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Opposition says to block passage of budget

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) President Shahbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Friday said the opposition would work together and give a tough time to the government.

Speaking to the media alongside Shahbaz after the parliament's budget session, Shahbaz vowed to not let the budget sail through the National Assembly. Shahbaz said the opposition would join hands and expose the government’s "fudged" figures.

"When poor people are dying of hunger and unemployment and inflation are skyrocketing, how can they claim that the country is witnessing economic growth?" the opposition leader asked.

Responding to a question, Shahbaz said the opposition parties would devise a joint strategy for the no-confidence motion that was moved against the National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri a day earlier.

Meanwhile, addressing a meeting of the parliamentary party in Lahore, Shehbaz said the people were caught between economic strife, inflation, unemployment and the worst load-shedding amid scorching heat.

He said the government guilty of mass mismanagement of electricity had shamelessly kept the schools open while children were fainting from heat and power outages. He said the government was totally indifferent to the misery of the people adding that there seemed to be no government in Pakistan.

Shehbaz said the latest economic survey was a charge sheet against this government. “The data is depressing and alarming. 13% food inflation, increasing debt and tax collection shortfall are the biggest crimes of the government. It is still beginning for loans despite historic increase in everything including the power tariff. The survey has exposed the ugly face of the 3 years of PTI government. People didn’t get anything other than abject poverty, starvation and unemployment,” he said.

He said the PTI’s tall claims had fallen flat on their face and the truth of their shallow-mindedness had exposed. He said the people of Pakistan had realised that they had been brutally defrauded.

“After destruction of economy for 3 years, the PTI is now claiming that it was settling foot in the right direction. How will this government reach its destination as it couldn’t even figure out the right direction in 3 years,” he lambasted.

Shehbaz said the government had wasted three precious years of the country and PMLN would not allow it to waste any more time. He directed all party members to play their role in exposing and blocking the anti-people budget.

He pledged that the opposition will unite to do everything to stop this budget from passing. Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Friday said the government had lied to the people and did not honour the promises and agreement made with its employees.

“The government claims that the economy is taking off and we are making progress on the economic front, but why the salaries of government employees have not been increased,” he remarked while joining the government employees protesting outside the Parliament House.

He met the representative of government employees and assured them of his support and said he will raise their demands in the Parliament as well. “The PTI government tells lies and does injustices to the poor people. Inflation has increased manifolds, while poverty and unemployment have reached an unprecedented high level during the last three years,” he said.

“If this PTIMF budget is passed in the assembly then I will go to every nook and corner of the country to tell the people that they are suffering due to incapacity and inability of this government. We will do everything in our capacity to stop this PTIMF budget in the National Assembly,” he said.

The poor man is bearing the burden of this PTIMF budget, he added. He said the PPP government had increased salaries up to 120 percent and pensions up to 100 percent during its tenure 2008-13.

He said the government had the responsibility to increase salaries in proportion to inflation adding that the PPP and opposition will no more tolerate injustices to the people anymore. Bilawal said he had directed the Sindh government to set the least wages at Rs25,000.

PMLN leader Ahsan Iqbal slammed the government’s proposal to increase the income of salaried individuals by 10 percent and called the move the “worst joke”. “10% increase in the salaries after record inflation is the worst joke made by the government with them,” tweeted Ahsan Iqbal.

He said the move was like “rubbing salt into their wounds. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry Friday said the opposition was on a mission to defame politicians, as without listening to the budget they had pre-planned to agitate in the National Assembly.

“They have not listened to the budget speech; they do not know the budget and are protesting. If they had listened to the budget speech, there would have been no need for protest. But they had already made up their mind to make noise,” he said in a statement.

The minister maintained that the PML-N and PPP will continue to protest in the same manner for the next five years. However, he insisted that this culture should change. He said the opposition should come, go through the budget, and give their suggestions on what they want.

Fawad said unfortunately the only demand of the opposition was that their cases be closed. He contended that the cases against the opposition leaders were not their personal ones that the government should forgive, as they’d looted the money of the people of Pakistan.

“Yes, if you return the money, the cases will be closed. There are 49 amendments on electoral reforms. Those who have reservations should come and talk about them,” he said referring to the proposed electoral reforms.

The minister explained that Rs900 billion had been set aside in the PSDP this year and hence 27% more share will go to the provinces. Now, it is the job of the provinces to create development budgets and to spend the money on public welfare, he added.

Fawad said other institutions, including the PIA and Railways, have been made functional. “When we came in government in 2018, the deficit of Utility Stores Corporation was billions of rupees. This year, they have come into operational profit. The situation of PIA was bad but now the situation has improved and its operating profit has also increased,” he pointed out.

The minister said the country’s institutions were moving towards improvement and noted that the salaries of government employees had been increased in the budget and no new tax had been imposed.

He contended that Prime Minister Imran Khan had taken the country out of economic quagmire, given a new hope to the debt-ridden nation and embarked on a historic journey of economic and administrative reforms.

He said it was claimed that remittances would reduce owing to the COVID but the positive policies of Prime Minister Imran Khan increased remittances instead.

Meanwhile, amid loud protest of the opposition legislators, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin laid in the Senate a copy of the finance bill. The sitting of the opening day of the budget session lasted for a few minutes. The opposition senators briefly protested against the proposed budget, rejected it and then walked out of the House.

Independent Senator from Gwadar Kauda Babar, who supports the PTI-led government, agitated over Balochistan and Gwadar being overlooked in the budget and insisted that there was a dire need to establish a university in Gwadar.

The chair tried to silence him but he continued speaking at the top of his voice during the laying of the finance bill’s copy.

After laying a copy of the finance bill, Tarin moved the Senate that it may make recommendations, if any, to the National Assembly on the Finance Bill, as required under Article 73 of the Constitution.

Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani called on the senators to submit their recommendations and proposals on the money bill by Monday and that the recommendations having no relevance would not be admissible. He also said the recommendations pertaining to the bill would be sent to the House Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue for deliberations and those concerning PSDP would be shared with the House Standing Committee on Planning and Development.

The committee on planning and development, he continued, would send its proposals to the House Committee on Finance for incorporation in its own proposals and then to be presented in the Senate for approval and sending them to the National Assembly for consideration.

The main committee on finance is required to submit its recommendations to the House within ten days. In the meantime, the House will debate the budget. In his ruling on a contention made by Advisor on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan that for seeing a leave to introduce a bill, two-thirds majority must support the motion, the chair said this condition would in a way discourage a lawmaker with reference to his duty of legislation at the very start.

Sanjrani also said that the condition of a two-thirds majority support would also undermine an individual senator or smaller parties in the House. The House will now resume on Monday at 4pm.