Opposition fails to stop passage of mini-budget

Muhammad Anis
Friday, Jan 14, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021, the mini-budget and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2022 sailed through the National Assembly amid protest and sloganeering by the opposition parties on Thursday.

Immediately after the passage of the mini-budget at 10pm, Minister for Finance Shaukat Tarin also moved the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021 was through voice vote.

The opposition members also gathered in front of Speaker’s dais while carrying placards in their hands and raising slogans as Prime Minister Imran Khan looked on. “The friends of IMF are traitors,” the opposition members shouted.

As it took around five hours to pass the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021, the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was okayed in less than an hour. Deputy speaker refused the demand of the opposition members not satisfied with majority voice, for counting.

The chair continued rejecting amendments before the protesting members could move the same. The opposition raised anti-government slogans when Prime Minister Imran Khan entered the House while government members welcomed him by thumping the desks.

The House also rejected dozens of amendments to the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021 moved by the opposition members including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Syed Naveed Qamar, Ahsan Iqbal, Khurram Dastgir and others.

The House witnessed sloganeering from both sides in presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan in the House. ‘Go Niazi Go’, the opposition members while responding to treasury benches’ parliamentarian slogan ‘Who will save Pakistan—Imran Khan Imran Khan’ shouted.

The opposition members also shouted ‘Prime Minister is thief when he referred to increase in taxes and electricity tariffs and price hike. The National Assembly passed the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021 envisaging amendments to certain laws relating to taxes and duties with majority voice.

Earlier, the House rejected amendments to a clause by 168 to 150 votes in the first instance after the opposition challenged the majority voice. On the second instance, the House rejected opposition’s amendment to Clause 3 by 163 votes of government and 146 votes of opposition members.

Both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Opposition Leader Shehbaz were present during passage of bills and counting. All the government allies despite serious reservations over the mini-budget, supported the Finance (Supplementary) bill, 2021.

Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin opposed amendments moved by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other opposition members in the Finance (supplementary) Bill for exemption of taxes on bread, rusks, other bakery items and restaurants. Ultimately, the House also rejected the same.

Bilawal Bhutto recalled that the finance minister while presenting the original budget had stated that he was man of words and there would be no mini-budget. “Neither the prime minister nor the finance minister are men of words and ultimately the poor masses will suffer,” he said.

Bilawal Bhutto said contrary to claims of the finance minister, he was presenting the mini-budget. He said the government had failed to improve the national economy as the budget deficit and trade deficit had increased considerably.

The finance minister said that the government was not going for heavy taxation rather the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021 was about documentation.

Responding to points raised by the PMLN parliamentarian Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the House, the finance minister questioned as to why the opposition was creating a storm when Rs280 billion out of Rs343 billion would be refunded. “As such there will be taxation of Rs73 billion and not Rs343 billion as being assumed,” Tarin said.

He told the House that baby milk rusk, laptops and solar panels were being exempted from taxation claiming that the Finance (supplementary) Bill would not burden on the common man.

The finance minister said that there had been 35 percent increase in the revenue collection while there was bumper production of five crops due to investment made in the agriculture sector. Shaukat Tarin said the government was taking care of the poor and that was allocated Rs400 billion for issuance of one million Sehat Card to each deserving family.

The finance minister also opposed amendments moved by Dr Nafeesa Shah, Shahida Akhtar Ali, Khurshid Junejo. However, interestingly, the MQM members Ms Kishwar Zahra and Iqbal Muhammad Ali withdrew their amendments to the Finance (supplementary) Bill.

Only a day before, the MQM parliamentarians strongly opposed mini-budget. On Thursday she withdrew amendments after assurance given by the minister to meet her party’s demands. Earlier, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi asked the finance minister to tell as to why it was needed to present mini-budget in the House saying that it would be mini-budget with heaviest ever taxation in country’s history. “Whether there is shortfall in revenue collection or expenditure of the government have increased,” he said.

Abbasi asked the finance minister that just talking about inclusive and sustainable growth of economy would not serve. He told the Speaker that his ruling had neither been according to rules nor as per traditions adding that his ruling was undermining dignity of the House. “You should also say that your rulings should not be used as precedents,” Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said.

The PMLN parliamentarian also observed that the government was also going to bulldoze the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill in darkness of the night. Defence Minister Parvaiz Khattak asked the chair to just bulldoze and go ahead with passage of the bill.

