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Finance minister Ishaq Dar.—File Photo
Finance minister Ishaq Dar.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Facing a furious opposition in parliament at the beginning of the debate on the new budget, the government had to make an early retreat on Saturday when it announced 10 per cent increase in salary of its employees and withdrew its decision to change the title of the Benazir Income Support Programme by omitting the name of the former prime minister whose PPP had introduced the gigantic poverty alleviation plan during its last tenure.

Both the decisions, apparently an exercise in damage control and coming just three days after the new government presented its first budget, were announced in the National Assembly by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

But the salary raise failed to satisfy opposition lawmakers who called for a higher increase in view of the price hike caused by budgetary measures like an increase in General Sales Tax (GST). The salary issue echoed also in the Senate.

The leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Khursheed Ahmed Shah, and Senator Raza Rabbani, parliamentary leader of the PPP in the upper house, opened the debates in the houses on the budget for 2013-14 which, they said, was meant to benefit the rich rather than the poor or middle class, a charge rejected by treasury benches.

The abrupt start of collection of the GST at the new rate of 17 per cent — as provided in the new Finance Bill — sparked a walkout in the National Assembly by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) whose parliamentary leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the collection before the adoption of the bill by the lower house was a violation of the constitution.

Mr Dar and Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid justified the collection by referring to a British-era Provisional Collection of Taxes Act which authorised the government to do so. They said this (the collection) had often been seen in the past, in Pakistan and “its neighbourhood”.

Mr Qureshi refused to buy the argument and asked his party’s lawmakers to stage a walkout. However, the PPP, the main opposition party, did not join them and Mr Shah opened the debate in their absence.

He urged the treasury benches to bring the PTI members back to the house. Some government ministers and members belonging to the ruling PML-N tried to persuade the protesters to return to the house but to no avail. Taking benefit of a break in the proceedings during ‘Azan’ for Zuhar prayers, Mr Shah and former speaker of the house Dr Fehmida Mirza went to an adjoining lobby where PTI legislators were sitting and successfully convinced them to rejoin the proceedings.

Before the resumption of the debate, the finance minister announced that the government, which had refrained from announcing annual salary increase in the budget, had decided to increase the salaries by 10 per cent after seeking guidance from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, although a committee set up to review the issue after the announcement of the budget had, in view of the financial situation, recommended only a 7.5 per cent increase which would have cost Rs16.5 billion.

After the PTI walkout following a fierce censure by Mr Qureshi who termed GST collection at the new rate before the start of the new fiscal on July 1 “a proof of the hollowness of a Taj Mahal of hopes you (Nawaz Sharif) had built”, and a demand by Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmed for an increase in salaries by up to 20 per cent, the minister said the salary issue could be reviewed again by the time he would wind up the budget debate “if some space is available”.

It was during Khursheed Shah’s speech when he deplored the omission of the name of the assassinated former prime minister from the title of the Benazir Income Support Programme in the budget speech that Mr Dar interrupted him to say that the programme, for which Rs75 billion had been allocated, would retain the “same name”.

Criticising the budget which, he said, was “neither a poor man’s budget nor of the labourer”, Mr Shah regretted that the finance minister had not “said a word” about peasants in his budget speech and allowed duty-free import of costly hybrid cars but did not exempt bicycles from sales tax. He rejected the minister’s claim that the new government had inherited an “empty treasury” and said that almost all finance ministers, including Mr Dar when he held the same portfolio for some months in the previous PPP-led coalition government, had said the same thing in the past.

The parliamentary leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Dr Farooq Sattar, also joined the tirade and said: “The budget reflects a privileged mindset and has the potential of unleashing a tsunami of inflation.”

Before the assembly was adjourned until 11.30am on Sunday, a stout defence of the budget came from Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who cited seven priorities of the government: revival of energy security, stabilisation of the economy, private-public partnership, infrastructure building, restoration of peace and security, institutional reforms and human resource development.

In the Senate, main attack on the budget came from Senator Rabbani who regretted government failure to fix a higher minimum wage for workers from the present PPP-fixed Rs8,000, and said the budget reflected a “clear trend towards corporate elite” at the cost of the working class.

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Comments (28) Closed

malick Jun 16, 2013 07:28am

Senator Pervez Rasheed should explain, the treasury was empty, where the money comes from? Where the money will come from as PM has order to Nisar extend the help to Balouchistan. Please nation do not want to listen your lies any more. If Shehbaz tells lies it does not heart but Rasheed lies hurt to all of us.

Morad786 Jun 16, 2013 08:41am

Same old Pakistan Politics....tear down what the previous governments have done instead of strengthening the nation and it's 180 Million People!

Sharif's are not very strategic and will be set-back due to their focus on small matters and quick wins, like denying a previous leader her credit!

Basically, we lack sportsmanship "fair play" spirit at our democratic level! That is what transcends to the people who continually work against each other instead of helping themselves and others around them!

