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Sindh Assembly unveils 'tax-free' budget with outlay of Rs869bn

Sindh Assembly unveils 'tax-free' budget with outlay of Rs869bn

KARACHI: Sindh’s budget for the 2016-2017 financial year with an outlay of approximately Rs869 billion was presented in the provincial assembly on Saturday. The new budget translates into a rise of around 15 per cent compared to fiscal year 2015-16.

The budget was presented in the assembly by Sindh Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah after it was approved by the provincial cabinet members. The session was chaired by Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani.

“All our focus is on economic development and stability, and better human lives and facilities," Shah said in his budget speech, amidst shouts and sloganeering from the opposition.

The new fiscal year's deficit is estimated to be Rs15bn, he said.

The provincial government has claimed that its fourth budget is aimed at poverty alleviation and would be appreciated by the people of Sindh. This money bill comes a week after the federal government proposed an agri-focused budget to meet its growth target and manage the sector’s dismal performance during the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Like all previous years, the budget commentary was read out in three languages: Sindhi, Urdu, and English. During the speech, the minister also read out verses of poetry.

Examine: Budgets to nowhere

The Sindh finance minister in his budget speech said that the development budget for the next financial year has been increased by 39pc.

Besides the Annual Development Programme (ADP) of Rs225bn, a total of Rs25bn have been allocated for districts and Rs42bn for local bodies.

In last year's budget, Rs503bn had been earmarked for non-development expenditure and Rs214bn for development expenditure.

Sindh government's utilisation of development funds designated in the previous fiscal year remained disappointingly low as only Rs86bn were spent out of a total of Rs162bn from ADP, while several development projects could not be completed.

A special package of Rs10bn has been designed for Karachi in next year's budgetary proposal.

Included in the provisions of the package is the extension of Sharea Faisal and the construction of underpasses at Star Gate and Punjab Chowrangi, while the scheme of new pumping station at Dhabeji has been added in the new budget once again.

Meanwhile, funds for the Sewerage Plan S-III and the K4 Water Supply Project have also been allocated.

For the next fiscal year's budget, the biggest amount of Rs160.7bn has been earmarked for education whereas Rs144.7bn were set aside for the education sector in the previous budget.

The new allocation is an increase of 11pc compared to education's share last year, the finance minister said.

He said the in the education budget Rs4.68bn have been designated for schools and Rs5.4bn for repairs of schools and colleges.

A total of Rs65.9bn has been set aside for the health sector in the budget proposal. In comparison, healthcare was allocated around Rs57.5bn in last year's budget.

The Sindh finance minister said in his budget speech Rs401 million has been proposed for repairs of hospitals.

The combined recommended budget for the provincial home department and the police is Rs83.2bn, whereas in the preceding year Rs61bn was earmarked for the police department’s budget.

A total of 20,000 new positions have been created in the police department and 10,000 positions in other departments.

In the 2016-17 budget, an increase of 10pc was announced in salaries and just as much in the pensions of citizens over the age of 85 years.

Sindh Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah announced that the provincial government aims to lower the rate of consumption of sales tax in order to increase revenue. For this reason, sales tax in the Sindh budget has been lowered by 1pc and allocated at 13pc.

He further stated that Sindh Revenue Board has been assigned a target of Rs61bn for the current year. Target tax collection for next year is Rs154 bn; which for the upcoming fiscal year has been raised by 24pc.

He revealed that general sales tax (GST) on services has been reduced from 14 to 13pc.

He said no new taxes have been added to the proposed budget which can be a burden on the common man.

A 65.5pc boost has been granted in the budget for social welfare, special education, sports and minorities for the coming fiscal year 2016-17. In addition, a substantial raise of 200pc in outlay for minorities has been finalised at Rs30m, announced Shah.

During the budget speech, finance minister notified that funds have been allocated to ensure equality and understanding with consensus of party leaders.

Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hassan, speaking after the budget speech, said the opposition has rejected the "anti-people" budget presented by the Sindh government.

He said a Ramazan package was nowhere to be found in the proposed budget, even though costs of edibles have been skyrocketing.

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