ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) coalition government on Friday managed to get its first full-fledged federal budget passed in the National Assembly with a majority vote.

While the lower house approved the finance bill 2019-20, all government proposals were approved and all of the opposition’s proposed amendments were rejected.

With a total outlay Rs7.022 trillion, the budget was passed amid the opposition’s mild protest over insertion of two bills which, according to it, were not shared with the members of opposition benches.

All govt proposals approved while all opposition amendments rejected

The budget was passed with a majority votes as 176 members of treasury benches voted in its favour while 146 members of opposition side opposed it.

Heavyweights including Prime Minister Imran Khan, Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif , Pakistan Peoples Party leaders Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Asif Ai Zardari and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Raja Pervez Ashraf witnessed the proceedings of the lower house of parliament.

Throughout the proceedings which continued for nine hours, members of treasury and opposition benches exchanged harsh words, particularly when the PML-N’s Marriyum Aurangzeb called Imran Khan a “handpicked” prime minister and criticised him for imposing tax on film-making.

She said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the army overcame terrorism during the tenure of the previous PML-N government when a bill was passed for boosting film industry to present a soft image of Pakistan internationally.

On this Revenue Minister Hammad Azhar said the army had rid the country of terrorism but the PML-N had “abused the army and displayed humiliating posters”.

The opposition’s rejected proposals were related to withdrawal of taxes on the agriculture sector, local auto industry, sugar, ghee, services, mobile phones, real estate sector, Thar coal, dry milk, cold drinks, poultry, surgical items and film making, devaluation of Pakistan rupee against dollar, zero rating on imports, etc.

The government proposals approved on Friday were related to anti-dumping duty, asset declaration and the Public Finance Management Act.

Under the government proposals, following items were included in the tax regime: biscuits in retail packing with brand name, auto parts, imports of plants and machinery for installation in tribal areas, frozen meat/poultry and fish etc.

To ensure fiscal responsibility, the government under the Public Finance Management Act-2019, which was included in the budget on Friday, has made it mandatory for all ministries, divisions, government departments and autonomous bodies to deposit funds in the federal consolidated fund or single treasury account and not separate accounts in commercial banks.

This has been done “to strengthen management of public finance with the view to improve definition and implementation of fiscal policy for better macroeconomic management, to clarify institutional responsibilities related to financial management, and to strengthen budgetary management,” according to the act.

By inserting a new clause in the budget proposals, the government amended the Anti-Dumping Duties Act. The clause reads, “Notwith­standing anything contained in this Act, where a declaration has been made by misrepresentation or suppression of facts in respect of the undisclosed assets declared therein, such declaration, to the extent of the asset to which such misrepresentation or suppression of facts relates to, shall be void and shall be deemed to have been never made under this act.”

At the start of the proceedings, Revenue Minister Hammad Azhar moved the motion to present the finance bill before the house for consideration and voting.

After voice voting on the motion, the opposition challenged the vote and asked the speaker for a head count.

Earlier, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi claimed that the government had increased foreign debts by over Rs 4000 billion during its 10 months.

He said that already crippling economy situation would further deteriorate due to faulty policies of the government.

Ahsan Iqbal said the PTI had accused the previous PML-N government of giving exemptions in taxes, but the incumbent government had given Rs900bn exemptions in the budget.

He accused the government of reducing allocations for education sector and said the allocations for the Higher Education Commission had been cut by 83 percent.

Bilawal’s presser

After the conclusion of the session, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari held a press conference outside the Parliament House and raised questions over legality of what he called a “rigged and bulldozed budget”.

He accused National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar of flouting rules and said, “In protest against his obnoxious and illegal behaviour, we have to take action against the speaker.

However, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said he would formally announce later if and when a decision to bring a no-trust motion against the speaker would be made.

The PPP chief said the opposition never knew the speaker could cross the limits to this extent. “Is it a legal budget,” he asked and then replied himself, “No, it is a rigged and unconstitutional budget.”

“The speaker is supposed to be impartial but this speaker is worse than the speakers of the eras of General Ziaul Haq and General Musharraf,” he said.

He said the PTI had attacked the system from outside the parliament in 2014 and now it was doing so from within the parliament.

Referring to Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remarks about the national economy, he said it was a fact that there was a need to work together. He however regretted that the government did not want a consensus and wanted to do everything on its own.

He said the masses could no longer bear injustices and asked the people to rise against the government to protect their rights and those of the provinces.

The budget session of the lower house was adjourned till Saturday evening.

Iftikhar A. Khan also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2019