The government has dropped a plan announced last year to present the budget to a National Assembly panel for scrutiny before seeking approval from the parliament, suggesting that parliamentarians will continue to get a limited role in the process.
Finance Ministry sources told The Express Tribune that the government will, as in previous years, table the budget directly in the National Assembly rather than place it before the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue in May.
The sources said the government had to shelve the proposal because it lacked a simple majority in the Standing Committee on Finance, the second time this has come to haunt the treasury. The Reformed General Sales Tax bill also got stuck in the parliamentary committee.
The government is now planning to present the budget in the first week of June, giving the parliamentarians barely 20 days to debate the budget, a voluminous document that requires much time to read and comprehend.
“We are working on the budget calendar and will try to table the budget in the last week of May but nothing can be said with certainty,” Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said.
Last year there was much criticism from parliamentarians and the media of the fact that elected representatives are largely kept out of the budget-making process. The government announced it would table the budget in the standing committee, but that plan appears to have floundered.
The 17-member committee includes five members each from the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, three from the PML-Quaid, and one each from the ANP, MQM, JUI and Fata.
The PML-N has one member more than its share, which is determined by each party’s representation in the National Assembly. This extra representation was granted by the PPP when the two parties had a better relationship. The sources said the finance minister felt the PML-N’s extra representation had become a cause of concern for the PPP.
The parliament’s role in budget-making is limited to saying “aye” or “nay” during the budget voting exercise, as is evident from the billions of rupees in supplementary grants that the government spends without parliament’s approval each year.
In the last fiscal year, the federal government spent Rs370 billion above the budget approved by parliament. The extra spending was later approved by the NA.
The sources said another reason for dropping the proposal was to avoid discussion in the media about controversial tax proposals. The government is still committed to introducing Reformed General Sales Tax through the Finance Bill 2011, but does not have support in the standing committee due to MQM opposition.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2011.
More in PakistanAdministrative affairs: ICT to be run by separate division