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NA approved federal budget

29 June, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly Friday formally approved the federal budget for fiscal year 2019-20 presented by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led coalition government, amid strong protest by the opposition parties.

The opposition members stood on their benches in protest against approval of the finance bill while the treasury members made the victory signs. Some 175 members voted in favour of the budget while 146 voted against the finance bill. The assembly session was later adjourned until 11am on Saturday (today).

Some amendments proposed by the treasury benches were incorporated in the bill, while all those put forth by the opposition were discarded. The bill now awaits presidential assent to come into force starting July 1.

Prior to the final vote, the opposition parties once again recorded their protest against the budget, with most members of the opposition wearing black armbands. Taking the floor, former prime minister and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said, “We totally reject this budget.”

Ahsan Iqbal, once he got the floor, said, “If the prime minister himself is taking the country towards bankruptcy, then the country needs no enemy. This is an anti-growth budget that will usher in unemployment, poverty and backwardness.” “The government claims that it has reduced expenditures whereas the budget document shows that for the first time, the PTI government has allocated more than Rs 1 billion for the Prime Minister’s Office. Funds have been secretly allocated under the head of defence production for maintenance of the PM’s aircraft,” he claimed. “The prime minister – who was chosen somewhere else – flies in helicopters to Banigala more frequently than people use Uber taxis,” he said, and demanded that the ‘selected budget’ should be withdrawn and a new people-friendly budget should be presented.

PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf took the floor to say that no matter who spoke about the budget, the fact is that every person is talking against it. “Imran Khan would say that if there is an honest leadership, people will happily give taxes. However, the government has failed to collect even the same amount of tax which was being collected by the previous governments.”

Responding to the opposition, Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar said the opposition is quoting wrong figures and that he is sure that the opposition has not actually read the budget document. “For the first time in the country’s history, we have reduced civil expenditures up to five per cent,” Azhar said, as the opposition made noise in an attempt to drown him out. Criticising the previous government, he said the PML-N government had put the economic stability of the country at stake during its last two years in power. He pointed out that foreign exchange reserves declined by $10 billion in the last one-and-a-half year of the PML-N’s government.

The minister said the present government has reduced the current account deficit by 20 per cent and trade deficit by $4 billion. He said the previous government had left behind a circular debt of Rs 1.140 trillion, “while we have enhanced the revenue of both power and gas sectors by launching successful drives against pilferage.”

Before the proceedings began, Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif could not resist some theatrics, proposing an amendment to the finance bill seeking to change its title. Through the amendment, signed by other opposition members as well, it was suggested that the Finance Act, 2019 be called the ‘IMF Obedience Act, 2019’. Khawaja Asif, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Marrium Aurangzeb, Barjees Tahir, Murtaza Javed Abbasi, Khurram Dastagir, Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, Mohsin Ranjha and Shaza Fatima, amongst others, signed the amendment bill.

When the session began, the opposition also protested Speaker Asad Qaiser’s directives against the use of the word ‘selected’ for the prime minister. “This is perhaps the only parliament of the world where use of the word ‘selected’ is banned. Everyone is saying that this is a selected government and a selected prime minister, but we cannot say it here. Since you do not like it and have banned it, I will not use the word ‘selected’,” former prime minister Abbasi said. The opposition members, however, continued to make fun of the speaker’s directives as they kept on using the term ‘selected’ tactfully while moving their cut motions, which were defeated by the government members.

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