A budget on the eve of the elections

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  • Forcing PML-N’s budgetary policies on the next government

While the government’s five year term ends on May 31 it intends to present a sixth budget before the National Assembly on April 27. One tends to agree with the opposition that the PML-N administration should only prepare a budget for the next four months to allow the present government and the interim set up meet essential expenses related to the current expenditure and ongoing projects. The insistence to present a budget for the next fiscal year also has led to questions regarding the ruling party’s motives.

Apprehensions have been expressed that the PML-N wants to get approval for supplementary grants that may include expenditures of a political nature like further disbursements to its parliamentarians for development work in their constituencies as a pre-poll rigging measure. There being wide divergences over developmental priorities between political parties, the budget for the next financial year could create liabilities for the next government which would be unjustified. The PML-N, for instance, is focused on physical infrastructure, particularly high visibility mega projects, while the PTI prioritises social infrastructure like education and health. Similarly while the PML-N follows business friendly policies, the PPP stresses reforms aimed at alleviating poverty and improving the common man’s lot. Concerns have been voiced that by putting a full year’s budget in its hands, the government would provide an opportunity to the caretaker setup to prolong its tenure.

Eyebrows were raised when the government abruptly announced the tax amnesty scheme only months ahead of the general elections. Among other objections the scheme was interpreted as a measure to fetch votes. The nomination of a novice, who is reportedly the PM’s business partner, as ambassador to the US has been called inappropriate. Kh Asif’s defense of the appointment as PM’s right has raised a host of questions centered around conflict of interest. Among other things one has been reminded that the former prime minister and at least four federal ministers have been found in possession of iqamas, or foreign work permits, and their possible implications in policy making.