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Pak govt hikes next fiscal year’s federal budget; hints at holding general elections this year

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ISLAMABAD, June 3 (PTI): Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led Pakistan’s coalition government has decided to throw open its coffers for massive public spending during the next financial year, finally giving the strongest signal to hold the general elections on time this year, according to a media report on Saturday.

The evidence has been gleaned from the 31 per cent hike in the next fiscal year’s federal development budget to Rs 950 billion,  reported the Express Tribune newspaper.

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The decision to increase the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) from the earlier proposed Rs 700 billion to Rs 950 billion was taken by Prime Minister Sharif, minutes before the scheduled meeting of the Annual Plan Coordination Committee (APCC) on Friday.

The paper reported that the confusion was apparent as the Ministry of Planning had distributed the APCC working paper among all stakeholders based on the Rs 700 billion PSDP size.

But Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told the media that the size of the PSDP will be Rs 950 billion.

Subsequently, the APCC recommended a Rs 2.5 trillion cumulative national development outlay for spending by the federal government and the four provinces.

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The Rs 2.5 trillion allocation was Rs 90 billion or 4 per cent higher than the ongoing fiscal year ending on June 30.

The APCC also approved a 3.5 per cent GDP growth target with sectoral growth of 3.5 per cent in agriculture, 3.4 per cent in industries and 3.6 per cent in services for the fiscal year 2023-24. The inflation target for the next fiscal year is set at 21 per cent.

The APCC approved Rs 950 billion for the federal development budget – up by Rs 223 billion or 31 per cent over this year’s original allocation.

It also endorsed Rs 1.56 trillion in development outlays for the four provinces. The interim governments of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have proposed smaller development allocations till October 2023.

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The parliamentarians’ public development schemes have been given Rs 90 billion compared to Rs 111 billion this fiscal year.

Such schemes are generally considered political bribes by the government to appease the lawmakers, the report said.

The budget 2023-24 is expected to be presented before the parliament on June 9 and after a discussion, it would be voted upon before the end of June.

The current parliament will complete its term by mid-August, elections are expected by early October.

It is rumoured that as provided in the Constitution, the parliament under extraordinary circumstances may increase its term by one year, but the size of the PSDP shows that the government is entering into election mode, the report added.

The ousted prime minister and the chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Imran Khan, has been demanding early elections in the cash-strapped country. The Sharif-led government has rejected Khan’s demand.

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