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Saturday June 15, 2024

KP’s preemptive budget

By Editorial Board
May 26, 2024
KP Finance Minister, Aftab Alam presents the proposed Rs 1754bln Provincial Budget 2024-25 in the KP Assembly on May 24, 2024. — APP
KP Finance Minister, Aftab Alam presents the proposed Rs 1754bln Provincial Budget 2024-25 in the KP Assembly on May 24, 2024. — APP 

On Friday, the PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government unveiled a Rs1,754 billion annual budget for the fiscal year 2024-25. KP’s Minister for Finance Aftab Alam presented the budget in the provincial assembly. The budget has a total outlay of Rs1,754 billion, with a surplus of Rs100 billion, and projected expenses at Rs1,654 billion. What is interesting – and bizarre – is that the KP government has presented its budget before the federal budget. This is a rarity because provincial governments usually present their budget after the centre; however, this is not an unconstitutional ste[. The federal government will present the budget for the next financial year 2024-25 in the National Assembly on June 7. The reaction from the centre isn’t unexpected. Minister of State for Finance Ali Pervez Malik has called KP’s move ‘irresponsible’ because the provincial budget was based on assumptions. However, the KP government says that its budget has been made keeping in view the budget allocations by the federal government in the past. The funds released by the federal government usually make up a large chunk of the provincial budget but the centre has not yet finalized provincial shares. Pointing the obvious, experts have clarified that the KP budget is not binding on the federal government.

So why would the KP government present a budget that in all likelihood will need to be revised? Going by the past few months, the reasons are not that mysterious. Some are of the opinion that this has been done just to irk the federal government since KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur has not been coming slow about the tensions between the two sides. From asking the centre to pay power arrears to other demands, the KP government has been attacking the Shehbaz Sharif-led government ever since coming into power. Gandapur had initially not been invited to an important meeting of the apex committee of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) that was held yesterday in Islamabad. PM Shehbaz Sharif finally invited Gandapur after KP Governor Faisal Karim Kundi intervened. The KP government had criticized the deliberate ‘snub’. This could perhaps explain the provincial budget before the federal government’s budget. There are some who say that this move may also be seen in the context of the upcoming IMF programme that will be finalized after the federal budget in case the government has made commitments related to provinces that will reflect in its budget, and if they surpass what the KP government has now presented in its own budget. However, some say that this may not have any impact on the IMF programme.

Another interesting theory is that this is related to the reserved seats issue. Earlier this month, a three-member Supreme Court bench suspended the Peshawar High Court’s verdict on reserved seats denied to the Sunni Ittehad Council, announcing that it will hear the case on a daily basis from June 3. There is an idea that perhaps the KP government wants to pass its budget before June 3 so that if there is a verdict by the SC that reserved seats can be distributed amongst PDM parties, the provincial government will not call its assembly session so that it does not have to administer oath to those members. However, this may be too far-fetched a theory as no government will be able to delay calling an assembly session for a long period of time. But some would argue that it is quite possible that the KP government wants a showdown with the government alliance because it wants to create nuisance and chaos – maybe even to the extent that the federal government makes a wrong move like imposing governor rule. So far, the government has said it is not thinking of doing anything like this and wants to bring the political temperature down. Whatever the reasons for the KP government’s budget move, it looks most like a continuation of the PTI’s regular political mood – chaos.