Pledging economic uplift, Federal cabinet approves ‘Finance Supplementary Bill 2021’

Gov’t making efforts for development of downtrodden segments of country

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Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired the Parliamentary Party Meeting held in Islamabad earlier today. Wherein Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin apprised the participants of the supplementary finance bill and also addressed their concerns about the amendments in State Bank Act. The meeting of the parliamentary party was attended by the cabinet members as well as other members of the parliament. The foreign minister, talking to the media after the meeting, said it was the parliamentarians’ right to be acquainted with the legislation which was about to be tabled in the parliament. He said the finance minister also responded to the questions raised by the legislators about the supplementary finance bill as well as amendments in the State Bank Act. The foreign minister said the parliament was empowered to amend any law with a simple majority if required to remove any lacuna. Earlier, Minister for Information and Broadcasting said in a tweet that the special cabinet meeting had approved the finance bill which was later introduced in the National Assembly. The lower house of parliament adopted various resolutions extending various ordinances for a period of 120 days. These ordinances include; “the Federal Government Properties Management Authority Ordinance, 2021”, “the Elections (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2021”, “the Public Properties (Removal of Encroachment) Ordinance, 2021”, “the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021”, “the Pakistan Food Security Flow and Information Ordinance, 2021” and “the Tax Laws (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2021”. The house adopted the resolutions with a majority vote amid uproar from the opposition benches.

On Tuesday, the cabinet had approved the SBP amendment bill to give absolute autonomy to the central bank in a bid to qualify for the $1 billion loan but had deferred the approval of Rs360 billion mini-budgets for the second time in a week. The bill has been approved to bring amendments in the SBP Act of 1956 fewer than one of the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and on the desire of the SBP governor. Many of the clauses that the federal government had earlier termed “unconstitutional” are still part of the revised bill after the IMF refused to budge from its position. However, the government again deferred the approval of the highly inflationary Rs360 billion mini-budgets amid strong criticism against the Ministry of Finance due to increasing inflation. As the today’s NA session began with Speaker Asad Qaiser in chair, the opposition members tore the copies of the agenda and surrounded his dais. An intense protest against the bills escalated into fisticuffs between opposition lawmaker Shagufta Jamani and PTI MNA Ghazala Saifi. PPP’s leader Syed Naveed Qamar while raising objections over extending the ordinance said after its expiry the move was against the rules of parliament. Speaking on the floor of the house, PML-N leader Khawaja Asif while referring to SBP bill accused the PTI-led government of compromising on country’s economic sovereignty. While urging house not to approve the bill, Asif said the country’s central bank has been “handed over to IMF”. Responding to the PML-N leader, Planning Minister Asad Umar said it did not suit those who invited Indian Premier Narendra Modi to their house to speak about country’s national security. ‘Mini-budget will not affect common man’. Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin while addressing a press conference after the NA session said that tax exemptions of worth Rs343 billion on various sectors will be drawn under the supplementary finance bill. He also dispelled the notion that the so-called mini-budget will unleash a new wave of inflation, saying that of the total additional taxes, common man will only bear burden of Rs2 billion. Besides, Tarin also said many taxes on import of machinery and pharmaceutical raw material are either “refundable or adjustable”. The SBP amendment bill, he added, is in line with the PTI government’s vision to empower the institutions of the country. The joint opposition on Wednesday rejected the PTI-led government’s plan to introduce the supplementary finance bill or mini-budget, vowing to vehemently resist it in parliament. It also lashed out at the amendment bill — passed a day earlier — that gave absolute autonomy to the central bank. On Tuesday, the federal cabinet had put off the approval of the mini-budget, which was scheduled to be tabled in Wednesday’s National Assembly session. Taking the floor of the NA, PML-N’s Khawaja Asif said the country was surrendering its economic sovereignty through the supplementary finance bill and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Amendment Bill, 2021. He maintained that this would be worse than the “territorial surrender” on December 16, 1971 – when East Pakistan separated from the rest of the country and became Bangladesh. Asif claimed that the central bank had become a local branch of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), adding that the SBP governor was disguised as a “viceroy”. “Pakistan has become a “financial colony” of international institutions.” The PML-N leader pledged to oppose the SBP bill and the mini-budget and stressed the need to build consensus on both the issues. He warned that the country would be stripped of its nuclear assets next. PPP MNA Raja Pervez Ashraf also voiced his concerns over the government’s plan to introduce a mini-budget. “Inflation, unemployment and the shortage of gas and other commodities have already ruined the lives of the people of the country,” he claimed. “Now, if a mini-budget is on the cards that would increase their [peoples’] difficulties, then everyone sitting in the House should resist the move.” NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who was chairing the session, told the MNAs no such bill had been presented in the House so far, and they could debate on it when it was presented. When Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was given the floor to speak, the opposition lawmakers pointed out the lack of quorum and staged a walkout. The deputy speaker then ordered a headcount and declared that the quorum was complete.

He gave the floor to the foreign minister again and the opposition lawmakers returned to the House to participate in the proceedings. Qureshi assured the House that the government would protect the country’s economic sovereignty. He added that protecting the country’s economic independence was the joint responsibility of the government and parliament. About the country’s nuclear assets, the minister said: “There is, was and will remain a national consensus on credible minimum deterrence.” Qureshi also conceded that it was the government’s responsibility to fulfil the quorum. However, he urged the opposition not to repeatedly point out the quorum as it disrupted the smooth functioning of the House. Earlier, the joint opposition held a meeting in a chamber and discussed in detail the strategy to prevent the mini-budget and other “IMF-dictated” legislation from being passed in the House.

 

The meeting was attended by PML-N Senior Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, PPP Leader Naveed Qamar, JUI-F parliamentary leader Maulana Asad Mahmood and other central leaders of the joint opposition. After mutual consultation and consensus, the leaders devised a strategy to block the mini-budget and State Bank-related bills in parliament, and ensure the attendance of all opposition lawmakers on the day the legislation would be tabled.

They held the view that the mini-budget was another “mega U-turn” of Prime Minister Imran Khan that would lead to “grave damage to the nation economy, interests and security”.

They pointed out that the PTI-led government had already buried the country under unprecedented loans. They added that the growth rate had plunged to a disastrous level; trade and budget deficits were at historic highs; US dollar had crossed Rs180; foreign exchange reserves were depleting fast; electricity and gas tariffs were shooting through the roof and the prices of essential commodities were out of the purchasing power of the common man. With this situation at hand, another “mini-budget bomb” would prove to be the last nail in the coffin of the country’s economy and its people, they observed. The joint opposition leaders pledged to use all their power and resources to prevent the passage of these laws.

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