That the President on Wednesday did not sign an ordinance which imposed a mini-budget is no credit to the caretaker government. After all, it had advised its signing. Though such advice is binding, for a caretaker government which has refused to prosecute former President Musharraf for high treason on the ground that it is a caretaker, to try to push through a finance bill by ordinance is bizarre enough, and is only made worse by the fact that the elections it was installed to supervise are over, and the transfer of power to the elected government is underway. The ordinance reached the Presidency the same day the President met the incoming Prime Minister. The budget being scheduled for June 7, the mini-budget only 15 days before seems as flagrant a violation of the caretakers’ mandate as possible. The only reason for this might be the need of the Federal Board of Revenue for changes in the taxation law to meet its revenue target, which it is failing to do. The measures proposed involve new taxation of Rs 152 billion, and reverses most of the relief in taxes announced in the last budget. It is almost as if, the measures not working, for the government making them was thoroughly drubbed at the general election, they are being reversed. However, the proposed measures include not only the GST going up to 17 percent, the extension of its scope, as well as an increase in the withholding tax on bank withdrawals.

Another reason given out is that the incoming government is being given a cushion. This seems at odds with the pronouncements by Senator Ishaq Dar, who has been assigned to watch over the preparation of the coming budget and who is also being tipped as the incoming Finance Minister. He has said that there will be no new taxes, and indeed, there will be relief given. If the intention is to have the caretakers impose the new taxes, or if the relief is to consist of removing some of the measures proposed in the new ordinance, it would be a cruel joke with the people, who are looking to the new government to solve their problems, not add to them.

The caretaker government should take back these measures. Providing the new government a cushion is not part of its duties. It is only supposed to conduct the elections that bring it to office, and then it is fully empowered to take whatever action it wills, including implementing such taxation measures as the ones proposed. No caretaker government has the right to carry out such measures. The courts, as shown by the recent cases involving the posting of officials, are willing to pronounce on the limits of its authority. The new ordinance invites just such an intervention.