• Finance supplementary bill to be debated
• SBP bill referred to committee
• Speaker allows extension in life of six expired ordinances
ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday finally tabled two controversial legislations required to meet conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the National Assembly amid noisy protest by a `confused’ opposition whose members attended the sitting without their senior leaders and apparently with no clear strategy.
The opposition members carrying placards started gathering in front of the speaker’s dais as soon as Speaker Asad Qaiser invited Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin to introduce the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 seeking to amend certain laws on taxes and duties — also known as the mini-budget — and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021.
The speaker declared that the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 would not be referred to the standing committee and it would be debated in the house whereas he sent the bill seeking to provide “operational and financial autonomy” to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to the concerned house committee for a report.
The approval of the bills is necessary to ensure Pakistan’s sixth review of $6 billion Extended Fund Facility gets cleared by the IMF’s Executive Board which is scheduled to meet on Jan 12 to decide about the disbursement of about $1bn tranche.
The opposition members, who had earlier announced that they would block the government’s move to present the bills with full force, in their speeches accused the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of surrendering the country’s economic sovereignty through these bills. They said the bills would cause more economic difficulties for the people of Pakistan who were already reeling under unprecedented price hike and unemployment.
Though the joint opposition after a meeting on Wednesday had announced that it had directed the members to ensure their attendance on the fateful day, neither Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif nor PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari attended the sitting.
Besides agitating over the presentation of the two controversial bills, the opposition members also protested over the government’s move to get extension in the life of six expired ordinances. The speaker, however, through a ruling dismissed the opposition’s objections and allowed the government to move resolutions seeking extension in the constitutional life of the ordinances with retrospective effect.
At one stage, the opposition members, including senior lawmakers Syed Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Murtaza Javed Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), rushed towards the front treasury bench and were seen exchanging arguments with federal ministers, including Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Shaukat Tarin, Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhry and Dr Shireen Mazari, when Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan was presenting the resolutions for extension of the ordinances.
“You are an IMF agent. You are a traitor,” said minority PML-N member Kesoo Mal Kheeal Das while pointing finger at the finance minister’s face. However, Mr Tarin remained seated and gestured him to go away.
The opposition members tore apart the copies of the bills and the agenda and threw the pieces in the air and on the speaker and the treasury benches while raising slogans of “Go Niazi Go”, “Down with Traitors” and “Say No to Mini-Budget.”
Some opposition members staged a sit-in in front of the speaker’s dais for a brief time. Some treasury backbenchers, including women, rushed towards the protesting opposition members and the house witnessed a scuffle among the women members.
The opposition at one point challenged the speaker’s ruling on a voice vote on a resolution for extension of an ordinance, but interestingly its members did not stand up to register their vote when the speaker ordered those members to rise on their seats who were against the resolution. Later, amid desk-thumping by the treasury members, the speaker declared that 145 members had voted in favour of the resolution whereas only three votes had been polled against it.
After facilitating the government in completing its task of tabling the bills and the resolutions for extension of ordinances, the speaker allowed the opposition members to deliver their rhetoric speeches in which they slammed the government’s economic policies and asked it to withdraw the controversial legislations.
Taking the floor first, PML-N parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif not only targeted the government, but also lashed out at the speaker over his alleged partisan role.
“This is a day of infamy for the parliament and the speaker’s chair. The history will remember this day when the whole nation is feeling ashamed due to the parliament’s behaviour,” said the PML-N firebrand member.
“For God sake, have mercy on Pakistani nation. Don’t sell Pakistan,” he said, alleging that the PTI government had made Pakistan a colony of international donors.
He alleged that the government was handing over the control of the SBP to the IMF, adding that it seemed that the East India Company was ruling the country.
The PML-N lawmaker alleged that the government had been forced to present the mini-budget because of the corruption and loot during the three-year term of the PTI government.
“Had you (the government) not allowed the loot in medicines, sugar and wheat, you would not have been imposing new taxes and presenting the mini-budget,” he said.
Mr Asif termed the speaker’s ruling about the extension of ordinances “illegal, unconstitutional and against the Supreme Court’s verdict”.
“Surrendering Pakistan’s economic sovereignty is more dangerous than that of the fall of Dhaka,” he said while referring to the East Pakistan debacle on December 16, 1971.
In response to Mr Asif’s speech, Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said the PTI government had approved more development budget as compared to the previous governments. Taking the opposition to task for criticising the government on the National Security Policy,
Mr Umar said during the previous government’s era, the prime minister and the defence minister were working on foreign “Iqama”. He said in the last survey, 86 per cent Pakistanis had opined that the PTI government had performed well during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf said Mr Umar had not responded to the concerns and points raised by the opposition about the controversial bills and instead had delivered a political speech. He said the government members were not able even to visit their constituencies. He said the people would teach a lesson to the treasury members when they would go to them to seek vote.
Asad Mehmood of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam said the PTI had faced a defeat in local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite being the ruling party, adding that the party would face the same fate in every upcoming election.
Responding to the opposition’s criticism, the speaker said the house would hold a debate on the finance (supplementary) bill and the amendments, if moved by the opposition.
The speaker then gave floor to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, but the PML-N’s Barjees Tahir pointed out lack of quorum. The speaker adjourned the sitting till Friday morning (today) even without ordering a headcount as quorum was visibly lacking.
Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2021