2012-13 budget presented amid brawls

Monitoring Desk

ISLAMABAD: Amid much uproar from the opposition benches, Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh here on Friday presented the budget to the Parliament for the upcoming fiscal year 2012-13, DawnNews reported.

Earlier, the federal cabinet approved budget proposals with an outlay of 2.96 trillion rupees. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani chaired the cabinet meeting which was briefed by Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Sheikh on the proposals.

The proposals, that included levying of no new tax, were given a go-ahead by the Cabinet, in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The minister said gross federal revenues have been estimated at Rs. 3,234 billion during 2012-13 as compared to Rs. 2,732 billion budgeted for 2011-12, reflecting an increase of 18.3 per cent.

Dr Hafeez Sheikh told the parliament that the government has set an inflation target of 9.5 per cent, fiscal deficit of 4.7 per cent, national development outlay of Rs 873 billion with a federal Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) of Rs 360 billion, and a revenue target of Rs 2504 billion.

Duty on raw material for 88 medicines has been reduced from 10 to 5 per cent. Moreover, sales tax on imports has been standardised at 16 per cent from 22 per cent to 19.5 per cent, while the minimum tax slab has been increased to Rs 400,000.

To provide relief to the poorest of the poor, the minister said, allocation to Benazir Income Support Program will be enhanced from this year’s Rs. 50 billion to Rs. 70 billion for the next year, while Rs. 10 billion will be allocated to Export Development Fund Benefits for the vulnerable groups/safety nets.

To generate job opportunities, he said, 100,000 unemployed educated youth will be given an opportunity to work and develop their skills through internships and technical training. Under the National Internship Program, 40,000 internships, in both government and private sector organisations, will be offered to Master’s Degree holders and another 40,000 to Bachelor’s Degree holders.

Protest overshadows budget speech

Intense protest in the National Assembly marred proceedings on Friday as opposition lawmakers hijacked the unveiling of the new budget, trading punches during angry scuffles in parliament against power cuts and corruption.

Parliamentarians traded blows and slaps, as they pushed and shoved each other on the parliament floor, grabbing each others clothing.

The finance minister was surrounded by 25 to 30 opposition parliamentarians who filled the space between his podium and the speaker’s dais, heckling and shouting through his speech, an AFP reporter said.

“End load shedding,” they cried. “This government is stealing electricity,” “the corrupt rulers should quit,” “let the poor live,” “respect the constitution” and “people want electricity, water and gas,” they shouted.

This is the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratic government has presented its fifth national budget during its tenure.

Dismal growth, missed targets

On Thursday, the finance minister was forced to announce that the economy had missed its target growth rate of 4.2 percent to grow by only 3.7 percent in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

On the same day, the rupee sank to its lowest level to 93.8350 against the dollar as Pakistan’s central bank was forced to deny it would have to return to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance.

The currency slid 0.9 percent after The Wall Street Journal quoted the central bank governor as saying that failure to control the deficit could make it hard to meet the more than $4 billion in IMF loans due in the coming fiscal year.

External forecasts predict the deficit will nudge seven percent of GDP for the fiscal year and analysts warn the government is running out of ways to fund it.

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