NA approves budget amid split in opposition
By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly passed the new Rs3.259 trillion national budget on Friday without any change of taxation proposals amid a major rift in the opposition, whose main party walked out in protest but the second best voted and celebrated with the government.
The PML-N, which has about 90 members in the 342-seat lower house, denied Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani the honour of getting his third budget passed unanimously for the second time in a row, but exposed sharp differences within the large opposition and a seemingly emerging warmth between its 50-seat rival PML-Q and the 122-seat ruling PPP.
As opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan led PML-N lawmakers out of the house in a token walkout, declaring “we are not ready to own this budget”, PML-Q members voted with the treasury benches and then joined them in celebrating the approval of the Finance Bill 2010 with enthusiastic desk-thumping.
The over two-year-old government’s second budget was unanimously approved by the lower house in June last year at the height of a military operation against militants in the Malakand division of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
But Chaudhry Nisar said it would not be the same this time because of what he called rejection of his party’s amendments to the finance bill, though he and another PML-N lawmaker acknowledged the governmentÂ’s own amendments, which were adopted, incorporated nearly half of their proposals — without giving credit to their party — as were 61 of the 74 non-mandatory recommendations sent by the Senate last week.
The PML-Q had abstained from at least two recent Nisar-initiated walkouts on comparatively minor issues, but the rift seemed too blatant on Friday.
In an apparent frustration with the PML-Q, the opposition leader openly complained that “one part of opposition left us yesterdayÂ” during a walkout and said: “In no way we will vote for this budget.”
Just before Speaker Fehmida Mirza ordered the voice vote on the bill, PML-Q’s senior-most member in the house at the time, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, announced his party’s support for the budget while repeating his demands for the abolition of “redundant” ministries, the Federal Shariat Court and the Council of Islamic Ideology, and conveyed his congratulations to the prime minister from his party leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.
Besides the budget, which the Prime Minister called “unique” as being the first after the Eighteenth Amendment that devolved more financial powers to provinces, the house approved some Rs424 billion as supplementary demands for grants and appropriations for the outgoing fiscal 2009-10 and held a formal discussion on about Rs40 billion worth of supplementary demands for grants and appropriations in charged expenditure for the same year, before being adjourned until 5pm on Monday.
Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh said before the vote on the finance bill that his were actually “joint amendments” moved in a spirit of bipartisanship, and that most of them were on Senate recommendations to which the PML-N senators were a party.
He called the budget historic for imposing direct capital gains tax and sought opposition’s cooperation in reforming the General Sales Tax, whose rates have now been increased by one per cent to range between 17 and 26 per cent but which is planned to be reduced to a uniform 15 per cent by October without the prevailing exemptions.