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Govt, opposition agree to hold fire

ISLAMABAD: After three days of unprecedented ruckus in the National Assembly, marred by brawls and unparliamentary language, the government and the opposition agreed on ceasefire on Thursday for smooth sailing of the budget session with an agreement on no interference in each other’s speeches.

The two sides decided to form a parliamentary committee to formulate rules of game for smooth proceedings of the house in future. National Assembly (NA) Speaker Asad Qaisar lifted the ban on seven legislators of both side of aisle while the opposition agreed to withdraw the no-confidence motion against the NA deputy speaker. It was also decided that the legislation done by the ruling parties in the absence of the opposition parties would be reviewed.

The deadlock was broken between the government and the opposition in the meeting with NA Speaker Asad Qaisar and was attended by Federal Ministers Pervaiz Khattak, Asad Umar, Ali Muhammad Khan and Special Assistant to Prime Minister Aamir Dogar. From the opposition, Rana Sanaullah Khan, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Shahzia Marri.

After the government and the opposition reached an understanding for smooth sailing of the proceedings of the National Assembly, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry and Minister for Defence Pervaiz Khattak provided details in a conversation with the media outside the Parliament House and said it had been decided that there would be no hooliganism during the session and decent language would be used by members from both sides of the aisle.

Pervaiz Khattak said it had also been decided that a parliamentary committee would be constituted to further empower the speaker and ensure the proceedings of the house were conducted in a harmonious manner.

He said it was their desire that the house should function as per the Constitution. He said the government had presented the best budget and it wanted an open discussion on it. He said the opposition parties had the right to criticise the budgetary proposals whilst the government would highlight its achievements.

Pervaiz Khattak said the talks with the opposition were held in a cordial environment. He said “we want to give a message to the nation that the parliament works for the betterment of the country”.

He said the government would get the budget passedfrom the National Assembly as it had the required numbers. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government asked the opposition to withdraw the no-confidence motion against the deputy speaker and the opposition would talk to its party leaders. “The no-confidence motion was not our problem, as in the Parliamentary Party meeting 186 members expressed their confidence in the speaker,” he said.

He said the party leadership would also ensure there was no pandemonium in the house. He expressed the confidence that the opposition would withdraw the no-confidence motion against the deputy speaker. “We are working to strengthen democracy and ensure rule of law,” he said.

He said the government had already invited the opposition for negotiations on electoral and judicial reforms. Minister Pervaiz Khattak said that what happened in the National Assembly was not good for the country and constitution and he condemned it.

He said the PTI had presented the best budget and the government wanted a debate on it. Referring to the meeting with the opposition, he said, "A proposal has been agreed and no members will use un-parliamentary language or any other un-parliamentary action,” he said.

He said that the agreement reached with the opposition would be announced by the speaker and all that would be done in writing. “The speaker has the power to expel any member and we want the speaker to be empowered so that he can take action, for which we have given suggestions to the opposition.”

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government had invited the opposition for talks on electoral and judicial reforms. He said the passage of the budget was not big issue as “we have required numbers for its passage.

He emphasised that no one should be ridiculed so it was decided that government and opposition members should not ridicule each other in their speeches. He added that there are some issues which get worse due to some people, now it is the responsibility of the party leadership to stop the people of their party from this kind of behaviour.

Meanwhile, talking to the media at the parliament house, Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaisar said maintaining decorum during the proceedings in the House was collective responsibility of both treasury and the opposition benches.

He said that collective efforts were imperative to uphold parliamentary norms in the house and to stop reoccurrence of such incidents. While responding to questions of the media, he remarked that being custodian of the house, he took action against seven members of National Assembly, irrespective of party affiliations.

He said Members of the National Assembly, being public representatives, require upholding moral values as people follow them. He said “the unpleasant incidents during the proceedings of the house warrant us to be careful in our attitude; otherwise, these would set bad traditions for our next generations”.

He also mentioned that he telephonically discussed the situation with Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to normalise the tense environment in the house.

