Punjab Assembly: Panama Papers row affects pre-budget debate

Opposition’s request to move out-of-turn adjournment motion denied

Aroosa Shaukat April 07, 2016
Punjab Assembly. PHOTO: APP


Opposition members in the Provincial Assembly on Thursday continued their protest over what they called revelations about the prime minister in Panama Papers Leak.

For the second day in a row the Opposition protested in the Assembly over allegations of offshore wealth. Members of the four-party joint opposition displayed red banners bearing anti-government slogans in a protest before the speaker’s podium.

The protest had started when the Opposition’s request to move an out-of-turn adjournment motion was denied.

It spilled into the pre-budget debate, preventing some lawmakers from making their speeches despite several calls by Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal to maintain order in the House.

When the Chair turned down Leader of Opposition Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed’s request to take up his adjournment motion on Panama Papers Leaks, members from the Opposition benches started chanting ‘Go Nawaz Go’.

When chair ruled the floor open for pre-budget debate, Opposition members took out banners bearing anti-government slogans. This stirred unrest in the Treasury benches. The display of banners also irked the Chair. The speaker said it a violation of the sanctity of the House. The leader of the opposition and MPAs Saadia Sohail and Shoaib Siddiqi sat in protest before the speaker’s dice.

The chaos in the House led the chair to rule Opposition lawmakers be searched before they entered the assembly premises. The speaker also asked the assembly staff to remove the banners.

Meanwhile, the Opposition continued to protest but did not resist confiscation of their banners.

Allegations of corruption in TEVTA and the Higher Education Department were raised during a point of order and an adjournment motion by Opposition benches.

Minister for Industries Chaudhry Muhammad Shafique said an inquiry into corruption in TEVTA had been initiated and a report would be presented before the House soon.

The pre-budget debate was marred by slogan chanting that rendered most of the speeches by the treasury lawmakers inaudible.

Waris Kallu demanded funding for the Greater Thal Canal project and sought budgetary allocations to reduce income disparities within the province. Agriculture soon became the focus of the debate as a number of lawmakers criticised the government over inefficient policies. Several legislators called for giving agriculture the status of an industry and providing farmers the same privileges as industrialists under income tax.

The Punjab Education Foundation also came under attack by some lawmakers. They said the project should be revisited and the ban on establishment of new primary government schools across the province should be lifted.

Rural road networks, promotion of local handicrafts, vocational training and funding for local bodies were suggested during the debate. Professional (service) taxes on khateebs and naat-khuwaan, doctors and lawyers were also proposed.

Finance Minister Ayesha Ghaus was again taken to task by lawmakers who said the department had ignored their suggestions last year.

A fiery speech was made by treasury lawmaker Shoukat Ali Laleka when he spoke of the disparities in his hometown Bahawalnagar.

He called for setting up water treatment plants in Bahawalnagar and Cholistan and challenged the finance minister to consume the water currently available in those areas. Laleka also criticised the government’s healthcare programme, saying doctors were not being incentivised to work in rural areas.

Treasury lawmaker Zulfiqar Ghauri said none of the schemes in the budget allocated for minorities last year had been initiated. The session will continue on Friday (today).

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th,  2016.


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