Tax-laden budget finds no takers in NA

Published June 23, 2024
PPP’s Mirza Ikhtiar Baig, SIC’s Shehryar Afridi, Mustafa Kamal of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM) speak in the National Assembly on June 22. — NA/X
PPP’s Mirza Ikhtiar Baig, SIC’s Shehryar Afridi, Mustafa Kamal of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM) speak in the National Assembly on June 22. — NA/X

• PPP ends boycott, terms budget visionless; MQM calls for imposing ‘financial emergency’
• Speaker suspends Mastikhel’s membership for using ‘indecent’ language

ISLAMABAD: Lawma­kers from the treasury and the opposition on Saturday continued to assail the tax-loaded federal budget in the National Assembly, as the PPP, a key partner in the ruling coalition, ended its boycott of the proceedings but only to join the fray, highlighting a number of ‘shortcomings’ in the proposed budget.

It was the third consecutive day of the debate on the budget, presented by Finance Minister Muham­mad Aurangzeb on June 12, and the lower house continued to witness members from both sides of the aisle trading barbs and making personal attacks against each other.

There was pandemon­ium in the house when the treasury members, mostly the women lawmakers, gathered in front of the speaker’s dais to register their protest over the obj­ectionable remarks made by Sanaullah Mastikhel of the opposition Sunni Itte­had Council (SIC) in his speech. The members’ protest forced Deputy Spea­ker Ghulam Mustafa Shah to suspend the proceedings for a few minutes.

Later, when the house resumed proceedings, Spe­a­ker Ayaz Sadiq announ­ced the suspension of Mr Mastikhel’s membership for the remainder of the current session following approval of a motion in this regard through a voice vote.

During his budget speech, Mr Mastikhel, the MNA from Bhakkar, add­ressed Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and said the opposition members had not reached the parliament by appeasing someone. While stressing this point, he used some “indecent” words, prompting a strong protest from the treasury benches.

Realising his mistake, Mr Mastikhel immedia­tely asked the chair to expunge his remarks, but the treasury members demanded action against him.

“No apology”, the women members were heard shouting when the speaker came to his chair to give his ruling. Mr Sadiq said he had no words to express his feelings over the unfortunate incident, stating that such objectionable words had never been heard in the parliament.

At the outset of the sitting, Op­­position Leader Omar Ayub Khan drew the attention of the house to a reported statement of visiting Chinese Minister Liu Jianchao in which he had linked his country’s support to the CPEC projects with the improvement in the security situation in Pakistan. Mr Khan said the Chinese minister had given a clear message by asking them “to get your house in order” due to the alleged failure of the country’s intelligence agencies.

He asked army chief Gen Asim Munir and all the formation commanders to immediately convene a corps commanders’ conference to review the alleged failure of the intelligence agencies while accusing them of being busy in witch-hunting of the PTI people and journalists.

Speaker Sadiq, who was also present in the meeting of the politicians with the Chinese minister, clarified that the guest’s remarks were misconstrued and “sensationalised.”

Budget debate

Earlier, taking part in the debate, the members continued to express resentment over the proposed increase in taxes on the salaried class as well as other items, including stationery items, medical equipment, packaged milk and agriculture inputs.

A number of lawmakers, mostly from smaller provinces, expressed their concerns over the ongoing loadshedding in various parts of the country despite an unprecedented increase in the bills.

Mustafa Kamal of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM) called for imposing a “financial emergency” in the country. Criticising the proposed heavy taxes on the masses, he asked the politicians, all members of the legislatures and serving and retired army generals to come forward and donate some of their assets to help the country retire Rs78,900 billion debt.

He asked PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to donate his Raiwind Palace, Imran Khan to donate his Banigala residence and President Zardari to donate any Bilawal House to give a message to people that they were also ready to offer sacrifices for the country. He suggested that all the MPs should donate at least 25pc of their assets.

Furthermore, he said an army general upon retirement got properties worth billions, adding that they should also announce a donation of Rs500 million each for Pakistan. He said when they would show the people that they had themselves collected Rs1,000bn, only then the people of Pakistan would come forward and do anything for the sake of the country.

He said the government had allocated nearly Rs10,000bn in the budget for payment of interest on the debt, out of which Rs7,000bn would go to local banks. He asked the government to hold the payment of Rs7,000bn to local banks under the financial emergency to provide some breathing space.

Budget lacks ‘direction’

Mirza Ikhtiar Baig of PPP said the budget lacked any direction, except for revenue generation.

He criticised the proposed tax on hybrid vehicles, stating that it was being imposed at a time when the whole world was announcing incentives for electric vehicles to end the use of fossil fuel. He welcomed the prime minister’s decision to reduce power tariff for industries, but questioned as to who would bear this Rs240bn burden. He opposed a hike in the petroleum levy, which he said would cause more inflation.

SIC leader Asad Qaiser said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was generating about 4,000 megawatts of electricity, while the total current consumption of electricity in KP was only 2,600MW whereas the province was being provided only 1,100MW and that too at an exorbitant rate.

Another SIC member Shehryar Afridi delivered an emotional speech in which he highlighted the alleged mistreatment of his family members, including his wife and daughters.

“Perhaps this will be my last speech in this house,” said the MNA. Mr Afridi, who is facing cases over his alleged involvement in the May 9 violent attacks on the military installations, declared that he would remain loyal to Imran Khan, come what may.

The National Assembly is set to meet again today (on Sunday) at 11am.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2024

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