ISLAMABAD: The new federal budget of more than Rs4 trillion was rushed through the National Assembly on Tuesday after the opposition parties boycotted the process over alleged disregard shown to them by the government, the previous day during a protest walkout.
On a day, an overcast sky provided Islamabad relief from the intense heat there were some fireworks inside the house in the early part of the proceedings before a government ally, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, appeared trying to cool tempers by going to the desks of opposition leader Khurshid Ahmed Shah and other parliamentary group leaders.
Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali exchanged harsh remarks with Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rahid Ahmed, who had demanded resignations of both Mr Ali and Water and Power Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif.
A volatile independent member from the Punjab province, Jamshed Dasti, came close to the dais tearing papers taken from some opposition desks, before Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq warned him of an action against him for such behaviour and over what he called a pending privilege motion.
The opposition had made its intention to stay away from the remaining budgetary process clear at the start of the day to protest at what Mr Shah and his colleagues perceived as an insult dealt by the government in getting about 50 demands for grants passed by the house without waiting for opposition members to return from a token walkout and move more than 1,500 cut motions they had given notice of.
Monday’s walkout was a protest against unrelenting power cuts across the country and a show of concern over hundreds of deaths caused by a searing heatwave in Karachi and other parts of Sindh in past few days.
The opposition parties said they would boycott the budget’s passage, which was on the day’s agenda, observe a nationwide “black day” on Friday to protest against the government’s policies and requisition another National Assembly session to debate the power crisis, besides offering funeral prayers for heatwave victims outside the parliament house, which they did later along with some ministers and ruling party members.
A meeting convened by the speaker with opposition parliamentary leaders, on Mr Achakzai’s suggestion to find a way out permitted by rules, had raised hopes the opposition would alter its boycott decision in exchange for an offer from Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to continue the present session beyond the passage of the budget for fiscal 2015-16 and hold a debate on the energy crisis without waiting for an opposition requisition
But no agreement came. The opposition eventually went ahead with its boycott and the government with the passage of the new Finance Bill to give effect to the new budget - originally amounting to Rs4.089 trillion - as well as supplementary demands for grants for the outgoing fiscal year worth more than Rs205 billion.
The final vote on the Finance Bill, amidst applause from ruling party members and allies, came after the house passed several amendments moved by the finance minister to incorporate several changes he announced last week in his original budget proposals, in a partial acceptance of demands by members of both houses of parliament and groups like chambers of commerce and industry.
Several amendments proposed by opposition members from the Pakistan People’s Party and Jamaat-i-Islami were not moved because of the opposition boycott.
At the conclusion of the budgetary process, the government kept its promise to hold a debate on the energy crisis, for which the speaker adjourned the house until 10am on Wednesday.
But no change was announced in opposition decision, announced by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, for a “black day” on Friday.
While accusing the government of failing to fulfil its pre-election pledges to end electricity loadshedding, Mr Shah, in his speech, asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to “come before the people”, acknowledge his inabilities and apologise to the nation.
Both the finance minister and Information and Broadcasting Minister Pervaiz Rashid told the house that the government had no intentions of bulldozing the budget or showing disrespect to the opposition and that Monday’s passage of the budgetary demands without a discussion on opposition cut motions was the result of misunderstanding about the opposition intentions at the time.
Mr Shah had said earlier that when the speaker sent Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada to the opposition after Monday’s walkout, he told him to wait as the opposition would be coming, but that the opposition did not go back as they saw the finance minister already putting demands to vote.
While Mr Dar said there was no chance of acceding to any cut motion – which would have meant a defeat for the government – Mr Rashid said of the opposition that “they did not come due to some misunderstanding”.
But Mr Pirzada did not give his version in the house.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2015