The beleaguered Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government on Friday tabled its fifth budget; making history by becoming the first democratically elected dispensation in the country to present five consecutive budgets.
In a country where democratically elected governments have always been toppled by the security establishment, this was flagged as a major achievement by the government though the budget itself was presented amid vociferous protests by Opposition members who came to blows with members of the ruling coalition.
Finance Minister Hafiz Sheikh presented what was billed as an election budget with enhanced allocations for the main poverty alleviation programme — the Benazir Income Support Programme — 20% hike in pay and pension of federal employees, and setting up of 2,000 Utility Stores where daily use items including food can be bought at cheaper rates.
The Defence Budget has gone up by about 10 per cent from Rs. 495 billion allocated for this fiscal ending June 30 to Rs. 545 billion. And, in another announcement made with an eye on the elections scheduled next year and to stem the criticism about the extravagant lifestyle of the premier, the Government announced that his official residence would be turned into an institute of advanced studies while the incumbent Yusuf Raza Gilani would move to smaller quarters.
The Opposition was quick to pick holes in the Budget; wondering how the Government planned to generate the resources to fund the largesse at a time when the U.S. is also threatening to cut aid to Pakistan because of the ongoing stand-off over re-opening the NATO supply lines. As for the Prime Minister’s decision to move into a smaller house, drew jibes galore as the government has only nine months left of this tenure. Also, it was interpreted by his opponents as an acknowledgement of the impending defeat at the hustings.