ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly will begin its fresh session on Monday (today) with the controversial Finance (Supplementary) Bill, generally known as the mini-budget, on its agenda as Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the joint opposition in Parliament House before the start of the sitting to devise a strategy to block the bill’s passage.

The National Assembly Secretariat on Sunday issued a 48-point agenda for the Monday’s sitting, which also includes a motion at number 39 in the name of Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin seeking the passage of the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 that he introduced in the assembly on Dec 30 and which was presently under consideration of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance for preparing recommendations under Article 73 of the Constitution.

Opposition leader convenes meeting in bid to block finance bill’s passage

Article 73 deals with the “procedure with respect to money bills”, which are only required to be passed by the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. However, Article 73(1) states: “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 even without considering it.

Meanwhile, the Senate Secretariat also issued the agenda for the Monday’s sitting which included a motion to be moved by Leader of the House Shahzad Waseem seeking suspension of the rules regarding the private member’s business in order to allow the house to take up and approve the recommendations on the mini-budget which would then be transmitted to the National Assembly.

The approval of the finance supplementary bill seeking to amend certain laws related to taxes and duties and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021 is necessary to ensure that Pakistan’s sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board which is scheduled to meet on Jan 12 to take a decision on the disbursement of about $1bn tranche.

Initially, the government had a plan to get the bill passed from parliament before the Jan 12 meeting of the IMF, but now there are reports that the Fund has accepted Pakistan’s request to postpone the review of its $6bn loan programme which is now expected to take place either on Jan 28 or 31.

Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry expressed the hope that the finance bill would be passed by the assembly in mid-January and the IMF had already been asked to reschedule its Jan 12 meeting.

If passed by parliament, the mini-budget will net additional revenues to the tune of Rs343 billion, equal to 0.6 per cent of GDP, mainly by withdrawing sales tax exemptions. Earlier, during a heated debate on the bill, members of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance expressed unanimous opinion that the proposed revenue measures would cause a “tsunami of inflation”.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani referred the finance supplementary bill to the house committee on finance on Jan 4 with a directive to finalise recommendations within three days. The committee members, however, objected to the “unconstitutional” order of the Senate chairman to finalise the consideration of the bill in a short period of time.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan reportedly stated last week that the government would not let the opposition block legislation through disruptions, adding that the doors for negotiations on legislation were still open for the opposition.

On Dec 30, the government tabled the two controversial legislations required to meet certain conditions of the IMF in the National Assembly amid a noisy protest by the opposition. Speaker Asad Qaiser declared that the finance bill 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 to the house committee concerned for a report.

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 of surrendering the country’s economic sovereignty through these bills which. They said the bills would cause more economic difficulties for Pakistanis who were already reeling under unprecedented price hike and unemployment.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2022

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