IMRAN ALI KUNDI & JAVAID-UR-RAHMAN
ISLAMABAD - Taking advantage of opposition’s absence, the treasury benches on Tuesday hurriedly passed the Finance Bill 2015-16 - giving legal cover to the budgetary proposals for the upcoming financial year with a total outlay of Rs4.31 trillion.
The opposition parties boycotted the proceedings when they saw the government had seized the opportunity to pass the bill. The house adopted a number of amendments proposed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, senators and MNAs during the debate in the absence of opposition parties. The Finance Bill 2015-16 will be effective from July this year after President Mamnoon Hussain would sign it.
The National Assembly with simple majority approved the Budget 2015-16, which was presented in the house on June 5.
Apart from passing budget, the lower house of the parliament also approved 110 supplementary grants worth Rs 205.35 billion for the outgoing fiscal year 2014-2015. Ishaq Dar, sharing the positive side of the budget, said supplementary budget for the outgoing financial year was far less than the previous years.
The government needed supplementary grants due to additional expenditures incurred on subsidy and rehabilitation of temporarily displaced persons (TDPs) of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, he added.
The PML-N government on June 5 announced its third budget with total outlay of Rs 4.313 trillion and deficit of Rs 1.3 trillion (4.3 percent of the GDP). The government allocated Rs 781 billion for defence, Rs 1.28 trillion for interest payment, Rs 700 billion for federal development budget, Rs 231 billion for pension and Rs 138 billion for subsidies for the upcoming fiscal year.
The government also enhanced the salaries of the civil servants by 7.5 percent after merger of ad hoc relief allowances of years 2011 and 2012, which will mean a real increase of 11 percent. The government increased the budget of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) to Rs 102 billion from 97 billion and doubled the budget of Pakistan Baitul Maal to four billion rupees from two billion rupees.
The target for GDP growth rate for the next fiscal year has been kept at 5.5 percent. Similarly, inflation target has been fixed at 6 percent.
After passage of the Finance Bill, Dar once again asked the political parties to frame a `charter of economy’ to take country towards macroeconomic stability on medium and long-term basis. “We should separate the economy from the politics”. He further said the government had incorporated the proposals and suggestions of various political parties and industrialists in the budget.
The minister said the government in first year after assuming charge had worked to save the country from default. In second year, the economy got stable, which was appreciated by the international financial institutions. “Now we would move towards growth in third year that will generate job opportunities,” Dar remarked.
“The government is working on four Es (energy, extremism, economy, education and health) as per election manifesto,” Dar said and added that government could not approve even a single cut motion of opposition parties as accepting it was tantamount to topple the government.
“Various incentives have been announced in the budget to give boost to the construction sector. The budget contains incentives for agriculture sector as well including interest-free loans for installation of solar tube-wells and conversion of the existing tube-wells to solar ones. The government is focusing on expanding the volume of small agriculture loans for the benefit of growers and loans worth 600 billion rupees will be disbursed during the next financial year. There is also a lucrative package of incentives to encourage manufacturing of mobile phones in the country,” Dar added.
Earlier, opposition parties staged a walkout after govt failed to fulfil their promise to control loadshedding at least during Ramazan. They also announced to observe Friday as ‘Black Day’.
The government side made a failed attempt to convince opposition benches to participate in the proceedings and even held a meeting of parliamentary leaders in speaker’s chamber.
Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, before the budget speech, also sent three ministers to woo opposition lawmakers but leader of opposition refused to attend the proceedings in protest. “We had staged token walkout yesterday (Monday) and government side taking advantage of our absence rejected all the cut motions,”said opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah, criticising the government for not controlling load-shedding even after making pledges.
“Prime Minister should admit this failure...government should also take notice of K-electric performance,” said the opposition leader.
He asked government to compensate those died in heatwave. PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on a point of order, said they would submit requisition for a session to debate load-shedding issue.
“Is it a democratic government which rejected cut-motions in our absence,” he said announcing to observe Friday as ‘black day’. MQM’s Abdul Rashid Godil also expressed reservations over the issue of load-shedding and cut-motions.
“How can you make Pakistan ‘Asian tiger’ without water and electricity?” he remakred. Other opposition lawmakers Sahibzada Tariqullah and Sheikh Rashid came down hard on government on the issue of power outages in the country.
Responding to the concerns raised by opposition benches both Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar and Minister for Defence Khawaja Asif attempted to cool down the opposition sides.
The finance minister said that government had incorporated suggestions and proposals of opposition benches in the budget with open heart. “There should not be politics over budget as these are separate matters,” said Ishaq Dar, adding that the government side had no objection to further continue the session to debate power outages issue.
Minister for Defence Khawaja Asif, on his turn, said, “We have literally no objection if opposition wants to debate load-shedding issue.” He claimed that there was some improvement in power situation in the country. He ruled out any possibility of nationalising the K-electric.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, before passing the budget, also remarked that government wanted the opposition to come back to the House and play its due role in the proceedings.