As an economic illiterate, I have no competence to predict whether the “reform package,” Finance Minister Asad Umer had announced Wednesday would really inject energy to our sluggish looking economy.

The business community has generally welcomed it. Although the drawing room gossip in Islamabad keeps claiming that a definite group of Stock Exchange players eventually succeeded to extract substantive concessions for their favourite sectors through this package.

The operative sides and consequential impact of this package could only be comprehended, if an exhaustive debate was initiated on it on floor of the directly elected National Assembly.

To my utter shock and disappointment, however, the Speaker abruptly prorogued the House after dispensing the usual business Friday.

I have been covering proceedings of the National Assembly since 1985. Never in our parliamentary history, the discussion on a money bill was eluded in such a juvenile manner.

Apparently, the PTI handlers of the parliamentary business “genuinely feel” that before presenting its input to Asad Umer’s package, the National Assembly should wait for the Senate’s comment on it.

The cynical me refused to buy the spin. If you go by the parliamentary book, what Asad Umer presented Wednesday was indeed a “money bill.”

In the name of kick-starting the economy, no new taxes were certainly introduced by the “reform package”

But concessions conceded to various businesses clearly reflect that the Government of Pakistan had opted to soften, withdraw or totally forget tax collections on multiple items.

Suck tinkering with an already approved budget cannot be executed without approval of the National Assembly. The Senate has no role here. It can but suggest and not approve or reject a money bill.

In this column early last week, I had already reported that the government did not want an exhaustive debate on Asad Umer’s package. It had planned to prorogue the House, only two days after its presentation. Why the opposition agreed to it was the question?

Even a two-day debate could be swallowed, if top opposition leader had the opportunity of educating us about the presumably bad or dark sides of the “reform package.” No discussion on it, right now, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

The opposition members I met while walking to the car park, looked equally baffled. They could not explain as to why they let the government get away. Their self-mocking rather smacked of total defeatism.

But a very experienced parliamentarian from Sindh, who has been returning to the House on PPP ticket since 1990, candidly told me, “The government wants to punish us” by delaying the general discussion on the money bill for an indefinite period.

Talking “off the record,” he named some PTI ministers who had personally conveyed annoyance to him. The said ministers “feel offended over the noisemaking,” the PML-N had resorted to during Prime Minister’s presence in the House Wednesday.

To own and listen to Asad Umer’s package, Imran Khan had come to the House Wednesday after a long gap of more than three months. He came there, “after getting assurances” that the opposition would “behave deferential,” when he would be sitting in the House. Asad Umer’s speech would also be heard in an “orderly manner.”

Presumably, the opposition, specifically the PML-N MNAs, failed to live up to the promise of “good conduct.” The bedlam, they created, compelled Naeem-ul-Haq, a very trusted aide of the Prime Minister to post a Tweet in rage.

In the said Tweet, Haq had rudely recalled that in spite of being sent to jail for charges of corruption, Shehbaz Sharif was brought to the House on the Speaker’s order.

The opposition leader should make up his mind. If Shehbaz Sharif wants to continue relishing the privilege of being in Islamabad during the assembly sessions, he must control his noisemaking “Chamchas (cronies).”

Presiding the Friday sitting, Asad Qaiser stated in passing with an irritated heart that he would “run the House, independently, without caring for any Tweet.” But the opposition does not trust him.

Its experienced members strongly feel that the government has decided to postpone general discussion on the money bill, “to ensure that Shehbaz Sharif is taken back to jail, at least for two weeks.”

Perhaps, after returning to the chiller, the opposition leader might realise that he and his comrades have to behave, when the Prime Minister is gracing the National Assembly with his presence.

But there is a catch.

As the Chairman of Public Accounts Committee, Shehbaz Sharif had called for his committee’s session from the coming Monday to Friday. Simply put, he has to be in Islamabad, presiding the PAC session during all the five working days of the next week.

Taking him back to jail now would clearly flout the Speaker’s order for his presence in Islamabad. Naeem-ul-Haq will surely appear prevailing over the so-called “custodian of an August House,” if Shehbaz Sharif goes back to jail Friday night and is not allowed to preside over the PAC session next week.

The possible execution of the threat, conveyed by Naeem-ul-Haq via a Tweet, will also send the message that the PTI has returned to the punitive mode. It has reached the conclusion that appeasing the PML-N with assuaging gestures doesn’t help. “The looters and plunderers” of this party deserve a tough handling by the government.

The PPP can still feel calm due to a major development, though.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was scheduled to leave for Sindh Friday evening and during his stay there, he was expected to have a lengthy round of meetings with some formidable PPP rivals in at least three major cities.

His going there would have firmly conveyed the message that the game to topple Murad Ali Shah-led government was still on.

But the idea, for the time being, has been abandoned. Due to “pressing engagements,” the Prime Minister has postponed his visit to Sindh.

Does this mean that at the moment he needs more to focus on Punjab and handle the blowback of Sahiwal Tragedy? One is clueless.

Although some PTI backbenchers keep sticking to the position that the time has come when their Captain must find an “energetic alternative” to Osman Buzdar.

I still have doubts, though.

 

 

Prorogation beyond anyone’s imagination