ISLAMABAD - The combined opposition in the Senate on Thursday strongly protested over the government’s decision to introduce money bills in the form of ordinances at a time when its term was nearing completion.

It all started when the government laid before the House the three “controversial” presidential ordinances particularly “the Income Tax (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018”.

The opposition’s protest walkout from the House over the issue ultimately led to the lack of the quorum forcing the chair to adjourn the proceedings till early Friday.

As the government laid the three ordinances before the House - also known as the tax amnesty scheme announced by it recently, the opposition opposed it tooth and nail, saying it will not allow the government to legalise the “wrongdoings of influential wealthy persons who hid the national wealth at foreign banks”.

The leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman said that the government under the law could not introduce money bills in the House only less than two months prior to the dissolution of the assemblies and two weeks prior to the budget. She questioned as to why the money bills were being brought in the form of ordinances, as the same should contain in the annual finance bill.   “The law doesn’t permit this…it never happened before. The fiscal ordinance can only be moved in case of financial emergency in the country,” she said.

Senator Sherry asked the government to inform the House if a financial emergency had been declared in the country? “This is an unconstitutional, ill-advised and a short-sighted move. We will not allow the government to make a mockery of the Constitution,” she said.

She said that the government had some serious questions to answer. “Is there really a need for an emergency ordinance? If so, why?...Does this mean that we are heading towards an economic disaster?” she said.

Earlier, Climate Change Minister Mushaidullah Khan moved the three ordinances – the Foreign Assets (Declaration and Repatriation) Ordinance, 2018, the Voluntary Declaration of Domestic Assets Ordinance, 2018 and the Income Tax (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 – before the House. The government recently promulgated four ordinances including the Economic Reforms (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 as part of its tax amnesty scheme, the opposition is dubbing the scheme only a ploy to whiten black money.

Rehman also questioned Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani that he had reserved his ruling on Monday when the opposition had protested over government’s decision to introduce ordinances in bulk.

Another PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokar said that before the announcement of the chairman’s ruling on the controversial ordinances, the government could not lay the ordinances in Senate.

Without paying any heed to the objections raised by the senators, the chairman allowed the government to lay the money bills before the House. “We have to lay the bills in Senate as it has been sent by National Assembly speaker…the ruling of the chair can be announced later, so let the bills be laid,” said Chairman Sanjrani.   

Senator Azam Swati, the parliamentary leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said that bringing an ordinance when the term of the government was about to expire, was tantamount to keeping the country ‘mortgaged’.  

He alleged that the government only wanted to save the skin of the plunderers and cronies through such tactics. We don’t want any amnesty for those who have stolen the national wealth,” he said.

The joint opposition then staged a walkout in protest. However, former chairman Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, who had severely criticized the government over the issue, on the first day of the current session, remained absent on Thursday. He had termed issuance of the ordinances “breach of parliament” saying the president could not promulgate these as sessions of the National Assembly and Senate had already been summoned before issuance of the ordinances.

Earlier, the opposition also staged a protest walkout from the House against the decision of Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani for declaring an adjournment motion inadmissible and then forced him to take back his remarks about them. 

The chair held inadmissible an adjournment motion for discussion, moved by PPP Senator Sassui Palijo, on the “controversial letter of the Cabinet Division regarding rollback of the 18th constitutional amendment”. The chair remarked that opposition would “ultimately come back in the House” when the latter was staging a protest walkout over the decision of the chair.

The opposition members refused to return to the House on the request of Senators Ayesha Raza Farooq and Jehanzeb Jamaldini over the remarks of chair forcing Senator Mushahidullah Khan to spring into action and convince them to come back. After returning to the House, PPP Senator Maula Bakhsh Chandio refused to let the chair resume the business and insisted on first expressing views on his remarks about the opposition. “You will have to take back these words,” Chandio said.