ISLAMABAD: The government looks all set to convene a session of the Senate next week to formally lay before it the controversial Finance Supplementary Bill 2021— generally known as the mini-budget — to fulfil a constitutional requirement, expecting that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will defer Pakistan’s review until its next board meeting, scheduled to be held in the last week of January.
The approval of the finance bill, seeking to amend certain laws related to taxes and duties, and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021, is necessary to ensure Pakistan’s sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF) is cleared by the IMF’s Executive Board, which is scheduled to meet on Jan 12 to decide about the disbursement of a nearly $1bn tranche.
Assured of allies’ support, deferral of IMF review
A senior cabinet member told Dawn the government might convene the Senate session on Monday (tomorrow) to allow Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin to lay the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 before it, as required under Article 73 of the Constitution.
It is worth noting that proceedings of the upper house had been prorogued on Dec 29, just a day before the two bills were laid before the National Assembly.
This prorogation surprised everyone, including some treasury members, as there was an impression that the IMF had set Jan 12 as the deadline for Pakistan to pass both bills into law.
However, a senior Finance Ministry official told Dawn on Saturday the Fund had not set a deadline. He said Pakistan’s review was still on the agenda of the IMF Board meeting scheduled to be held on Jan 12 and that the ministry had already dispatched the documentation required for the meeting. He said the IMF Board regularly held meetings and it had already been approached with a request to defer Pakistan’s review.
Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry had earlier expressed the hope that the finance bill would be passed by parliament by mid January and the IMF has already been asked to reschedule the review.
Article 73 of the Constitution deals with the “procedure with respect to money bills”, which are only required to be passed by the National Assembly. However, Article 73(1) states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 70, a money bill shall originate in the National Assembly: provided that simultaneously when a money bill, including the finance bill containing the annual budget statement, is presented in the National Assembly, a copy thereof shall be transmitted to the Senate which may, within fourteen days, make recommendations thereon to the National Assembly.”
These recommendations, however, are not binding for the National Assembly and it can approve a money bill without even considering them.
After the bill is laid before the Senate, the chairman usually refers it to the house committee on finance for finalisation of recommendations, while asking senators to submit their proposals in writing to the committee. At the same time, the chairman will allow members to hold a general discussion on the bill. The Senate finance committee will then present its report to the Senate, which will give it a final nod.
The Senate Standing Committee on Finance headed by Senator Talha Mehmood of the JUI-F was scheduled to meet on Jan 5, but as per the Senate website that meeting has now been postponed. A briefing on the ongoing talks with IMF as well as discussion on the SBP Amendment Bill, was also on its agenda.
`Hot and cold’ opposition
When the bills were laid before the National Assembly amid protests by a confused opposition, Speaker Asad Qaiser had declared that the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 would not be referred to the standing committee and would be debated in the house, whereas the bill seeking to provide “operational and financial autonomy” to SBP to the concerned house committee for a report.
Opposition members, who had earlier announced that they would block the government’s move to present the bills with all their might, accused the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of surrendering the country’s economic sovereignty through these bills. In their speeches, they claimed that this would cause even more economic difficulties for the people of Pakistan, who were already reeling under the pressure of an unprecedented price-hike and unemployment.
Even though the joint opposition resolved during a Dec 29 meeting that it had directed its members to ensure their attendance on that fateful day, neither Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif nor PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari were present at the sitting.
Speaking to Dawn, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Secretary General Nayyar Bokhari vowed that the opposition would make every effort to block the passage of these controversial bills.
Defending the strategy that was on display at the previous NA sitting, Mr Bokhari said the opposition’s protest had effectively represented the people’s sentiments, adding that they would ensure its members were present on the day of the final vote on the two bills.
However, when asked whether they had found any support among the government’s allies, Mr Bokhari avoided giving a straight answer, positing instead that coalition partners always used such situations to bargain and fulfill their vested interests.
Perhaps he already knew that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) allies have assured the government of their support on the two bills,
Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) Senator Kamil Ali Agha told Dawn his party had decided to support both bills in the parliament, adding that PTI had already addressed their concerns over the bills.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also said their allies were fully onboard and ministers from the PML-Q and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had already endorsed the two pieces of legislation during a special meeting of the federal cabinet on Dec 30.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2022