As the National Assembly session held to debate the finance bill resumed on Wednesday, members of the opposition began moving cut motions seeking changes to budget proposals, which will be voted on by lawmakers in the House today.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is in attendance today, while opposition ranks appear thin as several PPP, PML-N and other leaders are gathered at a hotel in Islamabad to attend a multi-party conference held to discuss a joint opposition strategy against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.
MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar are absent from the Lower House as they remain on judicial remand in the custody of the Counter-Terrorism Department despite calls by various members of the opposition to the speaker to issue their production orders.
Earlier today, Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar moved various demands for grants that were approved through a voice vote.
The assembly also voted on cut motions moved by different opposition members today. About 720 cut motions have been moved with regards to 10 ministries.
These included cuts in the allocations of various government divisions and institutions, including the Aviation Division, the Establishment Division, the National Security Division, and the Poverty Alleviation and Safety Division.
'Govt's bad debt management behind high expenditures'
Before the voice vote began, PML-N's Ayesha Ghaus Pasha said that there had been an 83 per cent increase in the demands for grants, also called charged expenditures.
"Last year, [charged expenditures were] Rs23,732 billion and now the government is seeking approval of charged expenditures worth Rs43,478bn," she said, adding: "The increase in charged expenditures is not because of the loans obtained by the previous governments but because of the bad debt management of the [incumbent] government."
"On the one hand, the govt is making people jobless and putting millions of people below the poverty line and on the other hand, it is taking credit for launching a social protection programme which would only be beneficial to a few. It is unacceptable," she said.
PPP's Nafisa Shah termed the formation of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the utilisation of debts obtained by previous governments as a "non-starter".
She demanded the formation of a Parliamentary commission to instead review the debt management policy of the current government.
PPP's Hina Rabbani Khar said the prime minister used to claim in his speeches that he had reduced the expenditure of PM Office.
"Either he is lying or these budget documents are wrong. These documents show that the govt is seeking an allocation of Rs1.17bn for PM Office whereas the previous govt had allocated Rs986m," she said.
"The prime minister is asking the people to make sacrifices for the nation but is not ready to do it himself."
PPP's Shamim Ara also stepped in to point out that "the prime minister had stated that he would use a bicycle, but is not flying around on a helicopter."
"Two PM Houses are being maintained," she continued, before asking: "Who is bearing the expense of the hundreds of personnel deployed around the Banigala residence?"
PML-N's Khawaja Asif expressed his fear that the "free fall of the Pakistani rupee will drown us". He pointed out that with the US dollar and British pound currently trading at Rs161 and Rs201, it appeared that rupee devaluation had gone out of control.
'Army of ministers'
PPP's Abdul Qadir Patel criticised the government over its large cabinet size.
"There is an army of ministers, advisers, and spokespersons. They are enjoying protocol and wasting public money," he said.
"On the one hand, they are talking about austerity and on the other hand, there is a big cabinet. Despite the fact that the PTI had claimed that it would keep a small-sized cabinet, it has not happened," Patel pointed out.
PML-N's Khurram Dastagir, too, derided the government for having a cabinet size much beyond the one they had promised.
"They used to say that their cabinet would comprise 12 members. Now it is four times larger," he said, adding: "Unelected people have been imposed (on to the cabinet)."
Furthermore, he criticised the prime minister and his ministers for referring to "the State of Madina" while discussing the government's road map for the country.
"They should not talk about the State of Madina. A government getting instructions from IMF can't be the State of Madina," he said.
Production orders for Dawar, Wazir
At the start of the session, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had once again urged the National Assembly speaker to issue the production orders of Waziristan MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir so that they could attend the ongoing budget session and join voting on cut motions.
Bilawal said that a wrong precedent was being set by not allowing MNAs from Waziristan to play their role and represent their constituents in the budget.
"Every member, facing whatever charges, has the right to attend the sittings and present their viewpoint," said Bilawal.
He claimed that he knew that members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, including Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, supported his demand for issuance of production orders of Dawar and Wazir.
PPP leader Naveed Qamar backed Bilawal's demand and said that his party was participating in the proceedings "in protest".
PPP MNA Shazia Marri called for across the board accountability. "Selective accountability is unacceptable. NAB has accepted the acquittal plea of Babar Awan and rejected a similar plea of Raja Pervez Ashraf in the same case."
"Those who change political loyalties are being acquitted and other being investigated," she said.
PPP's Munawar Talpur regretted that the two arrested MNAs have been denied their right to attend the whole budget session.
"I don't know why the Speaker is afraid of issuing production orders when the entire House has his back," he remarked.
Dawar and Wazir were arrested after the May 26 Kharqamar checkpost incident in North Waziristan. Bilawal and other opposition members have repeatedly asked the speaker to issue the production orders of arrested MNAs so they can participate in the ongoing session. The production orders for PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique were issued last week but Dawar and Wazir are still unable to attend the ongoing parliament session.