He said Sardar Ayaz Sadiq also used to bulldoze the bills when he was Speaker. On that Ayaz Sadiq challenged that record of passage of bills when he was Speaker, should be presented in the House.

Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar claimed that once Ayaz Sadiq as Speaker bulldozed the whole money bill in the House. The Speaker when insisted by the opposition, disallowed counting of members on every amendments in every clause of the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021.

“The government’s members are leaving the House and that is why they are escaping from the counting,” the PMLN member Ahsan Iqbal said. He pointed out that the opposition could demand counting of members on every clause when not satisfied with majority voice.

However, the Speaker after having opinion from the Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said that he took the decision by using his powers under rule 29 of Rules of Conduct of Business in the House. The Speaker did not agree to logic of the ex-Speaker that amendment to every clause of the finance bill were of different nature, therefore, opinion on different clauses could be different.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq told the Speaker that not only rules but the traditions also allowed counting of members whenever demanded by the opposition members. Shahida Akhtar also regretted imposition of taxes on sewing machines, medical equipment, laptops and computers.

Ahsan Iqbal told the Speaker that he was not representative of the government rather he was custodian and representative of the House and should maintain its dignity. Ahsan said that the government had poisoned the national economy by increasing the policy rate and massive devaluation of rupee.

Ahsan Iqbal said that small and medium enterprises were being taxed as cost of production would increase and would ultimately result in discouraging the investor. He also opposed taxation on mobile phones saying that the same had become a necessity.

Bilawal Bhutto asked the MQM parliamentarians to oppose certain clauses of the Finance (supplementary) Bill and prove that they were true representatives of Karachi. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that most tax collection through mini-budget would be via indirect taxation.

Rana Tanveer Hussain of PMLN said the finance minister was saying that economy was moving in the right direction but fundamentals of economy were required to be corrected.

The opposition members regretted that the government was also bulldozing the State Bank Bill in darkness of the night. “We will not allow you to mortgage State Bank with the IMF in darkness of the night,” the PMLN member Ahsan Iqbal said.

He regretted that Speaker is going to suspend rules for passage of an important bill without allowing debate on the same. “I will also beg you not to become part of this exercise otherwise your name will also be written amongst those who compromised on country’s economic sovereignty,” he said.

He asked the chair to allow full day debate on the State Bank bill on Friday. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that one day Parliament would have to withdraw the legislation which was against national interests and economic sovereignty.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said it would be easy for international financial institutions to scrutinise country’s defence budget and nuclear programme. “There are serious issues concerning the national security,” he said.

Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar congratulated the prime minister on defeat of the opposition parties on passage of the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021. He said the PMLN when in the government had been bulldozing bills in darkness of the night within five minutes.

The minister said that there has been detailed debate on the State Bank bill in the Senate’s Finance Committee. He told the House that there has been no borrowing from the State Bank in the last two and a half years.

Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said the State Bank would be governed by the board of governors and the Pakistan government would have full authority to govern the State Bank. He recalled that IMF imposed restriction of giving autonomy to State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) because the last governments borrow Rs7.5 trillion from the SBP.

JUIF parliamentary leader Asad Mahmood said the PTI-led government was installed only to destroy country’s economy. Prime Minister Imran Khan kept sitting in the House till 11.40 pm. The Thursday’s proceedings starting at around 5 pm and continued till 11.57 pm.

The National Assembly also hurriedly passed 14 other bills including the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Islamabad Healthcare Facilities Management Authority Bill, 2021, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (Section-8), the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (Section 2, 8,9 and 43B), the Allied Health Professionals’ Council Bill, 2021,the Pakistan Nursing Council (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the University of Engineering and Emerging Technology Bill, 2021, the Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace Bill, 2022 and the Government Savings Bank (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Post Office National Savings (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the Protection of Parents Bill, 2021, the National Information Technology Board, 2021 and the National Meteorological Institute of Pakistan Bill, 2021. The opposition members continued raising question of quorum during passage of bills but the Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri did not pay heed to their voices.

The angry opposition members also started tearing copies of order of the day. The House also allowed extension in the National Accountability Bureau (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2021 for another 120 days with effect from February 22, 2022. Adviser to the Prime Minister, Babar Awan laid before the House the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Ordinance, 2021 before the House.