The government and its allies on Thursday bulldozed Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 and SBP Amendment Bill 2021 through the National Assembly to ensure its sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF) gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board, paving the way for the disbursement of about $1 billion tranche
Last month, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin introduced two bills in parliament to give effect to the Rs375 billion mini-budget and grant autonomy to the central bank.
The lower house of parliament resumed its session Thursday afternoon with Speaker Asad Qaisar in the chair.
Responding to the opposition’s queries, the finance minister said the finance bill was not aimed at imposing new taxes but documentation of the economy to broaden the tax net.
Train said that the government has decided not to withdraw tax exemptions on basic essential items such as milk, bread, laptop and solar panels.
Meanwhile, a motion to circulate the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021 for the purpose of eliciting opinion on it from the lawmakers belonging to the opposition had been rejected with a majority vote.
On the demand of the opposition, voting was ordered by the NA speaker on the motion. A total of 150 lawmakers voted in favour of the motion, while 168 opposed it.
Prior to the commencement of the crucial NA session, Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived at parliament and held a meeting of the parliamentary groups of parties included in the ruling alliance led by the PTI to supercharge the efforts to counter the opposition’s resistance and steer the bill into law.
Reportedly, there was a heated exchange between Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Energy Minister Hammad Azhar over the lack of natural gas supply to K-P.
Khattak expressed his displeasure over the current situation and reportedly later left the meeting. He, however, later came back to the meeting and said he had stepped outside to "smoke a cigarette".
The opposition is also holding a protest outside parliament, led by Opposition Leader in NA and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif.
Addressing party supporters, he said the opposition has "rejected the mini-budget" as it would further burden the common man under a slew of new taxes and would increase inflationary pressure.
On the other hand, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the mini-budget will bring stability to the country's economy.
‘Not men of word’
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari fired a broadside at the PTI-led government, saying that PM Imran and Finance Minister Tarin “are not men of their words”.
Bilawal said before becoming the finance minister, Tarin had termed the IMF deal adverse for the country and pledged to renegotiate. “He is not a man of his word.”
The PPP leader said no prime minister in the past had ever made tall claims like PM Imran that “he would commit suicide instead of going to the IMF”.
PML-N’s Rana Tanveer Hussain said the PTI-led government’s claims of economic growth are misleading and instead of fixing the fundamentals of economy, it is finding an easy way to boost tax revenues.
Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi questioned the claims of the finance minister that the finance bill will not put the burden on the masses, saying “then why the mini-budget is being introduced”.
He also asked the minister to assure the house that the finance bill will not trigger a new wave of inflation and prices of medicines will not go up.
Tarin said there is nothing wrong in the SBP amendment bill as the authority of appointing the SBP governor and its board members would rest with the government.
He said the government wanted to give autonomy to the central bank in line with the vision of ruling PTI which he said is good for the country’s economy.
Planning Minister Asad Umar said for the last two-and-a-half years, the government had not taken any loan from the central Bank, “therefore, the passage of SBP bill, 2021 will not have any negative impact on the country”.
Opposition members staged protest against the passing of the SBP bill, terming it against the country’s interest.
“With the passage of the SBP bill, your [NA speaker] name will be among those who are putting the country's sovereignty at stake,” PML-N lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal said.
“I beg you [NA speaker] not to allow this bill to be passed, we will not let the SBP sovereignty be compromised,” he added.
(With additional input from APP)
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