ISLAMABAD: Almost all the 24 lawmakers, who took part in the debate on the federal budget in the National Assembly on Thursday, highlighted the issues related to their constituencies and demanded allocations for various projects in their areas.
Their demands included provision of gas and electricity connections, construction of roads and highways, internet facility, de-silting of canals and opening up of more bank branches and offices of the National Database and Registration Authority in their areas.
Although some of the members delivered political speeches and attacked each other’s leadership, a majority of them gave positive suggestions for improving the budget.
Unlike previous four sittings, the National Assembly mostly remained calm during the seven-hour-long proceedings, which was also attended for some time by Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar who had been directed by Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri on Wednesday to ensure his presence in the house to take notes of the speeches.
Say there should be more focus on agriculture during pandemic
The hard-hitting speeches by Khurram Dastagir Khan and Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were the highlight of the day as they lashed out at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government over its handling of the economy and Covid-19.
From the treasury side, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam defended Prime Minister Imran Khan’s handling of Covid-19 and the federal budget in the most effective manner and remaining within the parliamentary norms.
On the other hand, some other treasury members, including Faheem Khan from Karachi and Sanaullah Mastikhel from Bhakkar, while defending the prime minister, made some personal attacks on the opposition leadership and accused them of plundering the national wealth through corruption.
Faheem Khan in his speech mostly targeted the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government in Sindh and called Syed Murad Ali Shah the “most incompetent chief minister” the province had ever had.
He, however, was given a befitting reply by PPP’s Nauman Islam Sheikh, who said efforts made by the Sindh chief minister to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were being appreciated by everyone.
Referring to the prime minister’s visit to Sindh, Mr Sheikh regretted that Mr Khan got time to visit the province after more than three months of the spread of Covid-19 but did not meet the Sindh chief minister only because of his ‘ego’.
Mr Dastagir termed the budget an “FIR” (first information report) against the rulers for carrying out “economic murder” of farmers, labourers and middle class people”.
He said the prime minister had abandoned the people of Pakistan to face the pandemic. The government, he said, had surrendered before Covid-19.
“This is the government of the mafias, by the mafias and for the mafias,” the PML-N leader said while criticising the government over the sugar, wheat, medicines and petrol crises.
He also took the government to task over foreign policy matters, saying: “We have sustained a defeat without a war on Kashmir.”
Mohsin Ranjha castigated the government for handing over the country’s economy to the non-elected people. He said Dr Hafeez Shaikh had not taken oath under the Constitution and, therefore, the legislators could not make him answerable for “cheating the parliament” through presentation of fudged figures.
Independent MNA from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas Mohsin Dawar criticised the government for cutting the provincial share from the National Finance Commission Award and questioned the 12 per cent increase in the defence allocations.
“We are not in a war. This time we need more ventilators than tanks,” he said, adding that “at present our frontline soldiers are doctors and paramedics and they should be given a risk allowance till the time the pandemic is here”.
Referring to the prime minister’s statement regarding the need for reviewing the 18th Amendment, he warned against any such move, stating that it would make difficult for the federation to run the country.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said the prime minister would announce a programme within two weeks to set up 12 national parks in the country, saying it would create job opportunities. Moreover, he said, his ministry planned to provide jobs to 600,000 people by next year.
A consensus was found among the lawmakers that the government should focus more on agriculture than any other sector during the pandemic time as it will help stabilise the country’s economy.
The members were of the view that instead of announcing packages for other sectors, such as industries, the government should give more incentives to farmers for growth in the agriculture sector which was also under threat due to locust attacks.
PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar depicted a miserable picture of economy in the country even before the breakout of the pandemic, stating that one million people had already become jobless before the disease hit the country.
He said the government was using the construction industry as engine for the economic revival, but it would not work as the people would never make investments in the real estate and construction during the pandemic time. He said Covid-19 had not affected the rural areas which were less populated and people naturally observing social distancing while working in the fields.
Mr Qamar suggested that the cotton sector should be given more incentives in the budget. He, however, criticised the government for not taking timely action to stop locust attacks despite before time warnings last year.
Endorsing Mr Qamar’s viewpoint, PTI’s Mir Khan Mohammad Jamali asked the federal and Balochistan governments to take steps to deal with the locusts. He also asked the provincial government to undertake measures for de-silting of canals to improve irrigation system in Balochistan as most of the farmers were not getting crops due to shortage of water. He said a clear policy should be announced for the agriculture sector. He asked the government to announce more funds for the construction of small dams in Balochistan.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2020