Finance Bill 2019-20 sails through National Assembly as opposition fails to obstruct passage

Updated June 28, 2019

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State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar talking in the National Assembly. — Photo courtesy of Radio Pakistan
State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar talking in the National Assembly. — Photo courtesy of Radio Pakistan

The National Assembly accorded formal approval to the federal budget for fiscal 2019-20 late Friday evening, with the coalition and its allies comfortably defeating the combined opposition's bid to block the passage of the Finance Bill 2019-20.

The total outlay of the budget is Rs7.022 trillion, focusing on fiscal consolidation, revenue mobilisation, austerity measures and protection to the vulnerable segments of society.

The treasury benches rejected almost all the amendments to the finance bill moved by the opposition members after there was a discussion on them by both sides, whereas amendments moved by Minister for Finance and Revenue Hammad Azhar were adopted by the house.

Amendments proposed

Members of National Assembly Shahida Rehmani, Abdul Qadir Patel, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, Shazia Marri, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, Shehbaz Sharif, Rana Sanaullah, Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Shagufta Jumani, Dr Nafeesa Shah, Syed Naveed Qamar, Ali Pervaiz, Shahida Akhtar Ali were among those who moved amendments in the finance bill.

The amendments were related to changes in tax rates and finance bill, tax exemptions and abolition of interest on bonds.

While debating the amendments, Shahida Rehmani said the tax collected from Islamabad should be spent on the city for provision of drinking water and other basic facilities. She also suggested changes in the income tax ordinance for the benefit of overseas Pakistanis who buy property abroad.

Dr Nafisa Shah, too, proposed an amendment in the income tax ordinance 2001 saying a delay in tax refunds blocked investment and it was unconstitutional to ask exporters to take bonds instead of refunds.

Abdul Akbar Chitrali said taxes on those providing professional services would burden consumers so it should be withdrawn. He also said taxes on essential food items should be brought down.

Shazia Marri and Mehreen Razaq Bhutto seconded the Chitrali's demand to reduce taxes on food items including sugar and juices and construction material such as cement and steel.

Nisar Ahmed Cheema and Chitrali sought tax relief for Non Governmental organizations (NGOs) including Al Khidmat Foundation and Rawalpindi Eye Donors Organisation (REDO).

Ali Pervaiz and Shagufta Jumani demanded that the tax relief given by the PML-N government to the salaried class in its last year should be restored. Jumani said consumers were paying sales tax on every item they purchase from the market.

Abdul Qadir Patel asked for tax exemption for teachers and researchers while Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh said tax should be reduced for cottage industry as the banks were not giving it loans.

Sheikh also wanted the removal of federal excise duty on edible oil and lower taxes on local Liquefied Natural Gas and smaller cars.

Shazia Marri said she wanted concessions for Thar coal as was decided in a meeting of Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) in 2010.

"The Thar coal electricity projects should be exempt from taxes. The taxes would increase cost of coal production that in turn would increase power rates," she noted.

However, all proposals put forth by the opposition were turned down.

The bill now awaits presidential assent to come into force starting July 1. The National Assembly will reconvene at 11am tomorrow.

Earlier in the day, the opposition's bid to block the presentation of the bill for final voting had been rejected by the house with a 175-146 vote. A clause by clause reading of the bill had then commenced, with proceedings concluding shortly after 7.30pm.

Opposition makes noise, but fails to make a difference

Rejecting all cut motions presented by opposition parties a day earlier, the treasury benches had prepared to push the bill through today.

During the voting, Speaker Asad Qaiser on various occasions urged the members to refrain from raising slogans, observe decorum of the house and desist from making videos from their mobile phones. At times, the members from across the aisle squabbled over rules according to which the Speaker runs the house.

Before the final vote happened, the opposition had once more recorded their protest over the budget, with most members of the opposition wearing black armbands.

Taking the floor, PML-N's Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said: "We totally reject this budget."

PPP's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari in conversation with one another during the National Assembly session on Friday. — PPP media cell
PPP's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari in conversation with one another during the National Assembly session on Friday. — PPP media cell

Ahsan Iqbal, once he got the floor, said: "If the prime minister himself is taking the country towards bankruptcy, then the country needs no enemy. This is an anti-growth budget that will usher in unemployment, poverty and backwardness.

"The government claims that it has reduced expenditure,s whereas the budget document shows that for the first time, the PTI govt has allocated more than Rs1 billion for the Prime Minister's Office. Funds have been secretly allocated under the head of defence production for maintenance of the PM's aircraft.

"The prime minister — who was chosen somewhere else — flies in helicopters to Banigala more frequently than people use Uber taxis."

Iqbal termed it "an anti-poor, anti-salaried class budget" and that the "selected budget should be withdrawn and a new people-friendly budget should be presented."

PPP's Raja Pervez Ashraf took the floor to say that no matter who spoke about the budget, "the fact is that every person is talking against it.

"Imran Khan had stated that if there is an honest leadership, people will happily give taxes. However, the government has failed to collect even the same amount of tax which was being collected by previous governments he accused of 'comprising of thieves'."

'Not sure opposition has read budget document'

Responding to the opposition, Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar said that the opposition was quoting wrong figures and that "he was sure that the opposition had not actually read the budget document".

"For the first time in the country's history, we have reduced civil expenditures up to five per cent," Azhar said as the opposition made noise in an attempt to drown him out.

Amid the din, Azhar tried to quote figures from the budget document in an attempt to prove that Prime Minister House expenditures had actually been cut and that no new taxes had been imposed on ghee.

Criticising the previous government, he said that the PML-N government had put the economic stability of the country at stake during its last two years in power.

He pointed out that foreign exchange reserves declined by $10 billion in the last one and half year tenure of the PML-N.

He said the present government reduced the current account deficit by 20 per cent and trade deficit by $4bn. He said the previous government had left behind a circular debt of Rs1.140 trillion, "while we have enhanced the revenue of both power and gas sectors by launching successful drives against pilferage."

Opposition wants Finance Bill to be renamed 'IMF Obedience Act'

Before the proceedings began, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif could not resist some theatrics, proposing an amendment to the Finance Bill seeking to change its title.

Through the amendment, signed by other opposition members as well, it was suggested that the Finance Act 2019 be called the "IMF Obedience Act 2019".

Khawaja Asif, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Marrium Aurangzeb, Barjees Tahir, Murtaza Javed Abbasi, Khurram Dastagir, Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, Mohsin Ranjha and Shaza Fatima, amongst others, signed the amendment bill.

Opposition's protest on banning of the word 'selected' continues

When the session began, the opposition also protested Speaker Asad Qaiser's directives against the use of the word 'selected' for the prime minister.

Former PM Abbasi said: "This is perhaps the only parliament of the world where use of the word 'selected' is banned. Everyone is saying that this is a selected government and a selected prime minister, but we cannot say it here. Since you do not like it and have banned it, I will not use the word 'selected'."

Yesterday, too, members from both sides of the aisle kept on raising slogans against each other until Speaker Qaiser, in a fit of anger, expunged the word 'selected' from the assembly proceedings and issued directives to the lawmakers and the media not to use the expunged remarks.

The opposition members, however, continued to make fun of the speaker’s directives as they kept on using the term 'selected' tactfully while moving their cut motions, which were defeated by the government members.