ISLAMABAD   -   The National Assembly Friday approved annual budget for next fiscal year after rejecting all the amendments proposed in the Finance Bill 2020 by the opposition parties with majority vote, amid rumpus and anti-government slogans.

The PTI-led coalition government on June 11 had presented its first full-fledged budget for upcoming fiscal year in the National Assembly. The new budget would be effective from July 1, 2019 after President Arif Alvi signs it.

The mood of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle kept swinging between happy and angry throughout the day. At some moments they were witnessed cracking jokes, laughing, passing smiles and clapping, while, at the others, they engaged in exchange of heated words, competition of slogans, and trade of slurs and taunts.

The joint opposition, wearing black-ribbons around their arms as a mark of protest, made five failed attempts to defeat the treasury in voting on the cut-motions.

The opposition MNAs count in the house was 143 which proved too weak to challenge the government whose 179 (maximum number of) members were found to be present. The government thus defeated each attempt of opposition with more than 30 votes.

The bigwigs from both sides of the aisle, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, were present in the house when the opposition attempted to show its strength.

Premier Khan remained in the house till the passage of the finance bill. He was seen relaxed, and engaged in chatting with party colleagues wearing a smile on his face.

Hammad’s speech

Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar, in his windup speech, said that the incumbent government had given $9.5 billion as payment of previous loans, which was never done by any government in the past. He also rejected the opposition parties claim that PTI government was taking massive loans.

External debts have increased by $2.7 billion during first year of PTI government whereas foreign loans surged by over $7 billion in last year of PML-N government.

“Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities had risen from Rs6,100 billion to Rs 31,000 billion in June 2018,” the minister said, adding that the government had already shared the debt profile in the house in which all figures were explained.

Hammad Azhar informed that government would increase the tax-to-GDP ratio by four percent in the next three years as it has become imperative to ensure stable national growth. He said that the tax-to-GDP ratio witnessed a growth of only two percent in the last ten years.

The national economy was intentionally paralyzed by previous governments for their vested interests while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has cut down the current account deficit by 30 percent,

 he claimed. The federal government would be bankrupted if tax to GDP is not increased by 4 percent, he held.

“The previous government had imposed Rs5,000 tax on every 0.1 million (one lac ) rupees, we have revised it to Rs2,500,” he told the house.

The minister said that government has not taxed the food commodities in the budget, and clarified that there was no tax increase on flour, ghee and meat.

However, he admitted to increasing the General Sales Tax (GST) on sugar from 11 percent to 17 percent, which would enhance the price by Rs3.5 per kg. He also accepted they have imposed more taxes on imported fruits and vegetables.

The minister said that inflation had enhanced by 24.5 percent in first nine months of PPP government and 11 percent in PML-N’s period, but it increased by only 9 percent in first nine months of PTI.

 Speeches from Opp

Earlier, the opposition despite ban on a word for the prime minister continued to use it in the house. They also protested Speaker Asad Qaiser’s directives against the use of the word for the prime minister.

The opposition members also asked the chair not to move amendments ‘taken as read’, saying that he should follow the proper process. The chair defended its action by quoting rules and procedures.

“All the budgetary proposals and documents are on table.... In this way, will you [the chair] give ruling to adopt [the whole] finance bill taken-as-read,” argued PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

PPP MNA Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, speaking on a cut-motion, said the government, only in ten months, has drastically increased the prices of cooking oil, ghee and other commodities. About the formation of the commission, he said the government should start accountability from its own home.

PML-N senior MNA Rana Tanvir Hussain termed the budget as ‘bogus document’. He criticized the government for imposing tax through FBR on barber shop and others.

PPP MNA Nafeesa Shah said that it was a ‘fixed’ budget of IMF. “Also, the house is incomplete as production orders of two MNAs from North Waziristan has not been issued,” she said.

PPP lawmaker Abdul Qadir Patel asked for tax exemption for teachers and researchers. Another opposition member, Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh said tax should be reduced for cottage industry.

PPP MNA Shazia Marri was interested in concessions for Thar coal, as decided in a meeting of Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) in 2010. She said, “The Thar coal electricity projects should be exempted from taxes,” she demanded.

 Budget features

The total volume of the budget is Rs7.036 trillion for the upcoming fiscal year, which is 30 percent higher than the budget of the outgoing year.

The government had proposed taxation measures worth Rs512 billion. In current expenditures, Rs2.89 trillion have been allocated for interest payment, Rs421 billion for pension, Rs1.15 trillion for defence, Rs271.5 billion for paying subsidies, Rs431.2 for running civil government, Rs831.2 billion for grants and transfers and Rs79 billion for provision of pay and pension.

The federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) would consume Rs701 billion. In revenues, the tax collection target for Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is Rs5.555 trillion.

The government has announced 10 percent increase in salaries for government employees from grade 1 to 16, including armed forces employees. It has increased 5 percent ad hoc relief for government employees from grade 17 to 20.

Pensions have been increased by 10 percent. The minimum wage for labourers has been set at Rs17,500 per month.

However, there would be no increase for grade 21 and 22 officers, while the federal cabinet has also decided a 10 percent voluntary cut in their salaries.