Tuesday Jun 29, 2021
After the federal budget for the financial year 2021-22 sailed through the National Assembly on Tuesday, government members were all praise for the ease with which it was passed, while Opposition members cried foul, saying it had been "forced through".
Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said that the budget passed "with great ease", adding that "such a huge development budget has never been passed in Pakistan's history".
He noted that nearly all government representatives were in attendance, while also observing that the PML-N's numbers had been low.
From the PPP, 54 out of 56 were present with the remaining two absent due to coronavirus. From the PML-N, among the total 84 MNA, only 14 reportedly showed up.
According to the PTI's chief whip in the National Assembly, Amir Dogar, 172 government members were present when the voting took place and four more arrived later and their votes were not counted.
"The parliament once more expressed its faith in the prime minister by a heavy majority," he said.
Meanwhile, Chaudhry questioned the absence of the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif.
"It appears that the power crisis within PML-N has worsened," he said, adding: "The tussle between Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif is resulting in the loosening of the leadership's grip over the party."
The minister said that the budget "does not include any new taxes" and has an increase in salaries, besides loans for the youth.
He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan will deliver a speech in the parliament when the NA session resumes tomorrow at 11:30am.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi congratulated the entire nation over the passing of the budget.
"Today's budget session went splendidly. Tomorrow, we will benefit from Prime Minister Imran Khan's views," he said.
Qureshi said that a parliamentary session on national security will convene on July 1.
Responding to criticism over Shahbaz's absence from today's session, PML-N general secretary Ahsan Iqbal said that it was because his cousin had passed away.
Contrary to Chaudhry's obsevations, Iqbal said that the "vast majority" of PML-N members were in attendance.
He said that six members of the PTI were not in attendance, noting that 172 had come.
Iqbal said that the Opposition effectively highlighted the budget's shortcomings.
"This was the first budget in Pakistan's history in which the government was forced to take a U-turn," he remarked. It appears to be a reference to the Finance Bill initially proposing a Re1 tax on each call if the duration exceeds three minutes, Rs5 tax for per GB usage of internet and 10 paisas on each SMS.
Now, speaking over a mobile phone for more than five minutes will be taxed at 75 paisas, but there will be no tax on an SMS and mobile internet.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari speaking to the media in the parliament, said that the government had "forced the budget through".
"What happened in the National Assembly must be brought before the nation," Bilawal said.
He said that with today's session, "a very bad example" had been set in the National Assembly.
"The process of approving the budget has become illegal," Bilawal said, adding: "Today, the members' right to vote was robbed."
Speaking of the perceived absence of Opposition lawmakers from the session, Bilawal said: "It was made to appear as if many members of the Opposition were not there. I had told Shahbaz Sharif that all our party's members will be there [and they mostly were]."
He regretted that the Opposition's full strength was not in attendance.
The PPP chairman said he had written a letter to the Speaker and that "he will have to answer" for all points raised therein.
"If the Speaker does not take any action, this will be an illegal budget."
Bilawal said that if it is such a stupendous budget and if the economy is growing, then "why were the government members hiding?"
Shooting down the budget, he said the government is "adamant on making the people suffer".
"The government had lost its moral legitimacy, now it has lost its legal legitimacy."
Bilawal said that the only way the Opposition can put up effective resistance is when the leader of the Opposition is present in the House.
"If there is an attack on the leader of the Opposition in Parliament, then that's the time to strike. If that isn't the time to bring a no-trust motion, what is?" he asked.
"My Leader of the Opposition was attacked, I can't stand it, I don't know how the PML-N withstood [the treatment to Shahbaz] in parliament," the PPP chairman added.
Bilawal said that the Opposition was "neither heard, nor their votes counted". "Our only option is now to turn to the people."
"The only way left is to work with the people to force this government to have more humanity."
Bilawal also spoke of bringing a no-trust motion against the Speaker "for the sake of the sanctity of the House".
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, for her part, demanded the government withdraw its tax policy for 1,100 cc vehicles and 5-minute phone calls
"Imran Sahib does not realise the effects of taxing 5-minute phone calls," she said, terming the tax "barbaric".
She said only 37% of the population use smartphones, while the other use non smartphones and will be hit the worst with the tax.
Marriyum said that the budget contains very "stringent measures" for the middle class.
She said that owing to the Metro bus and Orange Line projects brought to the country by the PML-N the people have public transport facilities, which other provinces are deprived of and thus people face immense difficulties commuting there.
Criticising the PTI government's BRT project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she said that "under the guise of the project Rs126 billion worth of holes were dug up".
Marriyum said that food inflation stands at 16%, while unemployment is at 15%.
She said that the government had said it would not impose indirect taxes, but 67% of the taxes are indirect in next year's budget.
The PML-N leader, in her usual fashion of likening the premier to a "friend" of Modi's, said that the prime minister "gives Modi missed calls, but he does not answer".