ISLAMABAD: Despite making tall claims of making every effort to block the passage of the budget in parliament, the opposition on Saturday for the second consecutive year literally provided a walkover to the government in the National Assembly which approved 49 demands for grants worth over Rs3 trillion and rejected 967 cut motions of the opposition members with a majority vote.
The non-seriousness of the opposition members can be gauged from the fact that a majority of its members, including Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari, were absent from the house proceedings, thus providing the government smooth sailing during the crucial phase of the budget session.
On the other hand, the treasury members had come well-prepared for the occasion and they maintained a good attendance almost throughout the day. The key government ministers also remained in the house for considerable period of time and a majority of the demands for grants were presented by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin himself.
Across the aisle, opposition benches gave a deserted look with most seats, particularly the front rows, lying vacant. Knowing their strength, the opposition did not challenge even a single ruling of the chair on the voice vote on the demands for grants.
In parliamentary democracy all over the world, voting on demands for grants and cut motions is considered a crucial phase of the budget session as the opposition members get an opportunity to give a tough time to the government by moving cut motions on ministries and divisions. This is the stage where opposition gets a chance to criticise the government’s performance while seeking a symbolic deduction of Re1, Rs10 or Rs100 from the demands for grants for each division and ministry.
Traditionally, opposition members submit cut motions on key ministries, with an understanding with the government. During the voting, both the government and the opposition make arrangements to ensure maximum participation of their members in the house. Parliamentary experts say a defeat to the government on a cut motion can be seen as a failure of the government to retain its majority and can even become a cause for the government’s ouster.
Weeks before presentation of the budget, the opposition leaders, including Mr Sharif and Mr Bhutto-Zardari, had repeatedly announced that they would not let the government pass the budget from the National Assembly and they would do whatever they could to achieve this goal.
Mr Sharif, who is also president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in his opening budget speech had reiterated that the opposition would make every effort to block the passage of the budget.
“We will become an iron wall… we will not let this budget be passed,” he had stated.
This is for the second consecutive year that the opposition had provided such a walkover to the government as during the last budget session, the two major opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — had reached an understanding with the government that the opposition members would submit the cut motions, but they would withdraw them without a vote count.
The behind-the-scenes agreement between the government and the two major opposition parties had reached while discussing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the budget session in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, the terms of the agreement, which were called guidelines for ensuring implementation of the SOPs to stop spread of Covid-19, were read out on the floor of the house by none other than by PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar on the directive of Speaker Asad Qaiser. It was also agreed at that time that the proceedings of the house would continue for maximum of three hours daily and the opposition would not point out quorum, except on the day the budget would be voted upon. An smaller opposition party Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), however, not only rejected the agreement, terming it “unconstitutional and illegal”, but its members also staged a sit-in in front of the dais of the speaker to protest removal of their chairs from the house as only 86 chairs were placed in the house after the agreement.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly approved 49 demands for grants worth over Rs3 trillion related to the Cabinet Division, Establishment Division, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Initiating debate on cut motions, Rana Tanvir of PML-N slammed the performance of various departments and regulatory authorities under the cabinet and establishment divisions. He said besides having an army of 50 ministers in the federal cabinet, Prime Minister Imran Khan had appointed a number of advisers and special assistants as well as unnumbered spokespersons. He particularly criticised the performance of various regulatory authorities, including Ogra, Nepra and Pemra, saying they had failed to deliver. He suggested that these institutions should be abolished as these were burden on the national kitty.
Mr Tanvir had a verbal clash with Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Gandapur when the latter passed some remarks — which could not be heard in the galleries — during his speech.
Rana Tanvir and other opposition members particularly lashed out at the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), alleging that it was being used to victimise the opponents while a free hand was given to the government allies.
PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel alleged that NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal was being blackmailed because of his controversial audio and video clips. He said the Covid pandemic had proved to be a “jackpot” for the government people who had made billions out of the funds allocated to deal with the disease. He said the prime minister was playing “musical chair” in the name of cabinet reshuffling. He said a minister removed because of poor performance or corruption was given the other ministry to do the same.
Shahida Akhtar Ali of the JUI-F alleged that the National Disaster Management Authority was reluctant to get its accounts audited.
Taking part in the debate on cut motions on the energy ministry, the opposition members highlighted the problems being faced by people due to load-shedding of electricity and gas in almost all over the country.
Responding to the opposition members, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said the opposition was demanding that various institutions, like NAB and Assets Recovery Unit, should be abolished, alleging that the opposition was making these demands so that no-one could ask them about their corruption.
While speaking in support of their cut motions on demands for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the opposition members termed the government’s foreign policy a “failure”, alleging that the government’s policies had pushed the country into isolation.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his winding up speech highlighted the “major achievements” of the government in an emphatic manner.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2021