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ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties in the Senate are in a fix whether they should submit recommendations on the proposed federal budget to the National Assembly or completely ignore it.

Background interviews with members of the opposition parties reveal that a debate among the opposition members is currently going on with one group suggesting that they should give recommendations on the budget as per the country’s Constitution whereas another group believes that they should not provide legitimacy to the federal budget by proposing amendments to it as they have already declared the government’s move to present the full-year budget as “illegal and unconstitutional”.

Under the Constitution, the Senate does not have the powers to approve the federal budget, but it can only submit recommendations to the National Assembly within two weeks time. The recommendations are finalised by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue. All the senators can propose changes to the budget and for this purpose they are required to submit their proposals in writing to the committee.

It claims government had no right to present the budget for the whole year

After thorough deliberations, the committee finalises a set of recommendations which is then submitted to the National Assembly for consideration after its formal approval by the Senate.

One of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) members made a very interesting comment, stating that the opposition was “between the devil and the deep blue sea” as it seemed that they had only two options — either to accept the whole budget or completely reject it”.

Explaining, he said, the opposition had taken a position that the government had no right to present the budget for the whole one year and that it should have presented the budget only for four months. However, he said, the government had already presented the full-year budget in which it had suggested some measures like increase in salaries and reduction in the income tax rates which could not be restricted for four months only.

Therefore, he was of the view that it would be difficult for them to suggest recommendations only for four months.

“How can you approve something for one year and another thing for four months in the same document?” he asked.

When contacted, Leader of the Oppo­sition in Senate Sherry Rehman confirmed that the opposition parties had not yet decided about participation in the proceedings of the Senate committee.

Ms Rehman said she would be meeting senior leaders of her own party and members of other opposition parties in a day or two to finalise the strategy in this regard. She said that they would make the decision keeping in view all the legal and constitutional aspects and its implications.

Ms Rehman, however, said that whether they propose recommendations or not, one thing was clear that they would fully participate in the debate on the budget on the floor of the house. She said she had already asked all the opposition senators to ensure their presence during the debate which would continue for two weeks starting on Monday.

Similarly, when contacted, Senator Mohsin Aziz of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said that although the opposition had not yet made any decision in this regard, he personally believed that they should suggest recommendations on the budget.

“I think we will have to put recommendations,” he said.

The PTI senator said that the ruling party had a majority in the National Assembly and it would easily get the budget passed from there in any case. Therefore, he said, it would be better that they should point out “mistakes” in it and suggest improvement.

Former Senate chairman Farooq Naek of the PPP is heading the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue and he has already convened its meeting after the budget on May 2.

When contacted, Mr Naek refused to comment on the issue, saying that being the chairman of the committee he should be neutral.

Responding to a question, Mr Naek said he would run the proceedings of the committee in the light of the decision to be taken by the members with majority.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2018