ISLAMABAD - The Senate on Wednesday rejected the decision of the government to cut its annual budget by around Rs 170 million while terming it an unconstitutional move and urged the immediate restoration of “original” allocation.

After three opposition lawmakers raised this issue, the house through a voice vote approved a recommendation as part of the set of recommendations of the Senate’s finance committee, on the Finance Bill 2020, asking the government to restore the “original” budget allocation.

Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance Senator Farooq H Naek separately moved the recommendation.

MQM Senator Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif was the first one who raised the issue and said that parliament had financial autonomy under the constitution and the government had no powers to slash its budget. He pointed out that the Ministry of Finance has proposed a cut of Rs 170 million in the annual budget of the Senate. PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi termed the move unconstitutional and said that under the constitution, it was the executive that had been placed under the parliament to keep a check on its expenditures.

He said that it was an attempt against the supremacy of the parliament. He referred to the Articles 87 and 88 of the constitution said that the constitution empowered both the houses of the parliament to make their own budgets and for this purpose, the high-powered finance committee existed.

“This is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the budget of parliament has been cut only to have a control over it.”  Chairman finance committee Senator Naek referred to Article 88 of the constitution which reads: “The expenditure of the National Assembly and the Senate within authorised appropriations shall be controlled by the National Assembly or, as the case may be, the Senate acting on the advice of its Finance Committee.”

He said the finance committee thus becomes a constitutional committee and the executive can in no way override its decisions. He added the decision to slash budget of the Senate was in total violation of the constitution.

Senator Naek later presented before the house the report of the standing committee on the proposals for making recommendations on the Finance Bill, 2020, containing the Annual Budget Statement, which was unanimously adopted by the house. The National Assembly now will consider these recommendations.

The recommendations include a 10 percent increase in the salaries and pensions of government employees, a double increase in health and education budgets, allocation of funds for construction of small dams, and to abolish withholding tax on withdrawal of money from banks besides others.

Later, Federal Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar concluding the budget debate in the house said that the country’s economy had been showing upward trends during the first nine months of the outgoing fiscal year until it faced losses due to imposition of lockdown since March this year. He said that the PTI rule decreased its trade deficit up to 31 percent in first three quarters of the fiscal year 2019-20 and fiscal deficit was brought down from 5 to 3.8 percent.

The minister rejected the criticism of the opposition that the PTI government had failed to uplift the country’s economy since it came into power in August 2018. He said that it was Covid-19 outbreak that affected the economy badly.

Azhar said that the revenue collection of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had been witnessing 17 percent growth in first three quarters of outgoing fiscal year to meet the revenue collection target of Rs 4800 billion. While overall revenue collection recorded 27 percent growth and exports witnessed 20 percent increase in growth.

He said that the government has almost cleared 10 years long refund claims of worth Rs 35 billions of exporters.

He said that the government has implemented 14 points out of the total 27 points of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global anti-money laundering watchdog, and majority of its action plan has been implemented.

To cope with the challenges of Covid-19, Azhar said that the government announced the economic stimulus programme of worth 1200 billion and provided across the bard help to the provinces in health, and crisis management. He said that PTI government has provided cash supports of Rs 12000 each to 16 million families. He also said that Rs 50 billion were allocated to pay electric bills of around 3.5 million small businesses during pandemic while another Rs 100 billion were allocated to defer domestic bills.

He said that the government had to form the next fiscal budget during pandemic while this crisis was not yet over. “Despite this, we haven’t only brought a tax-free budget but taxes and duties have also been decreased,” he said. He said that education and health budgets have been increased while Balochistan has been given largest share in Public Sector Development Programme followed by Sindh.

 

 “The government has wasted no time in decision making to face the challenge of COVID-19,” he said adding that the government would take seriously the recommendations of the Senate.

 

Chairman Senate Standing committee on Law and Justice Senator Javed Abbasi presented before the house reports of the committee on two constitution amendment bills.

 

One of the bills seeks to increase number of seats for Balochistan in National and provincial assemblies and the other seeking an end to the presidential power to pardon sentences in Hudood and Qisas cases.

 

The house unanimously passed a resolution recommending that wherever the name of Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) is written in educational curriculum or official documents, the word Khatam-un-Nabiyeen” (Last Prophet sent by Allah) must be written and read along with it.