Senators launch blistering attack on ‘mini-budget’

ISLAMABADRejecting the Finance Supplementary Bill 2019, or what is known as the government’s mini-budget, opposition parties in Senate continued to protest against the absence of ministers. The mini budget was discussed at the start of the senate session, and it prompted members of the opposition to stage a walk-out.Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani headed the session in which all seats of ministers were empty, with Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Raza Rabbani and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Javed Abbasi among others registering their protest against the lack of attendance.Senator Rabbani, while pointing to the vacant seats of the ministers, said it was surprising that the finance minister had suddenly been taken ill as if there was a suspicious virus in the air. Upon this, the Senate chair inquired about their whereabouts, to which Leader of the House Shibli Faraz responded that they will arrive soon.In their discussion, opposition members rejected the mini budget, terming it as against the interests of the people and the country. In their remarks, senators Usman Kakar, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Abdul Qayyum, Imamuddin Shouqeen and others said that the mini budget has given way to a new wave of inflation.The government had committed to the construction of five million homes but no loan is being provided for their construction, they said, and added that slums belonging to the poor were being demolished, while a controversial property like the Grand Hyatt Hotel was regularised.The senators also lamented the increase in price of everyday products and transport fares. “The country’s debt is rising due to devaluation of the rupee while the government is making deals with foreign countries in return for more loans. The state should ensure equitable distribution of wealth and social justice,” they remarked.On the other hand, Federal Planning Minister Khusro Bakhtriar told the upper house that the development of Balochistan was amongst the priorities of the government.He said that unapproved projects for financing had been dropped from the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), with development fund under it slashed from Rs800 billion to Rs675 billion.According to Bakhtiar, the former government had reserved Rs200 billion for Balochistan but allocation remained at Rs55 billion. He added that the ministries have been directed to forward the plan for priority developmental projects for the next budget. The government’s development priority is set at southern KPK, South Punjab and rural Sindh along with Balochistan.Senator Rabbani, meanwhile, directed the attention of the house towards the grant of permission to four Jews to travel to Israel. He said that the foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat had allowed a Pakistani Jew to travel to Israel while the country’s passport clearly stated that it would be used for all countries except Israel. He demanded why the permission was granted and remarked that if the country was looking to improve relations with Israel, then the house should be taken into confidence.The chairman of the senate sought an explanation on the matter from the foreign ministry, and adjourned the session till Friday [today].Protest in NA over Saeed’s speechA federal minister’s scathing criticism of the top leaders of the main opposition parties prompted a loud protest in the National Assembly which subsided only after the chair ordered to turn off mike of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s key cabinet member.Taking the floor on Thursday, Federal Minister for Communication Murad Saeed began his speech by lashing out at the opposition for using the term ‘selected prime minister’ for Imran Khan.“A selected person is one who became first a finance minister and later a prime minister after formation of the IJI [Islami Jamhoori Ittihad in 1990],” the minister said in an apparent reference to the former PM Nawaz Sharif who is also supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).Saeed said an elected prime minister addresses Pakistanis when he visits a foreign country while a ‘selected prime minister’ returns from abroad with a ‘Qatari letter’.  He said the opposition has nothing to comment on the mini-budget so its leader use the word ‘selected’ for an elected prime minister.“Their [PML-N] leader is serving time at Kot Lakhpat jail after he was found guilty in a corruption case. [PML-N President] Shehbaz Sharif and [Punjab former law minister] Rana Sanaullah are responsible for 2014 Model Town incident,” he added.Coming down hard also on the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Saeed said the PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari used to claim that he would ‘teach us politics’. He should rather teach politics to [the PPP Chairman] Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, he said.He claimed that during the reign of Nawaz Sharif, the country was asked to ‘do more’ but in the era of Imran Khan, the US President Donald Trump has asked for Pakistan’s help.“It was only a coincidence that Bilawal became the PPP chairman. On the other side, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said he fears that Pakistan is going to collapse.” “Your corruption has been established; we are trying to fix the country you plundered. You are talking of breaking the country into pieces. Your politics will end but Pakistan will continue to exist,” he added.These comments infuriated the opposition benches which started shouting slogans against the PTI government and the minister. The opposition lawmaker later gathered around the speaker’s dice. Some members even tore copies of the agenda and threw their piece up in air.The treasury benches also started shouting counter slogans.Taking the floor, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) lawmaker Aliya Kamran remarked that decorum of the house was deliberately bulldosed. “Murad Saeed is an extremely rude person who does not know how to behave and talk decently. How can proceedings continue when mike is given to Murad Saeed,” she said. Later, the chair muted Saeed’s mike and the proceedings resumed.During the session, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) minority MNA Ramesh Kumar presented a bill proposing a ban on alcohol. The government did not object to the bill after which it was forwarded to the concerned ministry.Expressing his thoughts on the bill, Kumar said the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2019 was actually a bill for amending Article 37 of the Constitution which allowed non-Muslims to run alcohol busines.However, in order to transform the country into the state of Medina, there is a need to place a complete ban on the forbidden beverage. The bill should be approved soon,” he said.The JUI-F’s Abdul Wasay welcomed the proposal and expressed full support for the bill but the PPP’s Naveed Qamar opposed it saying that in the past the proposal had been turned down by review committees as many as four times.Second mini-budget: Tax cuts, incentives to boost growthAbdul Akbar Chitrali while presenting Amendment Bill 2019 for the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) quipped that the issue of identity card has become something as complicated as the Kashmir dispute.“The PTI claims to model the state after the state of Medina. But does the state of Medina subject its people to cruelty? Does the state of Medina create bottlenecks in the ordinary affairs of the people?” Both of the bills were later sent to their respective standing committees. The session was also adjourned till 10 am today (Friday).

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