ISLAMABAD: Senate on Thursday concluded debate on next year’s budget with demand to give the Upper House of Parliament say in budget which is domain of National Assembly only.
When the incumbent government presented the sixth budget in its five year term, major opposition parties vowed to resist it. However, these statements remained nothing more than political point scoring.
Contrary to the budget speech of finance minister Miftah Ismail, who was given the portfolio of a minister using special provisions of constitution the same day, which was marred by strong protest of the opposition, Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal was given smooth sailing in his winding up speech.
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The state minister said that budget 2018-19 is the best budget his government could give to the country. He also said that after the 18th amendment, additional Rs2.5 trillion have gone to provinces, which reflects they had no shortage of resources.
He also said that provinces have no shortage of resources but they have to build capacity to utilise the allocated money. He gave example of Punjab and said other federating units must seek help from the province.
Afzal defended government's recent tax amnesty scheme by saying that the move might benefit some black sheep to whiten the black money, but would ultimately benefit the country.
Moreover, the state minister added that those who have been resisting construction of Kalabagh Dam should review their stance now, taking into account the looming water crisis in the country.
Interestingly, the minister endorsed stance of former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani on defence budget. He said he agrees that 26% of the total budget goes to defence, which he said was a big chunk in addition to the pensions of retired military officers, which are also paid out of civilian budget allocations.
He also admitted that his party’s government failed to improve the declining exports of the country during the five years.
“Had we been able to boost our trade with India, Afghanistan, Iran and central Asian countries, it would have had boosted our economy”, Rana added.
Another major issue, which the minister said should also be resolved through consensus by all the parties is circular debt, which has again piled up to a precarious level of billions of rupees despite settling the previous overdue bills of both the public and private power producers and their fuel suppliers for the pre-March 2013 period.
Earlier speaking on floor of the house, Opposition Leader Senator Sherry Rehman called for changes to strengthen the foundation of the Senate.
Rehman said, “The Senate of Pakistan must have powers to vote for the National Assembly's Money Bill and not only give recommendations. The Money Bill is the Parliament's most important piece of legislation. It is Pakistan’s road map for the year. Given that the Senate represents the crucial balance of powers between the provinces and federation the Upper House must be allowed to vote on it in the larger interests of the country”.
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“Last year, we unanimously passed a Resolution in the Senate which says that this House recommends the government make necessary amendments in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973, to empower the Senate of Pakistan to block the Money Bill, including the Finance Bill. The Senate of Pakistan has called for these changes in the past as well, but nothing was achieved”, Rehman continued.
Making her case, Rehman cited examples of how other countries have strengthened their federations. “The Senate in Thailand rejected controversial amnesty and finance bills on numerous occasions. Moreover, the United States Senate, Senators have the exclusive powers to conduct impeachment trials of Presidents and other high ranking officials as juries and judge. They have tried 17 federal officials including two presidents”.
“This is not about politics; this is about the importance of strengthening the Senate of Pakistan which is extremely important for our people. We need the Parliament to become a house of public service for the people and we need to make an action plan with all stakeholders in the Senate”, concluded the opposition leader.