ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Wednesday passed the Finance Supplementary (Amendment) Bill 2018, generally known as mini-budget, after the government agreed to continue with the policy of the previous regime of barring non-filers from purchasing properties and vehicles.
Winding up the debate on the mini-budget, Finance Minister Asad Umar said that recommendations to restrict non-filers to purchase assets had been incorporated in the bill, but with three exemptions. He then moved the amendments aimed at giving exemptions to overseas Pakistanis sending remittances through legal means, to those purchasing motorcycles or motor rickshaws or vehicles of less than 200cc and on the inherited properties.
Mr Umar said the non-filers would have to pay heavy fine if they were found acquiring property or vehicle in violation of law.
Asad Umar blames PPP, PML-N for poor state of economy; Bilawal warns against rolling back 18th Amendment
Though the bill was passed through a voice vote in the presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan, former president Asif Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition during the clause-wise passage of the bill challenged the speaker’s decision, forcing him to order a headcount.
However, the treasury managed to defeat the opposition with 158-120 votes.
The house also witnessed an exchange of arguments among the leaders of three main parties — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the PPP — during the debate, with the finance minister blaming the previous two governments for the poor state of economy, whereas the leaders of the two opposition parties putting the blame on the previous military regime under Gen Pervez Musharraf for economic and energy crises in the country.
The finance minister announced that the government had decided to reduce the regulatory duty on import of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from 30 per cent to 10pc in order to provide relief to the poor.
He said the government had launched a campaign against non-filers and tax evaders and notices had been issued to about 169 such people. “The number will increase to thousands in the coming days,” the minister said, appealing to the rich and well-to-do people to pay taxes.
“There is still time, come within the tax net. No one will be spared. This state is not so weak that it cannot catch you,” the minister warned, assuring the nation that their money would be spent on them and it would not be stashed in foreign banks or in purchasing properties abroad.
Mr Umar disclosed that the government was seeking information from banks about those having huge bank accounts and a discussion in this regard had already been held with the State Bank of Pakistan.
He refuted the claims made by different opposition members in their speeches that the government had massively cut the Public Sector Development Programme and said that all development schemes under the PSDP were only present on papers, claiming that the previous government had allocated Rs800 billion for development schemes, but it had actually spent only Rs661bn. He claimed that the present government would spend more than the previous governments had spent on the development projects.
The minister said the PPP government had left Rs486bn circular debt and the PML-N government over Rs1,200bn. He said independent power producers had stopped generating electricity due to non-payment and the Pakistan State Oil was not ready to give oil to the Pakistan International Airlines. He alleged that the PML-N government had looted the Workers Welfare Fund, whereas the Pakistan Steel Mills had been closed for three years.
Mr Umar challenged the PML-N’s claim of providing cheap electricity, saying the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority had recently recommended an increase of Rs3.89 per unit due to the rising cost.
Shahbaz Sharif in his speech asked the finance minister to give credit to the PML-N government for eliminating the menace of loadshedding from the country. He explained that the PML-N government could not utilise all development funds due to the ban imposed by the Election Commission on April 1.
Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf urged the government to carry out forensic audit of all the projects undertaken by the previous governments. He was of the view that the politicians were themselves responsible for degrading parliament through accusations against each other.
Earlier, taking part in the debate, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari warned the government against rolling back the 18th Constitution Amendment, saying the PPP would resist any such move. “Don’t you dare. The PPP will not allow the government to undermine provincial autonomy, come what may,” the PPP chairman said amid desk thumping by his party members.
He said the budget had disappointed those PTI voters who had voted for a change and Naya Pakistan, adding that there was no sign of 100-day plan in the budget. He said the PTI had promised to create 10 million jobs and in its very first budget it had reduced the development outlay by Rs250bn. He said that those who used to talk about creation of new South Punjab province were silent now after getting ministries.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the PTI used to talk about breaking the begging bowl but Prime Minister Imran Khan went to Saudi Arabia on his first visit with a begging bowl in his hand. He criticised the government for maintaining secrecy in talks with the International Monetary Fund. He also asked finance minister to take parliament into confidence on the steps taken by the government to bring the country out of grey list of FATF.
The PPP chairman said journalists were protesting against lack of press freedom and media censorship in ‘new Pakistan’. He said the PTI should know the difference between staging a sit-in and running a government. He asked the government to stay firm on tough decisions and avoid taking U-turns. “The country is not run through donations and magic and politics is not done by abusing others,” he concluded.
Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N lashed out at the government for massive cut in development budget, saying that mere spending on defence did not guarantee the country’s defence. He said the government must keep in mind that “three Ds of defence, democracy and development” were necessary for the stability of a country.
The National Assembly also passed a motion for amendment to the composition of parliamentary committee to be formed to probe the election rigging charges. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan moved the motion and said it had been agreed that there would be 30 members in this committee of which 10 would be from the Senate.
Published in Dawn, October 4th , 2018