moving a cut motion to reduce spending on irrigation and land reclamation, PTI MPA Saadia Sohail said majority of the province was attached with the agricultural sector and needed floodwater to be used constructively for purposes of irrigation, but no such effort to reserve this water was witnessed from the government. Meanwhile, PPP MPA Qazi Ahmed Saeed said much of the irrigation budget was spent on non-development work. PML-Q MPA Sardar Vickas Hassan Mokal said water security was the biggest problem and there was no government programme to curb scarcity of water. Mokal said only Mangla and Tarbela dams could not store all flood water and efforts should be made to make Kalabagh dam a reality.
Provincial Irrigation Minister Mian Yawar Zaman concluded that grants under the supplementary budget were necessary for ad hoc relief allowances and salaries of government employees in addition to funding the Indus Water Authority and inland water waste. The cut motion was thus put to vote and rejected by the House.
Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Minister Khalil Tahir Sindhu on a point of order clarified that past remarks made by PML-N MPA Shehzad Munshi and PTI Shunila Ruth were baseless as funds for scholarships for minority students had been released and the grants for Christmas and Holi celebrations had been significantly increased on the orders of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Moving the cut motion to reduce spending on services and general administration, PTI MPA Shunila Ruth stated that much of the expenditure for the department was to fund the lavish expenses of the chief minister. She demanded the government return the amount awarded by the National Finance Commission (NFC) to conduct the census as this had not been conducted in the province and allocate special funds for the women development department.
Her counterpart PTI MPA Shoaib Siddiqi criticised the Punjab government for funding the travel of now elected Union Council 107 and former vice-chairman of Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Khawaja Ahmed Hassan to Turkey which cost Rs 7.5 million. Siddiqi noted that significant amount of money had been requested by the services and general administration to fund an international seminar in the supplementary budget which had yet to take place and the money had been spent on bribes for local government elections.
PML-Q MPA Khadijah Umar meanwhile expressed the government’s failure to comply with recommendations of the austerity committee that had advised a ban on foreign travels of parliamentarians and government officials.
Mines and Minerals Minister Chaudry Sher Ali Khan concluded the discussion by stating that gender mainstreaming departments had been meant that women development funds would be given to all departments and Khawaja Hassan who served on a government post prior to the local government elections had been part of a delegation to Turkey that altogether cost Rs 7.5 million. The cut motion was rejected by the House and the PA Speaker exercised his guillotine powers putting all demands to vote which thereon all accepted by the assembly. The finance minister also laid the schedule for supplementary authorised expenditure for the year 2015-16.
Raising a point of order in the House, PML-N's Sheikh Allaudin informed the House that 8,500 policemen had been denied promotion as per orders of Supreme Court and urged the government to address their financial difficulties. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told the House that most of these promotions had been out-of-turn and the government could not enact any legislation contradicting SC orders. He assured however that the law department was actively looking into the matter.
Earlier in the session, PTI MPA Abdul Majeed Niazi had submitted a privilege motion demanding strict action against Layyah DPO for raiding his house on the pretext of supposedly hiding a criminal. The matter was referred to the privilege committee.
The House was prorogued until further notice.