Dilawer Jun 16, 2013 09:32am

What is the justification on GST at 17%? Govt should first stop hemorrhaging of money waste due to corruption. First start with the recovery of loans and money pilfered through out the last two tenure of Pakistani governments. This will require going after the big fish. Ad-hoc policies and immature statements are nothing new and expected from the dilettantes running the show in Pakistan. Unfortunately the people are Pakistan are destined to have what they have for a foreseeable future. Mass education is the answer.

Nadeem Shah Jun 16, 2013 09:34am

weak weak weak.

Don't call it Benazir Income support, as it is not coming from Benazirs personal account. It is the taxpayer money and belongs to the people.

Changing position is absolutely disappointing as we were hoping for steel leadership after weak Musharraf and Zardari decisions which were always rolled back under pressure.

TamzaK Jun 16, 2013 09:32am

BISP SHOULD be simply ISP; but lets not do it while emotions are high and war.

The salary increase should be laddered: the lowest paid get 25% increase, the highest paid get 25% DECREASE, and the rest get a scaled increase or decrease.

Maniza Jun 16, 2013 09:39am

So glad that the new government has not changed the name of BISP. This shows grace and maturity. Well done. Makes me happy on this otherwise terribly sad day in Pakistan. May god keep Pakistan safe and well.

NASAH (USA) Jun 16, 2013 09:58am

Restoring Benazir's name for the income support program is a graciously deserving gesture on the part of the PML(N) for the illustrious daughter of Pakistan who was a universally admired world leader.

It augurs well for the unity of a democratic Pakistan.

Dilawer Jun 16, 2013 10:02am

Why 17% GST? Why not stop corruption first?

Muhammad Younus Butt Jun 16, 2013 10:13am

Why the Current government is immediately impressed and pressurized by opposition. The current government must abolish the BISP and delete it from current budget as this was PPPs1 program and pop played this card for its own popularity and current government is legally and logically not bound to carry on this program any more by PMLN,If the current government is afraid of opposition in the beginning, and how in the coming 5 years ,the current government can survive. Most of the wise and civilized and educated masses do not like this program to be continued. It is advisable that people must be given relief equal to Rs.75 billion and Taxes must be adjusted upto the same figure. The current government courageously face its opposition from pp. PPP is insisting for its continuous of this program, let it be initiated from its own sources as CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME.PPP IS NOT A PARTY OF POORS.iT IS A FUEDALIST PARTY AND THIS AMOUNT MUST BE ARRANGED FROM BHUTTO EASTATE AND THIS BURDEN SHOULD BE AVOIDED TO BE PUT ON POOR PEOPLE BY IMPOSING VARIOUS TYPES OF TAXES,WHICH ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE TO COMON MAN AT ALL.

Bilal Jun 16, 2013 12:30pm

while you are at it, can you please rename all the places to their original titles (which PPP had named after their leaders), starting with Islamabad airport ...

khalid Jun 16, 2013 02:51pm

There seems no justification in BISP name to a govt fund, the least requirement to earn this title is if 50% of it is contributed by BNZ personal assets earned by fair means, not the present looted money. Mr Dar must recover the money from tax offenders including the ones sitting in assemblies, presently >60% of the politicians & the influential are defaulters/ evaders. raising salaries or taxes is a feeble policy creating further debt

Imraan Mehmood Jun 16, 2013 03:08pm

since most Government employees have corrupt income to supplement their salaries this 10% increase was more than enough. But unfortunately greedy nature is inbuilt into these ungrateful government employees, they don't care about the country, all they care about is their and their families stomachs. Shame.

ailly Jun 16, 2013 03:21pm

Don't worry this PMLn-led Govt will soon run away from all issues. This was not their first nor it will be their last retrieval on any issue. They will issue a statement on any mindless-policy and next day same will revamped, relinquished or revoked just to please the nation in order to show they are listening to might and myth of the people. But they will not do any anything on load-shedding, economic revival, drones, Taliban, Haqqani or Swiss bank or Rental Power Project cases for which PM was quite vocal on various TV programs and determined to resolve these issues. Forget about Kashmir, Kargill, Musharraf, Siachen, un-employment and other medical, health, educational reforms/ issues ( these are not even in back-burner), in reality PMLn does not have any back-burner, though they have a voter's bank in bags/sacks always in stock/ abundance which is used during elections.

Anyways, PMLn need to restore electricity, an issue they were crying upon during election rallies that PPP is deliberately not supplying electricity. Where's that hidden power/ electricity which PPPP was holding ? Sooner this will pop out and PMLn will have to answer this.

On drones, until now they have no policy in place ( like other issues ), merely issuing a letter of protest is hardly acceptable for nation and for effected ones.

