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ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal Thursday said that to meet national financial requirements, the government has to take additional local and international loans.

He said this while briefing a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development held under the chairmanship of Senator Ataur Rehman.

The committee members raised the issues related to budgetary recommendations sent by the committee to the ministry of planning and development on February 11, 2022, related to developmental schemes on water, power, health and education projects under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) for the financial year 2022-23.

The planning minister and federal secretary Ministry of Planning, while briefing the committee on the agenda item said that the ministry has a certain share in the budget regarding countrywide development projects. They further said that PC-1 of any scheme is not planned by the ministry but is prepared by the concerned departments and agencies which forward the schemes to the planning ministry for funding.

The minister said that the department prepares as many schemes as the budget quota of the Ministry of Planning and gives them to us. We do not have the authority to add or reject recommendations.

Rs800bn PSDP proposed for FY23, says planning minister

The secretary planning said that the ministry after receiving the recommendations of the parliamentarians was thoroughly reviewing them and are sent to the relevant federal department for implementation. The Standing Committee was informed that the recommendations of the members of the Senate were sent on February 11, 2022, after which they were reviewed and handed over to the concerned departments and provinces on March 14.

The committee was informed that the members of the Senate forwarded a total of 216 schemes to the ministry of which 174 were related to provincial governments and 42 were of the federal government. The meeting was further informed that out of 174 recommendations related to provinces 33 were related to Punjab, 50 to Sindh, 73 to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), and 18 to Balochistan.

Of 42 developmental projects recommendations 6 were related to Power Division, 20 to Petroleum Division, 8 to Interior Ministry related and eight were related to other ministries.

The National Economic Council (NEC), headed by the prime minister and comprising 12 members, including the provinces, decided in June 2021 to set March 31 as the date for new schemes. The panel was informed that Rs900 billion had been allocated for PSDP schemes for the financial year 2021-22 which was later reduced to Rs550 billion. For 2022-23 financial year the government has earmarked Rs800 billion for PSDP schemes across the country.

The panel was further informed that the ministry received a total Rs1.3 trillion developmental schemes by the federal and provincial departments but the concerned departments have been directed to send the schemes as per the stipulated budget. No new scheme will be added after 31st March and the existing schemes will be completed by spending resources for the next nine years. Funds for the last quarter of the last financial year were also not released.

Responding to a question raised by Senator Attaur Rehman, the ministry officials said that the Planning Ministry is playing a role of a regulator which receives schemes and sends them to the concerned departments for implementation. The panel was informed that the highest share has been allocated in the budget for the province of Balochistan and the provincial and federal departments have been informed about the ceiling so that PSDP schemes can be formulated accordingly.

Senator Sardar Muhammad Shafiq Tareen said that Pakhtun areas are being ignored once again like the previous government. None of the national food security schemes are in the Pakhtun area, adding that only nine percent of the total water projects related schemes of Balochistan province are for Pakhtun areas and out of 30 special area schemes, only four schemes are for Pakhtun areas. The government should pay more attention to the Pakhtun areas.

The committee was also informed that 80 percent of the budget was allocated for old schemes and 20 percent for new schemes but the ratio of 60 to 40 has been fixed in the NEC with collective consultation.

The panel was informed that the government has allocated Rs30 billion for the uplift of the 20 most backward districts of the country with special focusing on education, health, water supply, and other human development-related projects. The federal government and respective provincial governments will share 50 percent costs. About 250 vocational schools will be opened for vocational education in the country and 250 new stadiums will be constructed for the promotion of sports in the country.

Ahsan Iqbal said that the government was taking tough decisions to put the country’s economy on the right track. He added that owing to lack of funds, Gwadar port is as yet not fully developed with only 11 meters depth which cannot handle large ships. The government has allocated funds for cleaning streets and drainage. The minister further said that the government will provide funding for 5,000 scholarships in various subjects related to higher education. The development projects of Balochistan province are double that of Punjab province.

He said that the government was paying special focus on the completion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor-related projects and steps are being taken to ensure timely completion of industrial zones which were to be completed in 2020.

While lamenting the reduction of developmental budget, the minister said that it was very unfortunate that in 2018 when Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) left the government, the total PSDP allocation was Rs1,000 billion which Imran Khan-led government kept on reducing and in 2021-22 the previous government allocated a total Rs900 billion for the developmental schemes which later was reduced to Rs550 billion. He said that the defense and development budget should have been equal for the smooth running of the economy but now the defense budget is Rs1,500 billion while the developmental budget is Rs550 billion. He said that the present government has increased the developmental budget to Rs800 billion for the financial year 2022-23. He further said that for a strong national defense, the development budget should be more than the defense budget.

The committee was also informed that 80 percent of the budget was allocated for old schemes and 20 percent for new schemes but the ratio of 60 to 40 has been fixed in the NEC with collective consultation. There is a plan of Rs30 billion for this. 50 per cent will be provided by the provincial governments. About 250 vocational schools will be opened for vocational education in the country and 250 new stadiums will be constructed for the promotion of sports in the country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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