Political acrimony overshadows budget discussion in Senate

Published June 14, 2024
Leader of the Opposition Shibli Faraz opens the debate in Senate on the federal budget bill on June 13. — Radio Pakistan
Leader of the Opposition Shibli Faraz opens the debate in Senate on the federal budget bill on June 13. — Radio Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Political acrimony overshadowed budget discussion in the Senate with the government and opposition holding each other responsible for the economic woes of the country.

Opening the debate, Leader of the Opposition Shibli Faraz said the PML-N and the PPP have been governing the country since 1971 including the terms of military dictators.

He said the PTI and a large majority of people of the country were on the one side, while representatives of the elite and those part of the ‘illegitimate government’ were on the other side.

“They are least concerned about sentiments of the people as they have not been given the mandate by the people and they lack moral strength and legitimacy,” the PTI leader said, adding that it was an open secret how they have been brought to power.

Aimal Wali deplores increase in defence budget, seeks to abolish lawmakers’ perks and privileges; Taj Haider says PPP not taken into confidence on budget

He said not a single voice in India was raised about the fairness of the recently-held Lok Sabha elections, adding that over 800 million people cast their votes and there were thousands of polling stations with some polling stations even established for just one voter in a place.

“The entire month-long exercise was conducted with the help of EVMs. Was there a single voice claiming that the election was rigged?” Mr Faraz asked.

He said the budget for the next fiscal year carried no economic vision to steer the country out of the debt trap. He welcomed the enhancement in the minimum wage, but regretted the increase in taxes on the salaried class.

He said the target for revenues was over-ambitious and expressed fears that it would add to fiscal deficit and force the government to obtain more loans.

Mr Faraz said the opposition had tried to blackmail the PTI government at the time of FATF negotiations by see­king to practically legalise corruption.

He said later the PDM government introduced ridiculous amendments to the accountability law that almost legalised the white-collar crime and corruption below Rs500 million.

He said that NAB recovered Rs295 billion from 2000 to 2017 while an amount of Rs426 billion was recovered from 2018 to 2021 when the PTI was in power. He said that political stability and the rule of law were two essential prerequisites to attract foreign investment.

Participating in the debate, PML-N parliamentary leader in the Senate, Irfan Siddiqui, asserted there was no crisis in the country as all institutions were working and the parliament was also functioning. He said the courts were functioning and the PTI was getting relief from the judiciary.

He defended the government’s taxation measures saying widening the tax base was important to take the country towards self-reliance and execute projects for the welfare of the people.

Mr Siddiqui said the PTI deemed the KP government legitimate as it has won elections from the province, but it alleges rigging and electoral fraud in the rest of the country where it lost.

Awami National Party (ANP) parliamentary leader Senator Aimal Wali Khan deplored 17.6 per cent increase in the defence budget under the given circumstances. “We should be ashamed. The budget reflects, for whom Pakistan came into being. Gun, tank and atom bombs are our priority,” he said.

He pointed out that the country was heavily indebted and there was a proposal to increase the retirement age to save money on pensions. He also refer­red to the cut in education and health budget. “What has this defence institution done for the country over the last 70 years. No citizen of the country is safe”.

He also sought to know details of properties owned by generals of armed forces and wondered what the armed forces have to do with commercial properties.

The ANP leader called for adopting tough austerity measures and said this should start from parliament and that there must be accountability of all.

He said that all the perks and privileges of the senators should be abolished and the same should be done by the national and provincial assemblies. He said Pakistan was created on August 14, but it was not liberated.

PPP leader Senator Taj Haider in his speech said the PPP had not been taken into confidence on the budget.

He rejected the finance minister’s claim that the budget document had been prepared under the guidance of senior political leadership, including party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

“It is wrong to associate Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari with such a document that only repeats failed policies, having nothing to do with the ground reality,” the PPP leader said.

He said the budget would have a different shape if Mr Bhutto-Zardari had given his input on it.

Terming the budget IMF-dictated, he said an expression of happiness was being given between the lines that international lender was satisfied with the government and the entire system was going to be restructured.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2024

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