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'Divided' opposition fails to block passage of budget

  • Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif not present in crucial session
  • Finance Bill 2021 discussed clause by clause in the House
Updated 30 Jun, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Amid a pandemonium, the National Assembly, on Tuesday, passed the budget for the fiscal year 2021-22. Prime Minister Imran Khan also rushed to the House after a voice vote on a motion moved by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin for taking up the bill was challenged by the opposition benches.

The Deputy Speaker, Qasim Suri, who was presiding over the session, then ordered a head count, and the motion was adopted with a majority - 172-138 - votes. Following the approval of the motion in the House, the process of getting a clause-wise approval of the Finance Bill 2021 started, followed by the passage of the Finance Bill 2021 through a voice vote despite repeated demands from the opposition to go for a head count again.

The demand from the opposition for the head count came as they knew the prime minister and some other members from the treasury had left the House, after the motion was adopted, but NA Speaker Asad Qaiser, who was chairing the session, rejected their demand.

The opposition leader in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, was not present in the crucial session, while ex-president Asif Zardari, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and incarcerated members from the opposition - Khursheed Shah and Ali Wazir - whose production orders had been issued by the NA speaker, were also present in the House. Khawaja Asif, who has recently been released on bail by the Lahore High Court (LHC) also attended the session.

The Finance Bill 2021 was discussed clause by clause in the House. Amendments proposed by the treasury members were accepted, while not a single amendment proposed by the opposition members was accepted. PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah came down hard on the government for what he described the budget as an "addition of a multitude of taxes", adding the ruling PTI had proposed taxes collectively, "amounting to around Rs1,100-1,200 billion".

"This is quite unfortunate that the budget failed to meet the expectations of the masses," he lamented.

The PPP leader also stated that health and education sectors remained largely ignored in the budget this time again, adding the prices of medicines have gone up by "400 percent".

He particularly expressed concern over the fast-growing population in the country, raising doubts that the government had any plan to meet its demands.

"The biggest issue of the country is not the atom bomb as it's the fastest growing population, for which the government is clueless as there is nothing for this issue in the budget," he warned.

He further said the government had failed to provide any relief to farmers in the budget. Among the House's business for Tuesday was also the amendment in certain clauses within the bill, and one of the amendments moved by a treasury MNA Qasim Noon was that MNAs will now be provided vouchers instead of air tickets.

This amendment encountered no objection from the opposition. Earlier, PPP MNA Nafeesa Shah criticised the government's budget measures, saying that the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) was being turned into "another NAB [National Accountability Bureau]."

She said that no one should allow the FBR to be given the "powers of the judge and the jury", adding that some points in the budget were too vague to understand.

PML-N MNA, Khurram Dastgir, lashed out at the government, saying that its proposed financial policies target the middle and the poor classes. The government will not be able to achieve its tax collection target next year, he said, adding the summary of the government's economic policy is: "the rich will remain satisfied, while the poor will continue crying as usual."

He said the budget aims to increase sales tax by Rs383 billion, adding the government is responsible for the recent gas shortage in Karachi. Ali Wazir (PTM), Ayesha Ghous Pasha (PML-N), Qaiser Sheikh (PML-N), Naveed Qamar (PPP), Shahid Akhter Ali (JUI-F), and others also spoke on the Finance Bill and demanded the government make it more "people-friendly" and reduce indirect taxes.

They said that there is a "contradiction" in statements of the finance minister and the budget documents. Taking the floor, Ali Wazir of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) said that the country has been put on "mortgage" and the international monetary institutions have installed their persons in "every institution, security establishment, among politicians, and religious community to serve their interests".

He also demanded a transparent probe into the circumstance under which Senator Usman Kakar died. PML-N's Qaiser Ahmad Sheikh said the defence budget was $10 billion during his party's government and it has been reduced to $9 billion by the PTI government. According to him, India has increased its defence budget to $72 billion.

He said the coming months are very crucial for Pakistan in the context of defence and the country's security, as the US forces have started withdrawal from Afghanistan where the security situation is getting worse. Rule 187 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in National Assembly 2007 states that not less than four days shall be allotted for the general discussion on the budget.

The National Assembly continued debate on the Finance Bill 2021 for 10 days - from June 14 to June 24. In this period, a total of 128 demands for grants were also approved. The National Assembly could not initiate debate for three consecutive days (June 14 to June 16, 2021) due to ruckus in the House, and a tussle between the treasury and the opposition benches.

The formal debate began on June 17, 2021 and it continued till June 24, 2021. The House also discussed recommendations of the Senate and 12 MNAs expressed their views on them. The finance minister concluded the debate on Finance Bill 2021 on June 25, 2021.

The House held a discussion on the Charged Expenditure included in demands for grants and appropriations for the financial year ending on June 30, 2022. The House was adjourned to meet again on Wednesday at 11:30am, and the House will now further consider supplementary demands for grants.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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