Our previous govts ( barring last ppp govt ) were either dismissed on corruption charges or Army took over. But in this case, I am foreseeing nation will dethrone this Govt through what means its matter of time when the nation decides to do it and trust me these so called custodians of takht-Lahore will never in politics neither their accomplices. A class act in waiting if these jokers do not do what they promised to nation in their manifesto.

PMLn is a heavyweight party with leaders like Ch Nissar, Shahbaz Sh, Ishaq Dar, Kh Asif and so many others including Mushahidullah, are a liability and so overwhelmingly dictate on the leader that they always ( two times in past ) cave in to their policies and were and will remain instrumental in sinking the party for third time even after being in assembly with more than simple majority. I don't know what else they need to run a country. They cannot, they don't the brains to perform neither the zeal and vigor to serve the country. These leader know from day one in Assembly they are here for a 2-years stint so they work accordingly.

IBN-E-ASHFAQUE Jun 16, 2013 03:25pm

Sensible approach. Flexibility shown in the riight manner. The Government did the right thing. It shows the Government has matured.

ishrat salim Jun 16, 2013 03:47pm

The British era tax collection provision act is of 1931 which these politicians forget is replaced by new constitutional clause inserted after & passing of 18th amendment....which clearly says that no increase or decrease of price etc; can be effected unless the budget after necessary amendment made after discussion in Parliament & passed by Parliament ...this same provision was highlighted by the SC recently on same, what are these politicians & MNAs are talking about in space ? then for argument sake..,.if mistakes made in past should be repeated again if it is against the welfare of the people especially the poor....I do not understand where brains of these people are located....certainly not in its rightful place...... our MNAs & elected representatives are not aware of Constitutional clause & articles, that is why they just argue UN-necessarily...

Touqeer Hussain Jun 16, 2013 04:20pm

I do appreciate Mr. Dar and his leader Mr. Nawaz Sharif to retain the same name of Benazir Income support rather than replacing with 'National income support'. It is a positive sign for entire nation when present Govt. respects the predecessors and their decisions. while changing names, we're not going to develop or enhance the sovereignty and integrity of country but it is another tender to be pondered over. Definitely, development requires positive and untiring working efforts as new born govt. initiated and I hope and pray for long-run govt. completing five years successful tenure. In last not the least, I do remind the Quotation of Quid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, that work, work and only work is the way to success.

anwar khushab Jun 16, 2013 04:43pm

Pakistan is bankrupt. The rich refuse to pay their due taxes. The government, which also consists of the rich, refuses to make the rich pay. So who will pay for the salary increases? More debt from the IMF? And then we will blame the foreigners for increasing our debt and "exploiting" Pakistan!

Majid Jun 16, 2013 06:12pm

@Bilal: Renaming the city and Airport is Demand of the masses and taxpayers. We beleive in democracy?

ATEEQ MUSTAFA Jun 16, 2013 06:18pm

@Dilawer: Agree with you absolutely. The main disease is CORRUPTION but all our so called leaders are trying to divert our attention to load shedding, inflation, terrorism etc. Why dont we all focus for eradication of corruption that is eating our nation every second?

Agha Ata Jun 16, 2013 06:38pm

Some nations think hundred years ahead, some think while acting, and some nations do their thinking . . . :)

Riaz Ahmad Jun 16, 2013 06:45pm

Liaquat Ali Khan is a founding father, second, he died for Pakistan; far more important to Bhutto or BB. Why shouldn't the airport and the fund be in his name?

kakar Jun 16, 2013 06:52pm

@Bilal: it will start tit for tat. and this is not time for confrontation

Abu Saad Jun 16, 2013 07:27pm

Renaming is not a concerned for masses. do some thing better for poor Pakistanis.

malick Jun 16, 2013 07:39pm

Well done both treasury and opposition benches, This is sad that PM was absent from first sitting of Parliament budget session.

Nasir K Jun 16, 2013 08:16pm

Could anyone explain why is this programme called Benazir income support ? Is this programme financed by PPP or Bhutto-Zardari family ? Does the support also go to poors of Punjab and Balochistan or it is exclusively for Sindh ?

Zaki N Jun 16, 2013 08:23pm

@Bilal: Good question. PPP government has named Islamabad Airport, hospital etc. They probably would have changed Liaquat Bagh (R.Pindi) to Benazir Shaheed Bagh . Glorifying Zulfiqar& Benazir Bhutto name & then exploiting it to PPP's advantage.

Ahmer Jun 16, 2013 10:22pm

The Govt could have avoided this unnecessary argument if the salary of Govt servants is tied to the inflation index and revised automatically, both upwards and downwards, as the index changes as is the case in many democracies.

Gerry D'Cunha Jun 16, 2013 10:32pm

pakistan's dirty politics!!!! change everything what the previous govt has done 'good or bad' how can pakistan progress? how long will it take to progress? will it ever progress with these mentality of our politicians?have we learnt any lessions from our past mistakes?