ISLAMABAD  - While the unprecedented suspension of all parliamentary business due to the coronavirus [COVID-19] outbreak has become a matter of grave concern, a contingency plan for the preparation of budget 2020-21 might be framed after the consultation with all political parties.

“Of course, an alternate plan for the upcoming the budget is in our mind. The final decision on discussion and approval of the budgetary proposal will be made after consultation with all parties,” Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser told The Nation.

The government is contemplating preparing a budget for next fiscal year primarily due to the uncertain economic situation caused by the prevailing pandemic.

The government had earlier planned to announce the budget for 2020-21 in the last week of May and had started preparations to that end. However, the Ministry of Finance had to suspend the budget preparation activities and prioritised focusing on issues related to coronavirus in the country.

The government is also in the process of estimating the economic damage caused by the virus and gathering the data regarding its adverse effects.  The parliamentary business of both houses [National Assembly and Senate] was abruptly suspended to avoid spread of coronavirus till 6th April. Realizing the sensitivity of situation in the country, both Speaker National Assembly and Senate Chairman have decided to extend the suspension of parliamentary business till 14th April.

Only one bipartisan parliamentary committee on coronavirus is currently functional in the Parliament.

Regarding the ToRs of the parliamentary committee, Speaker National Assembly said that the parliamentary committee would finalize the ToRs submitted by a sub-committee on coronavirus very soon. Following this the 25-member parliamentary committee will discuss a strategy for extending its scope to cover budgetary needs.

Members of opposition parties have already proposed holding online standing committee meetings of the National Assembly. The proposal has still not been accepted by the Speaker. The opposition wants the Speaker to at least allow holding online standing committees on finance and health in the coming days.

Political observers commented that it would be unprecedented in the history of Pakistan to take such unusual steps. The working of parliamentary committee on coronavirus would prove very important in this regard.

Governments in the past have also taken some novel decisions due to natural calamities - such as floods and earthquakes. The rules of procedure and conduct of business in the National Assembly also allow dealing with such an uncertain situation through novel means of legislation. A proposal was recently floated by the opposition to conduct proxy voting for any important legislation, if deemed necessary in the future.