ISLAMABAD: Amid the opposition boycott, the National Assembly on Tuesday passed Finance Bill 2017-18 with certain amendments, providing legal cover to budgetary proposals for the upcoming financial year.
The house adopted a number of amendments proposed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, senators and MNAs during the debate.
Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid, on behalf of the finance minister, moved the amendments proposed to the finance bill by the treasury benches in the House that passed the bill with a majority vote in a clause-by-clause reading.
While the opposition continued its boycott of the budget debate, it also helped the treasury benches to pass the bill as it preferred not to point out quorum at the close of the sitting.
The lower house also approved 71 demands for grants out of 150 relating to different ministries, divisions and departments for the next fiscal year. Of the total demands, the opposition had submitted approximately 1,700 cut motions. However, the opposition was not present in the House to move those cut motions.
The demands for grants were related to climate change, commerce, communications division, Pakistan Post Office, Defence Division, Survey of Pakistan, Federal Government Educational Institutions and others.
While winding up the budget debate, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the government had set 6% growth rate for the next year and expressed the hope that the country would achieve 7% GDP growth rate in 2018-19.
The minister said in total 75 recommendations of the Senate had been accepted – principally or partially – out of the total 276 recommendations, while 147 suggestions had been forwarded to the planning division with favourable remarks.
“The government desires to constitute the National Finance Commission at the earliest after holding consultations with all provinces,” Dar further stated.
He said the process of rehabilitation of TDPs and reconstruction in tribal areas was also underway and Rs90 billion had been allocated in the budget for the purpose. “The government is giving power subsidy of Rs22 billion to the industrial sector,” he added.
About the agriculture sector, the minister said the cost of agriculture loans had also been reduced from 14% to 9.9%, while on the recommendation of parliamentarians ceiling of the loan had also been enhanced to Rs75,000 for small farmers.
He said the government had abolished sales tax on diesel-run engines and duty on the import of diesel engine parts had also been reduced from 20% to 3%, which would benefit small farmers.
Dar said to encourage Islamic banking in the country, several incentives had been given – including exemption of sales tax and tax concession. He said double sales tax on Islamic banking products was being abolished, adding that minimum labour wages had been enhanced to Rs15,400.
The minister said the prime minister had announced an incentive package of Rs180 billion to increase exports in January this year, and the government had decided to reduce sales tax and other duties for the purpose. He said customs duty on the import of magnet for DC fans had been withdrawn.
Dar said a special package was being prepared for the entertainment industry and the revival of drama and film industry in Pakistan.
He said the government would seek approval of all notifications issued by the federal government after the 18th Amendment that became controversial as a result of the apex court’s decision over the definition of the federal government.
Meanwhile, taking the floor, Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should personally come to parliament and brief the House about his talks with the Saudi leadership over the evolving situation in the Gulf.
He said the prime minister should take parliament into confidence over Pakistan’s future foreign policy regarding Gulf countries and 35-member Islamic Military Alliance. He said no one would chant any slogan against the premier in the House, assuring that “if one does so, he will resign”.
“The prime minister needs to take parliament into confidence. We are part of the [Saudi-led] alliance and our former COAS is heading this alliance despite the fact that the House was told that he would not be given an NOC till the ToRs of the alliance are settled,” said Shah.
“The house does not know about the ToRs of the alliance. If you believe in the supremacy of parliament, why do you hesitate to take it [the House] into confidence?” he questioned.
The PPP leader said if the purpose of the alliance was to stop terrorism, then the very purpose had not been served yet. “Instead, it increases terrorism.”
Referring to Qatar, he said a country was facing sanctions. “We will not listen to any adviser or the minister. We will listen only to the prime minister in this context,” he demanded.
The opposition leader said that $1.5 billion was given to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia, adding that the prime minister might use parliament to get out of any ‘compulsion’. “Pakistan needs to decide whether it should play its role for peace or take a clear-cut stance like Turkey,” he said.
“A prince has called Pakistan a beggar. This is the allegation which was not even levelled against us by India. This matter needs to be clarified and Nawaz Sharif should tell them that we are their ally.
“There is fear that 1.5 million of our workers will lose jobs. Allah will give them living too. Pakistan is the only Muslim state which is a nuclear power and not a beggar,” he stated.
Later, members belonging to the opposition parties staged a walkout from the House to press for their demand for live broadcast of the speech of the opposition leader on PTV.