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NA concludes budget debate amid uproar

June 14, 2012

ISLAMABAD, June 13: Braving an opposition uproar, the PPP-led coalition government saw the general debate on its last budget through in the National Assembly on Wednesday, promising to accommodate some of the non-binding Senate recommendations.

But Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, winding up the eight-day debate, marked by noisy protests by the PML-N, did not specify which of the 145 recommendations sent by the upper house on Tuesday after its own debate would be incorporated in the budget for fiscal 2012-13 that he unveiled in parliament on June 1.

As PML-N lawmakers chanted slogans and whistled in front of the treasury benches, the minister struggled to make his brief speech in Urdu heard, in which he said the final shape of the budget would “God-willing include a substantial part” of the Senate recommendations, which include higher allocations for the energy sector to overcome the prevailing shortages and the creation of a single energy ministry by merging different ministries dealing with the same subject.

Recounting some of the main features of the budget or achievements of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s coalition government such as exports reaching a record $25.5 billion mark, remittances from overseas Pakistanis crossing $13 billion, setting a higher target for tax collections, and additional resources for backward regions, the minister said: “We are moving towards self-reliance where people of Pakistan become prosperous”.

The PML-N stayed away from the house during the first seven speeches of the day by members of the PPP, allied parties, and smaller opposition groups not supporting the PML-N protest campaign against the prime minister as the government seemed hurrying to finish the debate that began on June 4.

But the protesters came in to interrupt a speech by Minister of State for Defence Production Sardar Bahadur Ahmed Khan Sihar of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q, ignoring warnings from Speaker Fehmida Mirza that they were violating rules and sanctity of the house.    Their anti-government chants grew louder as Mr Shaikh took the floor, with some protesters throwing torn papers towards the minister, who was shielded by some stout members of the ruling party.

Even after the finance minister’s speech, the protest continued through a speech by PPP member Ms Yasmeen Rehman that opened a discussion on non-votable charged expenditure mentioned in the budget until a PML-Q senior parliamentarian, Attiya Inayatullah, cut short her speech in protest against what she called “rowdyism” before the house was adjourned until 11am on Thursday.


After the debate on the charge expenditure, which amounts to Rs8.570 trillion, including over Rs7 trillion mentioned as “repayment of domestic debt”, the house must vote on a total of 151 demands for grants for the ministries and divisions of the federal government other than the charged expenditure, before passing the Finance Bill to mark the completion of the budget process.

Parliamentary sources said the job could finish by Friday – or even on Thursday – because of a PML-N decision not to move cut motions that necessitate discussion on the demands concerned. It was not immediately known if other opposition members have moved any cut motions.