ISLAMABAD: Members of the opposition staged a walkout from the National Assembly on Wednesday to protest against promulgation of ordinances by the president which offer a one-time amnesty scheme to whiten undeclared assets at home and abroad.

The walkout, however, appears ceremonial because the opposition had, at first, allowed the government to lay out the amnesty scheme in the house in the form of bills. Before the walkout, members of the opposition questioned the timing of the promulgation of the ordinances and termed it an “insult” to parliament. They claimed as had happened in the past, the new amnesty scheme would eventually fail due to “lack of trust” in the outgoing government.

Despite the fiery speeches delivered from the opposition benches, targeting the economic reforms package that includes a drastic cut in income tax rates, it was apparent from the conduct of members on both the sides that there was a tacit understanding between the government and the opposition over the issue.

Members question timing of promulgation of ordinances and term it an insult to parliament

Parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Syed Naveed Qamar regretted that the government had announced the amnesty scheme and reduction in income tax merely two weeks before presentation of the federal budget. He said it seemed that the government was not confident that it would succeed in getting the next budget passed from the Assembly.

Mr Qamar was of the view that the government had announced a cut in the income tax rates, the effect of which would be borne by the next government as it would become effective from July 1. He said that no one would avail the amnesty scheme because of the fear that the next government could reverse it after coming to power.

Parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on the one hand, the ruling party talked about sanctity of the vote

and the supremacy of parliament and on the other hand carried out legislation through ordinances.

“This (amnesty scheme) is a slap on the face of honest taxpayers,” he said, adding that even the State Bank and the Federal Board of Revenue were not ready to take its ownership.

Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) said the ordinances had been promulgated hours before the two houses were scheduled to meet.

The opposition members then walked out, refusing to listen to Adviser on Finance Miftah Ismail who defended the government’s move, saying that it was a historic and fantastic package in which unprecedented relief had been given to the salaried class by substantially reducing the tax rates.

He expressed surprise that the PPP was opposing it, saying that tax reduction would raise salaries of middle class employees by up to 15 per cent. He clarified that those involved in criminal activities or corruption could not benefit from the tax amnesty scheme.

While the adviser was still standing, a PTI MNA returned to the house and pointed out lack of quorum. Former law minister Zahid Hamid, who was presiding over the session in the absence of the speaker, adjourned the sitting till Thursday morning.

Earlier, during the question hour, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif informed the house that five Pakistanis were being held in the Guantanamo Bay prison.

He said that one of them was a co-accused in the trial related to the 9/11 incident and other had pleaded guilty to conspiracy and murder, while the remaining three had not been charged of a crime yet.

“Our mission is in contact with the State Department special envoy for Guantanamo Bay closure and regularly seeks status of these five Pakistani nationals detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. We have consular access to them as well,” the minister said.

He further said that Pakistani Mission in Washington had been coordinating with the US State Department to discuss legal options for their repatriation of Pakistanis.

“We also obtained complete details from the US side of Pakistani prisoners currently detained in the US and we are exploring the possibility of their repatriation in consultation with legal experts,” he said.

Responding to a question about the country’s foreign policy regarding the Syrian conflict, the foreign minister said that Pakistan did not want to become party to the issue.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2018

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