ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Monday rejected the proposed budget for the next financial year, warning that the “disastrous” budget would create problems for the incoming government.

Leader of the Opposition in the House Sherry Rehman opened the discussion by saying that the presentation of the budget without the National Finance Commission (NFC) award was unconstitutional. She also observed that the outgoing government had no legal and moral authority to present a full year budget.

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She chided the government for its non-serious attitude towards parliament as there was not a single minister present when the session began. Of the 104 members of the Senate, only 26 were present in the house, nine of them were on the treasury benches. “Mr Chairman, ask those who talk about the sanctity of the vote where their ministers have gone,” she said, while addressing Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

She slammed the government for presenting what she called a “lame duck budget”.

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“The future of Pakistan is at risk. This is a lame duck budget by a lame duck government. This is pre-poll rigging,” claimed Ms Rehman. “This is a borrowing, billionaire’s and barbadi (disaster) budget,” she emphasised.

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Commenting on the fall in textile exports, she said Pakistan’s textile industry contributed 57 per cent of the country’s exports, but had lost its global textile share by 23pc. She said that 150 mills had shut down, which was alarming because Pakistan was the fifth largest cotton producer in the world.

Pointing out lucanae in the proposed budget, Ms Rehman said: “Our circular debt has reached a whopping Rs1 trillion. We are the seventh most stressed water nation and only Rs38bn has been allocated for water without any details.”

She said the public debt, which was Rs13 trillion during the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) term had soared to a massive Rs22 trillion.

“Pakistan’s entire budget is based on borrowing to pay back more loans. How can the government not call this a financial emergency? The next government will face a nightmare of repayment and no revenue stream,” Ms Rehman elaborated.

She said that 30pc tax concessions had been given to billionaires in the current budget but there was nothing for the poor. The government had provided no relief for the masses, she added, instead the burden remained on the poor.

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“Why has the government given tax concessions on imported LNG and none to Pakistani gas? The Qatar LNG deal is already marred by controversy. To this day, we don’t know what is under the black ink used to block transparency on the contract with Qatar Gas,” she said.

The Senator pointed out that the NFC award had not been disbursed in five years. “How can they determine where the federal slew of consolidated indirect taxes like the economic fund will go without the NFC award? This budget is unconstitutional,” she maintained.

Ms Rehman shared that she was shocked that Rs9,800,000 per day had been allocated for the President House. “I remember in PPP’s time, it was Rs600,000 per day.”

She shared that she found it alarming that irregularities worth Rs8 trillion had been found in the government’s accounts.

Ms Rehman noted that the absence of ministers from the house was shocking. “If this is not mockery of parliament then what is? The government should stop mocking state institutions,” she stressed. Dismissing the opposition’s objections, Adviser to the PM Haroon Akhtar said there was no justification for a financial emergency, which he noted was there during the previous PPP regime.

Mr Akhtar, who joined the proceedings towards the end of the session, said the country’s economic situation had improved, and the government was leaving with twice the revenue it had inherited. The Senate will reconvene on Wednesday (May 2) at 3pm.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2018