Punjab presents pro-business budget

LAHORE – Finance Minister Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht on Monday presented Rs2.24 trillion tax-free and relief-laden budget for the fiscal year 2020-21, amid rumpus and walkout from the Opposition.

Led by Opposition Leader Hamza Shehbaz, PML-N legislators resorted to prolong protest that culminated, when they staged a walkout from the House just before the conclusion of the budget speech.

The session started two hours behind the scheduled time with Speaker Ch Parvez Elahi in the chair. Leaders from both sides of the political divide¬- Chief Minister Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar and Hamza Shehbaz – attended the budget session.

The Opposition legislators went berserk when the chair did not allow PML-N’s Rana Mashood Ahmed Khan to speak on a point of order. The Opposition resorted to usual tactics of gathering in front of Speaker’s podium, while ignoring all SOPs of social distancing and chanting full throat slogans against PTI leadership and the present regime. PML-N legislators tore apart copies of agenda, displayed placards inscribed with anti government slogans and with writings like ‘anti public budget namanzoor (unacceptable)’.  

The Finance Minister continued his budget speech undeterred despite the deafening noise for almost quarter of an hour. After the Opposition walkout, the minister also introduced the Finance Bill 2020 besides presenting the Supplementary Budget statement for the year 2019-20.

To complete the day’s agenda, he also laid before the House amendments in the Second Schedule and Rules under sections 5 & 76 of the Punjab Sales Tax on Services Act 2012.

Giving details of the estimates, the minister said that Rs337 billion have been earmarked for the Annual Development Program. He said that Punjab was estimated to get Rs1.433 trillion from Federal Divisible Pool, Rs220.9 billion from provincial taxes and Rs96.2 billion from non-tax receipts.

The finance minister said that the government was implementing the policy of decreasing the expenditure by adopting austerity measures. The government rejected the supplementary grants of Rs61 billion and saved Rs1.5 billion by reducing the demands of different departments under the supervision of Austerity Committee. Following the footsteps of the federation, the Punjab government had not announced any increase in the salaries of the employees, he said, adding, the Punjab government under the leadership of CM Sardar Usman Buzdar announced Rs56 billion tax relief package, which was biggest in the history of the province. The government has announced relief package on GST on services in the upcoming budget which included the proposal of reducing the rate of tax on health insurance from 16 % to zero per cent and on consultancy fees of doctors and hospitals from five per cent to zero per cent.

The government proposed to reduce the ratio of tax from 16 per cent to five per cent on more than 20 service providers which included hotels, guest houses, marriage halls, lawns, caterers, IT services, tour operators, gems, property dealers, rent a car service, cable TV operators, treatment of textile and leather services, commission agents related to commodities, auditing, accounting and tax consultancy services, photographers and parking services.

The government proposed to collect tax from property builders and developers at the rate of Rs50 and Rs100 per square feet. He said that customers paying bills through cash to beauty parlors and restaurants would pay 16 percent tax while those paying through credit/debit cards would be charged 5 percent.

The government would give 20 per cent rebate instead of 10 percent on the full payment of registration and token tax of cars while 5 per cent special discount would be given if the payment was made through Punjab e-Pay. He said that the government had given due attention to the health sector in the wake of challenges posed by the pandemic. He said that Rs284.2 billion had been allocated for the health sector including Rs250.7 billion for the current expenditure and Rs33 billion for the development. The government had allocated Rs13 billion for controlling COVID-19. He said the government had allocated Rs391 billion for the education sector including Rs357 billion for current expenditure and Rs34.5 billion for the development. He said that the government had allocated more than Rs350 billion for Schools education including Rs27.6 billion for the development. He said that the government would provide free books and stipends to 500,000 students. The minister said that Rs13.5 billion had been earmarked for school councils, Rs3 billion for Daanish Schools and Rs22 billion for Punjab Education Foundation and Punjab Education Initiative Management Authority. He said that Rs37.6 billion had been allocated for higher education including Rs3.9 billion for the development. He said that Rs3 billion had been allocated for Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education, Rs800 million for Special Education, Rs6.5 billion for Environment Protection, Rs13.3 billion for Industries, Commerce and Investment, Rs1.3 billion for Labour and Human Resource, Rs0.9 billion for Minorities and Human Rights, Rs55.7 billion for Transport, Rs4.9 billion for Energy, Rs2.4 billion for Mines and Minerals, Rs61.6 billion for Communication and Works and Rs0.7 billion for Women Development.

The minister said that Punjab was facing the biggest threat of locust attack. He said that Punjab was taking steps along with the federal government to cope with the challenge. He said that Rs31.73 billion had been allocated for the agriculture sector. He said that Rs4 billion had been earmarked to save crops from the locust attack out of which Rs1 billion would be given to Provincial Disaster Management Authority. He said that Rs37.4 billion had been allocated for irrigation, Rs13.3 for livestock and dairy development and Rs4 billion for Punjab Social Protection Authority. He said that Rs8 billion had been earmarked for the development of big cities under Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Program. He said that under the programs, funds would be allocated for Sahiwal and Sialkot. He said that the government had allocated Rs32 billion for the development of 16 cities under Punjab Cities Program which was going on with the support of the World Bank.

On completion of agenda, the chair adjourned the session till Thursday (June 18) at 2pm.

Earlier, Chief Minister Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar chaired the 30th provincial cabinet meeting at his office on Monday to approve the budget proposals for the financial year 2020-21 with consensus.

It also approved financial bill 2020 along with supplementary budget and revised estimates for 2019-20. The meeting also endorsed decisions made in 29th cabinet meeting along with the approval of decisions made in the 32nd, 33rd and 34th meetings of cabinet standing committee on financial development. Similarly, decisions made in the 23rd, 24th and 25th meetings of cabinet standing committee for legislative business were also approved.

Secretary Finance apprised the participants about salient features of provincial budget and annual development program. Ban on transferring southern Punjab’s development funds to some other project or city would remain intact as the cabinet approved ring fencing of three southern Punjab division’s development funds in the new financial year.

The CM congratulated Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht, Advisor Dr Salman Shah, Chief Secretary, Chairman P&D, Secretary Finance and others for their role in budget making. Steps had been proposed for public relief despite difficult circumstances resulting due to coronavirus pandemic and in this backdrop, it was a very balanced and a public-friendly budget, he added. The CM maintained that realistic targets had been fixed and priorities had been identified according to public needs. It was a realistic document for balanced development and not jugglery of words, he said. On the other side, he lamented that the opposition was only engaged in making hue and cry and left the people alone. The CM assured that continuous liaison would be maintained with the assembly members. Ministers, advisors, special assistants, CS and administrative secretaries attended the meeting.

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