LAHORE: With focus on education, health and agriculture, the caretaker Punjab government Tuesday approved Rs693 billion four-month budgets for the fiscal year 2018-19 including Rs1.6 billion, to meet the expenses of general elections in Punjab.

The Punjab Minister for Finance Zia Haider Rizvi told media at a news conference, here Tuesday that this allocation has been made by the Caretaker Cabinet under Article 126 of the Constitution. The sole aim of the four-month budget is to meet the expenses of the forthcoming general elections, salaries, ongoing development projects and emergency situation, such as floods and dengue outbreak. “For this we have allocated a total budget of Rs693 billion,” he said, adding: “Development and non-development expenditures have been fixed for four months on pro-rata basis. However, there are certain front loaded expenditures that have been catered for in the next year four months’ expenditure authorization like election expenditures and natural calamities (flood, dengue etc.).”

He also announced that the caretaker government has approved 10-percent increase in basic pay with revision of house rent allowance on the same lines of the Federal government for the employees of the Punjab government. Similarly, pension and additional pensionary benefits have also been enhanced by 10-percent.

He told the media that their sole mandate is holding free, fair and transparent elections and during the preparation of the budget, they ensured that the provincial exchequer is not burden with financial liabilities. “At the end of FY 2018-19, there will be no negative cash balance, no throw forward of liabilities into the next fiscal year,” he added. He maintained that the new elected government can revise the budget; “our budget is just a guideline for the incoming government”.

On provincial receipts, Rizvi stated that they have not levied any new taxes; we have only streamlined the expenditures. In the next financial year combined tax collection target is proposed to be increased by 29-percent; Punjab Revenue Authority has been given a target of Rs150 billion against a FY 2017-18’s revised estimates of Rs115 billion, Board of Revenue has been given a target of Rs74.45 billion against a FY 2017-18’s revised estimates Rs62.5 billion, and Excise and Taxation has been assigned a target of Rs35.7 billion against a FY 2017-18’s revised estimates of Rs28.5 billion.

According to him, in the Budget 2018-19, there is special focus on education, health and agriculture sectors, as they benefit the common man directly. These three are the priority sectors and massive allocations have been made for them. Education sector will receive Rs356.5 billion against a revised estimate (FY-2017-18) of Rs283.4 billion; Rs250 billion have been allocated for health sector against a revised estimate (FY-2017-18) of Rs283.4 billion; and agriculture sector will get Rs32.8 billion against a revised estimate (FY-2017-18) of Rs22.8 billion.

He also disclosed that they have also proposed to increase budgetary allocations for school education by 28.6 percent, primary and secondary healthcare 38.6 percent and specialized healthcare and medical education 25.8 percent.

Answering a question, he said that unnecessary expenditures have been curtailed for the next four months so as to control budget deficit. “The size of Annual Development Programme (ADP) is likely to reduce due to increase in the service delivery expenditures and increase in salaries and pension budget. Although there is some space in the National Economic Council (NEC) limit for borrowing by the province, but the decision on the same will be taken by the elected government. Moreover, important decisions on the development side have been deferred for the elected government,” he said.

“The estimated cost for holding general elections in Punjab will be Rs1.6 billion (as per the Punjab Home Department estimates), which has been approved by the cabinet. We have already released Rs298 million to meet emergent expenses and the remaining approved amount of Rs1.3 billion will be released after July 1.”

To a question, he said that he is aware of the apprehensions shown by some political parties regarding transfer of development funds to the PML-N’s elected local government members. “In this connection, I have made a request to the Election Commission of Pakistan to rectify the situation,” he added.

Earlier, the caretaker Punjab Cabinet in a meeting chaired by caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Dr Hasan Askari accorded approval to the four month budget of the fiscal year 2018-19. Addressing the meeting, Dr Askari said that caretaker government has presented four month budget for the year 2018-19, adding that this budget has been presented in accordance with the constitutional requirements. He said that the government has made an effort to provide necessary relief to the people while remaining within the limited mandate and constitutional responsibilities. “Funds for education, healthcare, agriculture and social sectors have been increased,” he added.

According to him, they have to serve the people of the province while remaining within the mandate. All the decisions are being made with the consultation of the cabinet and the budget has been approved with consensus.

Performance of Punjab Revenue Authority was appreciated in the meeting.

Earlier, Secretary Finance gave the briefing about the salient features of new fiscal year’s budget. Provincial ministers, chief secretary, inspector general of police and senior officials attended the meeting.