Speaker Asad Qaiser mentioned that substantive number of hours were allocated to opposition benches in the house debate that were more than to hours allocated to treasury benches during the last year proceedings of the house.

Earlier, Leader of the Opposition in the National Shehbaz Sharif Thursday demanded increase in salaries of government employees by 20% and fix minimum wages of workers at Rs25,000. Delivering inaugural speech of the debate on the federal budget after a three disorderly days, Shehbaz also asked the government to withdraw sales tax on crude oil, LNG and infants milk powder. The opposition leader managed to complete his speech on the budget for best part of over two hours in a peaceful atmosphere after the government and the opposition reached an understanding in this regard.

Shehbaz told the house that during the PTI government, joblessness had doubled and the income of the poor had halved, He said inflation and price-hike was written on each page of the budget bill. He stresses unity to steer the country out of crisis, saying he was ready to beg anyone for betterment of the country.

Shehbaz also asked the government to bring down electricity and gas tariffs to the rate of 2018 and reduce prices of fertilizers and pesticides by 50%. At outset of his speech, the opposition leader strongly objected to the passage of over 20 bills in haste in a single day on June 10. He said the legislative business was bulldozed in violation of Constitution and rules.

On that, Speaker Asad Qaisar said that a 12-membet joint parliamentary committee would be formed to review the legislative business. In this connection, he asked the government and the opposition to give names for the committee.

“The opposition has objection that legal formalities had not been fulfilled in the passage of bills on June 10, while the government has the stance that all legal and constitutional obligations were complied with in this regard. So the committee will review all the objections,” he added.

The speaker said the bills, after passage from the NA, had been presented in the Senate and now the same were with the standing committees concerned. “So, the parliamentary committee will consider all the legal aspects accordingly,” he added.

Asad Qaiser said with the committee formation, the opposition would withdraw the no-confidence motion it submitted against Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri as per the agreement, reached between the government and opposition teams in a meeting held here Thursday.

Coming down hard on the PTI government policies, the opposition leader said in the last three years, another 20 million people had been pushed below the poverty line while the income of the poor had come down by 18% due to inflation and price-hike of essential commodities. He said the government was also deceiving people in the name of construction of five million houses. Posh residential schemes are also being counted, he added. Shehbaz said the unemployment rate had also reached 15%, coupled with price-hike. "Seeing performance of the present government, it goes without saying that old Pakistan was better than this new Pakistan," he said.

In the last three years, he said the gulf between federation and federating units had widened. In the last three years, the prices of essential commodities increased by 30%. Instead of paying attention to economic growth, Shehbaz said whole energies had been focused on political opponents in the name of accountability. "There are no two opinions on accountability, but justice should be the benchmark," he observed adding the GDP came down to lowest level since the year 1952.

Regretting attitude of the prime minister in the National Assembly, he said Imran left the house which was summoned on COVID-19 issue, after delivering his speech. He welcomed Chinese support to fight the pandemic, but the government should not have contended with assistance. "What the government did in between the period of two pandemic waves," he said adding there was no dearth of resources but the government was lacking in spirit to deliver. He pointed out that debt on every Pakistani had reached Rs175,000 while future generation was also being mortgaged. "Pakistani rupee had also devalued by 35% in the last three years and as such exports could also not increase," he said. He regretted that the fiscal deficit also increased to Rs10,000 billion in just one year. He pointed out that the government also could not establish any new educational institution, industry or power houses except for unveiling plaques of old projects, initiated by the Nawaz Sharif government.

He observed that instead of establishing Langar Khanas, a government should make the poor stand on their feet. He said first sugar was exported then imported and subsidy was given on it. He said the opposition would strongly opposed passage of federal budget which would result in nothing but further price hike and unemployment. He recalled that the PML-N government not only completed the IMF programme but also increased tax collection. Contrary to claims of the government, he said Rs383 billion new taxes would be imposed in the next fiscal year. The house should be taken into confidence over the IMF programme as to whether the IMF had okayed budget.

