The Senate on Thursday approved recommendations to make 92 changes in the federal budget for fiscal year 2016, including asking the government to allocate Rs100 billion for the Western route of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“We strongly feel that an allocation of Rs100 billion should be given to the Western route and it should be done on priority basis,” said Senator Saleem Mandviwala, while presenting the Senate Finance Committee’s proposals for changes to the 2015 Finance Bill. Mandviwala is the chairman of the committee.
In a constitutional convention that dates back to the Magna Carta in Britain, the budget must be proposed in the National Assembly and voted on only by the lower house of Parliament. The Senate does not get to vote on the budget, though the upper house often passes non-binding resolutions of its recommendations for the bill, based on the Senate Finance Committee’s reports.
In the Zardari Administration, when the Pakistan Peoples Party had a governing majority in both houses of Parliament, those recommendations were often incorporated into the budget. That changed under the Nawaz Administration, when the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz took a decisive majority in the National Assembly, but the PPP retained control of the Senate.
As a result of the change, the nature of the Senate’s recommendations has also shifted. In previous years, the Senate’s recommendations used to be minor tweaks that were easy to incorporate. Now the Senate appears to be proposing massive populist changes that would cost the government money, but the Senate provides no way to pay for them.
For instance, the Senate recommended that the allocation for the Western alignment of CPEC be Rs100 billion instead of Rs30 billion. The Senate also wanted the government to spend Rs500 million for launching a nationwide campaign to educate farmers on modern farming techniques and mechanisation.
The upper house also called for the increase in government employees’ salaries from 10% to 12.5% and for the minimum pension to be increased from Rs6,000 per month to Rs8,000 per month. They also asked for a subsidy on long-term loans for companies looking to set up new manufacturing units in the country and demanded that the government end gas and electricity outages for industrial areas.
On the revenue side, far from proposing ways to pay for their populist spending spree, the Senate actually wanted the government to reduce taxation. The upper house called for fertilisers and pesticides to be exempted from sales tax, for instance.
The one substantive recommendation the Senate did make had nothing to do with the budget: they proposed merging the Water and Power Ministry and the Petroleum and Natural Resources Ministry to form a joint Energy Ministry that would more effectively coordinate the energy sector.
Meanwhile, Senator Tahir Mashhadi, who was chairing the session, directed the Senate Interior Committee to submit its report within two months on the allegations that foreign diplomatic missions were tapping the phones of Pakistani public officials. This startling allegation was initially made by former interior minister, and current committee chairman, Rehman Malik. He alleged that many foreign missions were recording phone calls. Senator Tanveer Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz took up this issue on floor of the Senate.
House hiring allowance
Housing Minister Akram Khan Durrani said that his ministry proposed that the government institute a 65% increase in the house hiring allowance of government employees.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2015.
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