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First parliamentary year completes today

Top Story

August 17, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The principal legislative work done by the National Assembly during its first parliamentary year was approval of an annual and two supplementary budgets, while no other substantive lawmaking was done to implement the reforms agenda of the government.

The government completes his first year on Saturday (today). The annual federal budget for the current fiscal year was passed by theNational Assembly on June 28, while the supplementary budgets, which made amendments to the previous document, were approved on Oct 3, 2018 and March 6, 2019.

The lower house of the parliament unanimously cleared a constitutional amendment, raising the number of seats of the tribal areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly after their merger with the KP, and seeking extension of six months in holding provincial election of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

As this amendment remained stuck in the Senate, it became redundant because of holding of polls in the tribal areas for the previous number of KP assembly seats with a bit changed poll schedule. The amendment had been sponsored as the private member’s bill by Mohsin Dawar of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, which earned an across-the-board consensus.

Similarly, a bill passed by the National Assembly to increase the number of judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) also became superfluous as the Senate refused to clear it. It had been introduced as desired by the then chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Two existing laws relating to prohibition of smoking in cinema houses and smoking by juvenile were repealed. Two amendments were made to the Elections Act, one pertaining to the increase of number of benches of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The parliament – the Senate and the National Assembly – failed to do any substantial legislation because of the prevailing confrontation between the opposition parties and ruling alliance. It passed only two amendments to the Elections Act, earlier cleared by the National Assembly.

The government did introduce different bills in the National Assembly. Some of them were related to establishment of the University of Islamabad, Muslim Family Law, Letters of Administration & Succession Certificates, Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights; Whistleblower Protection & Vigilance Commission, Legal Aid and Justice, Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery, Foreign Exchange Regulations, anti-money laundering, Heavy Industries Taxila and rights of persons with disability. But none of them was passed.

On the other hand, a whopping number of bills (49) were tabled by the private members in the National Assembly. But none was approved. No such piece of legislation can be passed without the support of the ruling side.

The obvious primary reason behind lack of any significant legislation by the National Assembly during the first parliamentary year of the incumbent government was the conflict between the treasury and opposition benches. No credible initiative was taken to bridge the widening gap. For most of the time, the National Assembly kept resounding with angry speeches, shouting matches between the two sides and blame-game. The government unveiled an ambitious reforms agenda, but it was not backed up with the required legislation.

Rana Ghulam Qadir adds: Prime Minister Imran Khan, who took oath of his office on August 18, 2018, had to face various challenges throughout his first parliamentary year. He definitely took forward the accountability process during this period, but his government had to face strained relations with almost all opposition parties. The reason was obvious: main opposition leaders including former premiers Nawaz Sharif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former president Asif Ali Zardari, opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, former railways minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq, PML-N main leader Maryam Nawaz, former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, speaker Sindh Assembly Agha Siraj Durrani, Asif Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, important bureaucrats Fawad Hasan Fawad and Ahad Cheema, and many others were arrested or detained on corruption charges.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government is also facing various challenges on economic front. The biggest issue confronting the government is sky-rocketing inflation, which has reached 10.3%, the highest in the last six years. Overall foreign investment has drastically been reduced by 94.2%, and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had to face a shortfall of Rs318 billion in revenue collection. The State Bank of Pakistan increased the interest rate from 7.5% to 13.25%, which increased the cost of doing business in the country.

Foreign reserves went down and foreign loans went up by Rs7.5 trillion. A large-scale increase in tariffs of power and gas was carried out during the first parliamentary year of the PTI government, and Pak rupee was depreciated by 29% against dollar. However, the PTI government saved money through simplicity. Prime Minister Imran Khan also set a good example by holding cabinet meeting almost every weak. Thousands of posts are lying vacant in government departments due to slow process of recruitment. The PTI government managed cut in the current account deficit through decrease in imports. Foreign remittances went up, and power sector line losses and electricity theft were controlled to a large extent. At least 120,000 new filers were brought into the tax net through tax amnesty scheme. The federal coalition government has also launched the biggest-ever agriculture programme in the country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had also sought details of successes achieved by all ministries during the past one year to inform people of his government’s performance in his address to the nation. However, due to the Kashmir crisis, erupting in the start of this month, the PTI government might not be able to celebrate completion of its one year in power as planned.