The chair of the leader of the house, Shehbaz said, remains empty when there is discussion on budget, price hike, Kashmir and Palestine. He said that Imran Khan talks about governance and merit but he questioned as to how many IG Police and chief secretaries had changed in Punjab in the last less than three years. Shehbaz Sharif questioned as to why the country was facing severe electricity shortage when power generation was in surplus. "Had the PML-N not installed power generation plants, the electricity load-shedding at present should have been 16 and not six hours," he said.

He recalled that the PML-N completed Neelum-Jhelum project and started Diamir Bhasha dam plan. He said officers would not be ready to perform and take initiative if the government would put everybody in jail. He pointed out that prices of pesticides had also increased while those of fertilizers enhanced by 50 to 100 per cent. Similarly, the electricity tariff has also increased to Rs13 per unit.

He also demanded restoration of local bodies in the light of the Supreme Court decision. He advised the fovernment that issues should be resolved through consultation and not by the use of stick.

APP adds: Federal Minister for Planning, Reforms and Special Initiative Asad Umer Thursday said the government provided relief to low-income people and underdeveloped regions for achieving inclusive economic development in Budget 2021-22.

“We are committed to inclusive development to remove discrimination among all four provinces, including the marginalised districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan,” Asad Umer said while addressing the budget session in the National Assembly.

Responding to Shehbaz Sharif criticism, he said the opposition leader should have taken into account his party’s performance during the last five years before criticising the PTI government. He said the PML-N government had corrupted and destroyed every institution in the country during its tenure.

He said instead of pointing fingers at Prime Minister Imran Khan, the opposition leader should bring his absconding brother Nawaz Sharif to the country, as he was his guarantor also.

The minister said that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) granted four major development packages worth Rs1,739 billion for different regions of the country, including Karachi, Sindh and south Balochistan and Gilgit-Balochistan for development and prosperity there.

He said the government had also allocated Rs54 billion for marginalised districts of KP in the budget as compared to Rs24 billion in previous budget.

About the current economic growth figure, he said that for the last 11 months, June to May of current FY2020-221, the country’s export growth was observed at 14 per cent, and remittances increased by 29.4 per cent in the last 11 months.

Asad Umer said that at the revenue side, Rs4164 billion target was achieved by 18 per cent growth in the last 11 months of current FY2021-22, which is expected to reach Rs4800 billion till July 30 of this FY.

He said that in the last 11 months of this FY, growth in Information Technology exports was observed at 46 per cent and 12.8 per cent growth observed in large scale manufacturing (LSM).

The minister said the government was committed to providing relief to the Agriculture sector and facilitating small farmers. He said because of the prudent policies of the current government this year, Rs570 billion growth was observed in total of crops as compared to Rs350 billion in the PML-N regime.

While briefing on the government efforts during COVID-19 pandemic, he said that the government allocated Rs193 billion to acquire coronavirus vaccine from other countries, as already worth Rs46 billion vaccines had been provided to people.

He said that during the pandemic, the government granted Rs50 billion to Punjab, Rs25.4 billion to Sindh, Rs15.5 billion to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Rs11.9 billion to Balochistan province.

He said that through ‘Ehsaas programme’, the government provided Rs200 billion to 9 million families in the country. He said that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) lowered the interest rate first ever in the economic history of the country and also granted Rs330 billion in loans through banks during the pandemic.

While announcing the plans to provide special relief to the people in the coming year, Budget 2021-22, he said the government had decided to provide Rs0.5 million interest free loan to every citizen in the country. He said that Rs150,000 would also be provided to farmers for each season of the crops and a collective amount of Rs300,000 for whole years in the coming budget.

Asad Umer said that the government had also granted Rs200,000 interest-free loan to farmers to acquire modern machinery.

The minister said Rs2 million interest-free loans are also being provided to the low-income people for constructing new houses, adding that the health card was also a landmark achievement of the government.

He said the government had also decided to offer free skills and training programmes to one person from each family. In this regard, 140 skills development and 40 agriculture institutes would be established in different regions of the country.

He said, “We have increased the educational budget for the coming year from Rs18 billion to Rs42 billion and increased the environmental budget up to 16 per cent in PSDP 2021-22."