Minister disowns budget in National Assembly
By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD: A federal minister had the temerity to effectively disown his own government’s new budget in the National Assembly on Wednesday, but promised a revenue bonanza if his MQM party is given the finance ministry in the PPP-led coalition.
Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Farooq Sattar described the budget for fiscal 2010-11 merely a traditional exercise lacking revolutionary measures he said were needed to meet the present “extraordinary situation” and being “too short of a realistic approach”.
He was the first minister from a coalition party to criticise the third budget of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s over two-year-old government on the second day of a general debate, though he claimed he was only pointing out “critical issues” affecting the people’s lives which would hardly benefit from “such cosmetic steps”.
But supportive words from the parliamentary leader of another coalition partner, former minister Jehangir Tareen of the PML-F, and even former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi of the PML-Q ended Mr Sattar’s highly critical speech with a call for unity to tackle the country’s economic challenges as seen in parliament’s passage of the 18th Amendment in April.
As if to press MQM’s complaint of having little day in budget-making, Mr Sattar said if his party, of which he is also the parliamentary leader in the National Assembly, had the finance ministry with necessary authority, an additional Rs1,200 billion could be mobilised to support the budget.
That amount, according to his estimates, will consist of Rs300 billion from agricultural income tax, Rs200 billion from sales tax on wheat, rice and sugarcane, Rs100 billion from a review of the Afghan transit trade agreement, Rs50 billion by checking smuggling, up to Rs100 billion by eradicating under-invoicing in external trade and Rs400 billion by checking corruption.
But Mr Tareen seemed to be seeking to shoot down the minister’s call for imposing agricultural tax – earlier demanded by opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on behalf of his PML-N party when opening the debate on Tuesday – by telling the house that the present law already provided for a 15 per cent income tax on land holdings of more than 50 acres, which he said had been paying for the past eight years.
He said the PML-N’s Punjab government should ensure collection of this tax while Mr Sattar’s MQM should raise the matter in the Sindh assembly.
Another outburst of a government ally over the budget was likely from JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who remained in the house apparently waiting for his turn to speak but did not return to the house after he left it probably for Zuhr prayers.
PML-NÂ’s Malik Pervez and Nasir Bhutta and PML-Q’s Ms Marvi Memon made speeches criticizing the budget before the house adjourned until 11am on Thursday.
While the Maulana, whose party also complains like the MQM of having little to do with the budget, was inside the house, the prime minister invited Chaudhry Pervez Elahi to a seat next to him in the front row and two men were chatting for quite sometime.
It was not clear if the meeting was meant to be any signal for the coalition dissenters, but it did spark speculation in the galleries.
Despite repeated calls for austerity from the government and parliament members, it was the second day running that instead of the usual 10am, the start of the assembly’s morning sittings was set at 11am — when government buildings are allowed to switch on air-conditioning — so members do not have to sit in a stuffy hall, though it has not been very hot in Islamabad since the budget session began on Thursday because of drizzles and windstorms.