ISLAMABAD - The Senate in its proceedings on Monday with Mian Raza Rabbani in the chair began debate on the budget.  The proceedings resumed after the suspension of more than 30 minutes over the absence of Finance Ministry officials in the gallery.

The chair suspended the house after members pointed out that the house is about to begin debate on the Finance Bill 2017-2018 and there is no official from the Ministry of Finance present. Rabbani and opposition members expressed concerns over the absence, saying the government was not taking the upper house seriously.

Responding to the concerns, Law Minster Zahid Hamid rejected the impression that the government was not taking the house seriously.

He said that they valued the recommendations of the house and in the last budget many of the recommendations of the house on the budget were accepted. Later, the chair temporarily adjourned the proceedings.

However, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the meantime entered the house and so did a team of officials headed by a joint secretary reached the galley.

Dar, while speaking in the house, assured that good recommendations of the house on the next budget will be fully accommodated.

He reminded that more than 80 recommendations of the house were accommodated last year. Dar also assured that the finance ministry's teams led by joint secretaries would sit in the galleries and take the notes of recommendations.

He urged the provincial governments to show open heartedness for making space from the gross divisible pool for the development of Azad Kashmir, GB and Fata.

Dar said that a meeting would be held with the provincial chief ministers after the passage of the budget on the matter.

He said that revenue collection had increased significantly over the last few years and share from the divisible pool for tribal areas, AJK and GB would not affect the allocations for the federating units. Later, the house began discussion on the Finance Bill 2017-2018.

Initiating the debate, Saleem Saleem Mandviwalla congratulated the finance minister for presenting the fifth consecutive budget. He, however, said that the budget carried nothing for the common persons.

He described 10 per cent increase in salaries and pensions as meagre saying it has become difficult for the people to make both ends meet.  He said his party, in the shadow budget, had proposed 25 per cent increase in salaries and pensions.

Mandviwalla said that the government would have to give serious consideration to uplift of the export sector.

He pointed out that the exports had declined to $20 billion from $25 billion over the last four years, while those of Bangladesh and Vietnam doubled during this period. Chaudhry Tanvir described the budget for the next fiscal year as positive.

He said that the present government had put the country on the path of sustainable development.

Tanvir said that world financial institutions were now appreciating the gains made by the country over the last four years.  He proposed that the parliamentarians should be involved in the budget-making process.

Making a policy statement in the house on development expenditures, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said that infrastructure, energy and human resource development had been given priority in the new PSDP, which amounted to historic Rs1 trillion.

He said that Rs411 billion had been allocated for infrastructure and Rs404 billion for the energy sector.

Iqbal said that in the past those two sectors were ignored, which hampered the economic growth of the country.

He said that investment in those sectors would help remove bottlenecks in the way of growth.

The minister said that the government had also enhanced the budget of the Higher Education Commission to Rs35.5 billion, which was Rs12 billion in 2012-2013.

He said that massive investment was being made in the higher education in order to equip the youth with necessary skills. Iqbal said that university campuses would be established in all the districts in the next two years.

“We have also started a new program titled US-Pakistan knowledge corridor under which 10,000 youth will be sent to the US in the next 10 years to acquire doctorate degrees in different disciplines,” he said, and added those PhDs would serve as a big asset for the country on their return.

Iqbal said that a programme had also been started under which 100,000 youth would be imparted software training.

He said that priority was also being given to address climate change and steps were being taken to revolutionise the weather-forecasting system.

Iqbal said that Rs180 billion had been allocated for the completion of different projects under the CPEC. He said that Rs38 billion had been set aside for the completion of the western route of the CPEC.

This project will be completed by next year.

Giving the breakdown of the projects being executed in different provinces, the minister said that the federal government was sponsoring Metro bus project in Karachi at the cost of Rs24 billion.

He said that Rs9 billion had also been allocated for a water supply scheme in Karachi.

Iqbal said the government believed in equal development of all the areas and for this purpose it was investing heavily on the development of backward areas.

He said that the AJK development grant had been enhanced to Rs22 billion from Rs12 billion and GB's to Rs15 billion from Rs10 billion. Iqbal said that Rs90 billion were being spent on the reconstruction of the tribal areas. Nouman Wazir Ali said that loss-making institutions should be privatised.

He said that the Planning Commission should play a lead role in the development of backward areas and reduction of poverty.

Ali said that the Nadra could play an important role in enhancing the tax ratio.

Sajjad Hussain Turi said that adequate funds should be earmarked for the development of tribal areas in order to bring them at par with the developed areas of the country.

He said the tribal areas should be given share in the NFC. Azam Khan Swati said that reforms should be introduced in the FBR to enhance revenue collection.

He said that a major portion of the PSDP should be spent on exploiting the hydel potential of the country in order to produce cheap electricity. Earlier, Standing Committee on National Health Services Chairman Turi presented before the house report of the Committee on Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (Amendment) bill 2017. The house was adjourned to meet today (Tuesday) to continue discussion on the budget.

Worried by wife’s call, MQM MP fails to speak

Leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement,  Senator Mian Attique Sheikh failed to speak on budget after he was interrupted by a telephone call by his wife.

Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani during the session invited Attique for speech but he avoided coming forward.  When the chairman recalled his name, he told Rabbani that he just had received call from his wife and he was too upset to speak over the budget.