Punjab, Sindh budgets
Punjab and Sindh presented their budgets this week. Punjab’s total outlay was Rs2.24 trillion, backed by a 13% improvement in provincial tax collection. The province is also providing a Rs56 billion tax relief to businesses to help cope with Covid-19. Tax rates on over 20 services would be cut from the present 16% to just 5%. These include smaller hotels, wedding halls, catering, IT services, tour operators, gyms, property dealers, and car rental services. Sales tax on health insurance, doctor’s fees and hospital fees are also being slashed. In an interesting effort to digitise the economy, the Punjab government is proposing maintaining the 16% sales tax on restaurants and beauty parlours for cash payments, but cutting it to 5% for electronic payments. The development budget has been set at Rs337 billion, and sales tax for public-private partnerships has been cut to zero for five years to attract investment. The education budget is Rs391 billion, and the health budget is Rs284 billion, which includes Rs13 billion for Covid-19 pandemic response.
The Sindh government, meanwhile, prioritised the health sector in its Rs1.24 trillion deficit budget. No new taxes have been added, and government salaries have risen by up to 10%. Some 1,414 new government employees will also be hired. The development budget has been set at Rs232.9 billion, down 18% from last year. The increase in non-development spending was attributed to ‘Covid-related pro-poor’ social protection and economic sustainability spending of Rs34.2 billion, a Rs19 billion rise in health spending, and an additional Rs22.9 billion for education. One of the other positives was a Health Risk Allowance equal to one month’s basic pay for all health personnel, including postgraduate and house job officers, who have been working on Covid-19 patients.
While both budgets for the country’s two richest provinces have their strengths and weaknesses, it is clear that one focuses on economic recovery from Covid-19, and the other on saving lives.
Digital birth registration
Maintaining proper records of births is necessary for effective planning in order to ensure provision of facilities to citizens, particularly to children. Launched in 2017 by the Sindh government, in collaboration with Unicef, more than 500,000 children have so far been registered under the digital birth registration programme in the province. A government official informed media-persons that the programme was piloted in Thatta, and later extended to Badin, Naushero Feroze and Karachi.
The initiative is aimed at ensuring, facilitating and expediting the registration of children at the time of birth, especially in rural areas. The main purpose of the whole exercise is to safeguard children’s fundamental rights. The programmes is claimed to have greatly helped in the registration of newborns with Nadra with the help of union councils. The programme has, reportedly, also helped with collection of data and facilitates citizens’ access to records. Now the government is setting up desks for registration under the project at hospitals.
The significance of digital registration of births can be gauged from the fact that it facilitates citizens at all stages of life, most importantly recognition of identity at the official level. Encouraged by the success of the programme, the provincial government plans to extend it to the entire province. It has also announced the launch of a mobile registration system for registering the birth of babies at their homes during the coronavirus pandemic. This will help citizens in the birth registration process at a time when the long-persisting pandemic has restricted people’s physical movement.
The initiative will help in several ways both the citizens and the government. As it ensures children’s identity, they will encounter no problems in obtaining the national identity card, the most important document to get rights as citizens. The right to get the national identity card enables people to get their other rights as citizens.
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