ISLAMABAD: As the Senate on Friday unanimously adopted recommendations on the Money Bill to amend certain laws relating to taxes and duties through the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2023, a call was given in the house to do away with perks for judges, generals and lawmakers as a step towards steering the country out of economic quagmire.

Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad, on a point of order, waved a document in the air and read it out. A retired judge gets around Rs1 million a month in pension, in addition to 2,000 free electricity units, 300 litres of free petrol and free phone calls worth Rs3,000, though there was no room for this luxury lifestyle, he said.

While highlighting the need to bring ‘protocol culture’ to an end, the senator said 60 bulletproof luxury vehicles were in use of cabinet members only, while ‘other bigwigs’ have vehicles which consume as much as oil a truck consumes.

According to him, as many as 150,000 official vehicles are filled with free petrol. He was of the opinion there should be no free electricity, gas or petrol for anybody.

The senator called the budget a death warrant for the poor and asserted, “You burden the poor, now put some burden on the elite class.”

Senate adopts recommendations on money bill

He dubbed the incumbent 87-member federal cabinet as the world’s largest cabinet and called for a substantial cut in its size. He claimed the bill had not been domestically prepared but had been drafted at the IMF headquarters. He rejected the government’s rhetoric that there was no other option but to go to International Monetary Fund.

PTI senator Dr Shahzad Waseem, who is leader of the opposition in the senate, said the recommendations proposed in the report adopted by this house sought a catastrophe in the name of a mini-budget to be inflicted on the masses. He said the opposition completely rejected this alleged controversial bill as anti-people.

He said people should be the centre of all state endeavours, but the recommendations intended to add to the miseries of the masses after the spike in taxes and inflation. He said the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) requested the government to allow import of 155 luxury cars. “The FBR should improve its outdated IT system that has gone hackneyed and unable to serve its purpose of tax collection,” he said.

He believed there was still time to reclaim the country, adding that the government in accordance with the constitution should be compelled to hold elections in the two provinces.

However, he added, to decide future course of the country, the masses must be allowed to elect a unanimous leadership through general elections. He also grilled the government for what he called launching a campaign against the judiciary.

Minister of State for Finance and Revenue Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha on Friday said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would announce major austerity measures in all the government institutions to control the fiscal deficit by minimising government expenditures.

“The prime minister has already formed a commission to finalise the austerity measures and he himself would announce the recommendation finalised by the commission,” the state minister explained while speaking on the floor of the senate.

She said all cabinet members had already voluntarily announced that they would not get their salaries from the national exchequer.

‘Meeting PTI promises’

Ms Paha said the PDM government was acting upon the agreement made by the PTI regime with the IMF, only ‘to save the state at the cost of their politics’. She called upon all political parties and other stakeholders to support the government in this hour of need, as ‘tough decisions’ were badly needed to steer the country out of economic crisis.

She said the recently increased tariffs in electricity and gas sectors would not apply to the small consumers.

Referring to the Finance (Supple­men­tary) Bill, 2023 presented by the government in both houses, she said the government had no option but to take tough decisions as the country’s economy was on the verge of default. “No doubt inflation is high and the people are extremely worried but the point is that this is the time to make structural adjustment because without this we will sink in further darkness,” she added.

However, she said that to safeguard the extremely poor segment of society from the inflationary shocks, the government had decided to raise the allocation for Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) by Rs40 billion to Rs400bn.

The minister made it clear that whether the government go with the IMF programme or not, it would have to make structural reforms in key economic areas without which the country’s economy would not get stability.

After her speech, the Senate chairman adjourned the session to meet again on Feb 20.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2023

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