Finance Bill brings tremors in House

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-Opposition create ruckus over government’s move
-Bill to bring tsunami of price hike, says opposition
-No new taxes imposed claims Finance Minister
-Economists foresee impact on all segments of society

By Uzma Zafar

Islamabad: Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin on Thursday presented the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021, or the mini-budget as the opposition calls it, in the National Assembly (NA) amid uproar from the opposition benches.
The bill was originally scheduled to be presented in parliament on Wednesday but the cabinet had deferred its approval due to desiring a “threadbare discussion” on it. The bill’s approval is necessary to ensure Pakistan’s sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund’s executive board on January 12, paving the way for the disbursement of about $1bn tranche.
Speaker Asad Qaisar said the bill will not be forwarded to the standing committee concerned. He said there would be a debate on the bill in the NA, following which the House would vote on it. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Amendment Bill 2021 was also presented in the House, which was referred to the relevant standing committee for necessary vetting.
Speaking on the occasion, PML-N leader Khawaja Asif said: “You’re giving SBP’s control to IMF. Please have mercy on the people of Pakistan. Don’t sell Pakistan. You allowed people to loot the country for three years,” he said, making a reference to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Amendment Bill 2021, another legislation needed to ensure the disbursement of $1bn tranche by the IMF.
He urged the House to not let Pakistan surrender its sovereignty.
“Surrendering Pakistan’s economic sovereignty is more dangerous than that of the surrender in 1971,” he said while referring to the East Pakistan debacle. He said the whole nation was ashamed of what was happening in the parliament. In response to Asif’s speech, Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said the opposition had been trying to “scare the nation” by making a hue and cry over the SBP amendment bill.
“The difference between them and us is that when they work to curb dengue, they have to advertise about it themselves. But when we work to curb Covid-19,” international forums praise the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government, Umar added.
Reacting to Asif’s remarks about surrendering the sovereignty of Pakistan, he said: “A Pakistani leader is speaking about surrendering the country’s sovereignty. I call that shameful.”
He also lambasted the opposition for criticising the government over national security. “They invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to their house,” he said, making an apparent reference to PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif. When it was his turn to speak, PPP leader Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said in the last NA session, which was chaired by Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, he had told the chair that there were reports of the government presenting a “mini-budget” in the assembly. “I had said that it will make life more difficult for the people of Pakistan, but the chair had dismissed my concerns,” Ashraf said. “When, in fact, that was the time for the opposition to speak on the matter.”
He further complained that when the bill was presented today, even then the opposition was not being heard. The PPP leader also said that in his response to Asif, Umar had not addressed any of the questions and issues raised by the PML-N leader.
“He (Umar) failed to satisfy this House,” Ashraf added. He urged the speaker to reject today’s (Thursday’s) proceedings so that opposition and treasury members could present arguments on the matters taken up in the session anew.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the opposition had the right to present its point of view, however, “the government’s job is to put forth facts before people”. As Qureshi continued to speak, the opposition members pointed towards an incomplete quorum in the House. Responding to the opposition’s objection, the speaker adjourned the session till Dec 31.
Earlier in the day, a meeting of the parliamentary groups of parties included in the ruling alliance led by the PTI on the issue of the bill’s passage was also held. The House also adopted multiple resolutions, extending the validity of several ordinances for a period of 120 days.
According to reports, the ordinances that have been extended are the Federal Government Properties Management Authority Ordinance, 2021, Elections (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, Public Properties (Removal of Encroachment) Ordinance, 2021, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, Pakistan Food Security Flow and Information Ordinance, 2021 and Tax Laws (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2021.
Objecting to the extension of the Elections (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, Asif said the move was unconstitutional as the ordinance had lapsed. The speaker, however, disagreed and dismissed the objection.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Imran Khan was dismissive of the opposition’s claim that the government was in danger, saying “they make such statements every three months.” In a brief interaction with reporters inside the parliament’s premises following the cabinet meeting, the premier also played down the chances of PML-N leader and rival Nawaz Sharif returning to the country, saying: “We also used to hear in the past about [Nawaz Sharif’s] return when he was in Saudi Arabia, but he only returned after a deal”.
When asked about a statement of the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Imran taunted that Shehbaz Sharif’s speeches were more a “job application” than anything else. Addressing a press conference after the NA session, Tarin defended the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021, saying that tax exemptions worth Rs2 billion would be reviewed under it. “Whereas our sales tax amounts to around Rs3 trillion. How will an addition of Rs2 billion make a significant difference in inflation?” he questioned.