On mixed reactions to KP budget 2020-21
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
Very few can comprehend the enigma of statistics in the Rs923bn KP budget for 2020-21 that Taimur Saleem Jhagra presented in the provincial assembly on June 19. The Minister of Health, who additionally also takes care of the Revenue, informed the house that the government wanted to put focus on improving the health sector. Moreover, it intended to give tax relief to business enterprises hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic. KP has been under PTI rule for seven years now – five years under Pervez Khan Khattak as CM and nearly two years under Mahmood Ahmad Khan.
The hallmark of this long rule has been its narrative crafted in the future indefinite tense: we shall do this, we will complete that. One has hardly heard any federal or provincial minister saying ‘my ministry has done this’, ‘my ministry has completed that’. One has all the respect for Taimur Saleem Jhagra, who is smart at dishing out pleasantries that sound sweet to ears of the top leadership. However, deep down his heart, he also has the knowledge that all is probably not okay in KP’s four major post-graduate teaching hospitals.
Budget-wise, capacity-wise and quality-wise, Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH), Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) and Ayub Medical College (AMC) in Abbottabad are all in shambles. Doctors working in these hospitals may bear out the truth that so-called reforms brought about by the US-based octogenarian Pak national Nausherwan Burki (with dual nationality) have played havoc with the health sector. Instead of bringing about any visible refinement in the system, ‘the Nausherwan Burki formula’ has largely caused hardships to the ailing humanity and the community of practicing doctors lovingly called ‘messiahs’. Senior doctors rightly wonder why the above-mentioned hospitals are constantly in need of funds, while PM Imran Khan’s cancer hospitals in Lahore and Peshawar and the university in his native Mianwali are self-sufficient and yield profits. Privately managed hospitals like the Rehman Medical Institute (RMI) and the North-West Hospital (NWH) in Phase-5 of Hayatabad, Peshawar mostly cater to the affluent class.
The other claim made in the new budget relates to tax relief for the business community. Credibility of the government with regard to public relief is hardly transparent. Traders are already in tears due to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) woes. Corona shutdowns have added to their miseries. Sales have taken a nosedive. Incomes have shrunken phenomenally. Instead of reaching out to shopkeepers with some sort of compensation, the government rubbed salt into their wounds by sealing their shops. It unnecessarily overburdened them with fines, inflated utility bills and income/property tax notices.
Commenting on the state of affairs, ANP spokeswoman Sammar Haroon Bilour said: “The budget has nothing to offer to the general public. Therefore, we reject it”. She posed the question: “If, for instance, the people do not get ‘Sehat Insaf’ cards even in corona times, what on earth will they do with them after corona is over”? Similarly, provincial chairman of Qaumi Watan Party (QWP), Sikandar Khan Sherpao, also rejected the budget saying it had set unachievable goals. He said that it provided relief to the upper class and big tycoons, thus ignoring the middle and lower classes. He said that it was unrealistic to expect a 27 per cent increase in revenue receipts. He predicted that there would be several mini budgets in the next 10-12 months.
Meanwhile, in his post-budget news conference, Taimur Saleem Jhagra claimed that the development budget of KP was equivalent to that of Punjab and more than that of Sindh. It may be interesting to note that in last year’s budget Rs319bn were allocated for development. However, the government could spend slightly more than Rs220bn. Thus Rs98bn were left unused. Taimur Saleem Jhagra went on to warn that in case of this being a deficit budget, the government might resort to borrowing from local banks. While, one is still on the prospects of borrowing, it may be mentioned that the budget document has set a target of borrowing Rs90bn from local banks and international donor agencies.
One is unsure whether or not the borrowed money will be put to any correct use but the amount will certainly be returned by further taxing the general public. The government has also decided to separately borrow Rs9.66bn for BRT. During the post-budget news conference, journalists asked Taimur Saleem Jhagra if there was any update on the BRT mega project. While Jhagra remained silent, his cabinet colleague Ajmal Khan Wazir intervened to say that BRT was complete and hopefully PM Imran Khan would soon visit Peshawar for its inauguration, but he declined to give a definite date.