ISLAMABAD: Parliamentarians, much to their dismay, got their first official look at the government's budget strategy for FY2014-15 on Tuesday during an in-camera meeting presided by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
Dar presented the government's budget strategy paper to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate Standing committees on finance and revenue.
In its first ever briefing to any parliamentary panel on the budget for FY2014-15, the finance minister faced a barrage of questions from members of the committees, who specifically took exception to the government's decision to ignore Parliament in the budget-making process.
"The whole exercise was eyewash as the government did not share tax proposals with the representatives of the people," said a member of a standing committee after the meeting.
The briefing was arranged weeks before the government is set to present the budget in Parliament on June 3, providing virtually no room for any meaningful discussion.
“What was presented to us in an in-camera session is already known to us through newspapers, defeating the purpose of calling an in-camera meeting,” said former finance minister Saleem Mandviwalla and MNA Dr Nafessa Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
"The government’s Rs2.810 trillion tax target for next year is ambitious and its budget strategy paper is more of a wish-list than anything," said Mandviwalla.
Syed Naveed Qamar of PPP, who also served as Minister of Finance, Water and Power and Petroleum, said the government had already agreed on a budget deficit target of 4.8% of GDP with the International Monetary Fund and the rest is simply “number crunching".
Qamar said members of standing committee were disappointed that they weren't consulted during the budget-making process.
“What the government presented to us is a very small step towards taking Parliament into confidence,” he said.
Parliamentarians also criticised the government's strategy to curtail inflation and create employment.
"Inflation will likely increase due to the new budget while there is also a question mark on the government’s strategy to reduce unemployment," said Senator Talha Mahmood of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
The JUI-F is an ally of the ruling party, though both have differences over distribution of ministerial berths. Senator Talha said FBR's Rs2.810 trillion tax target is unlikely to be achieved.
Meanwhile, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, chief of Qaumi Watan Party, simply termed the in-camera meeting as sketchy.