Opposition blasts govt in NA over SBP bill, mini-budget

Published December 30, 2021
This combination photo shows Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (L) and PML-N parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif (R) speaking during the session of the National Assembly on Wednesday. — Photo via NA Twitter
This combination photo shows Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (L) and PML-N parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif (R) speaking during the session of the National Assembly on Wednesday. — Photo via NA Twitter

• Vows to block legislation with full force
• FM assures economic sovereignty will be guarded

ISLAMABAD: The opposition on Wednesday harshly slammed the government on the floor of the National Assembly over its plan to present a mini-budget and a bill granting autonomy to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to meet certain conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and vowed to block it “with full force”, terming it a step towards “surrendering the country’s financial sovereignty”.

Speaking on points of order while interrupting the Question Hour, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Raja Pervez Ashraf and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML) parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif even asked the treasury members not to support the government bills which, according to them, would make the lives of the people of the country more difficult.

Mr Ashraf said the government needed to remove confusion and clarify the situation as there were “whispers” inside and outside the parliament that it was planning to bring a mini-budget in the assembly.

Mr Asif feared that the country’s nuclear programme was also in danger and it could be the next target.

“This is a request to the treasury members, please not to surrender the country’s economic sovereignty,” Mr Asif said, warning that “after this, Pakistan will be stripped of its nuclear capability”.

“Through this money bill and the SBP bill, we are going to surrender our financial sovereignty which will be worse than what happened on Dec 16, 1971,” Mr Asif said in his usual aggressive style amid slogans of “shame, shame” from the opposition benches.

The PML-N stalwart said the SBP had already been converted into a “local branch of the IMF” and the country had already received a “viceroy” in the form of the SBP governor.

“We have become a financial colony of the international donor institutions. For God’s sake, become a shield for the people of this country against price hike, vandalism and terrorism. Please have some realisation,” Mr Asif said while pointing towards the treasury benches.

He said the government did not have the required numbers in the house which was evident from the fact that it had not been able to complete quorum of the assembly for the past three days. He, however, without elaborating said they knew that the government could manage votes through “facilitators.”

The PML-N lawmaker vowed to oppose the two bills with full force and asked the government to try to create a national consensus as to how the country could be brought out of this difficult situation.

Earlier, Mr Ashraf said everyone in the house as well as people from different walks of life were concerned over reports that the government was planning to introduce a money bill or a mini-budget.

“Inflation, unemployment and shortage of gas and other commodities have already wreaked havoc on the people of the country. Now, if a mini-budget or money bill is in the offing, which would increase their difficulties, then everyone sitting in the house should resist the move,” he said.

Responding to the speeches of the two opposition members, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured the house that the government would not and could not make any compromise on the country’s nuclear programme and that the country’s economic sovereignty would be protected. He, however, did not make any specific comment on the mini-budget and the SBP bill and once again blamed the previous governments for the present state of national economy.

When Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri gave floor to the foreign minister, the opposition members pointed out lack of quorum and staged a walkout in an effort to prevent him from responding to the speeches made by the two senior opposition members.

Mr Suri, however, declared the house in order after a headcount and allowed Mr Qureshi to continue his speech. As soon as Mr Qureshi resumed his speech, the opposition members returned to the house to participate in the proceedings.

Stating that protection of the country’s economic sovereignty was collective responsibility of the government and the parliament, Mr Qureshi said the country’s macro-economic indicators had not become alarming during the last three years. He said the overall economy had not deteriorated in the last three years but this was a long story that needed to be reviewed.

Commenting on the point raised by Mr Asif about the country’s nuclear assets, the minister said: “I want to say this on the floor of the house that there is, was and will remain a national consensus on credible minimum deterrence.”

Taking the opposition to task for using the quorum as a tool to register its protest and for disrupting the proceedings, he said it was true that it was mainly the government’s responsibility to maintain the quorum, but at the same time it was also responsibility of the opposition if it wanted to see the National Assembly functioning smoothly.

Joint opposition meeting

The joint opposition during a meeting on Wednesday pledged to block the mini-budget and the SBP bill in the assembly.

According to PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb, the members of the opposition discussed the strategy to prevent the mini-budget and other “IMF-dictated legislations” from being passed in the house.

The opposition members pledged to use all their powers and resources to ensure that the legislations would not get approved. They hoped that the “upright” government allies would also take a decision against these steps of Prime Minister Imran Khan and would vote for the country’s national interests.

Those who attended the meeting included former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khawaja Asif of the PML-N, Naveed Qamar of the PPP and parliamentary leader of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Asad Mehmood.

It was decided that the opposition members would be asked to ensure their attendance on the day of presentation of the controversial bills in the assembly.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2021

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