The budget debate.
Suggestion both from Treasury and opposition
On Wednesday the Speaker issued production orders for PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari and PML(N) MNA Kh Saad Rafique. Mr Zardari in fact spoke at the budget session on Thursday. Strangely, none in the opposition took any notice of the absence of the two detained MNAs from Waziristan, thus creating the perception of a bargain between the government and opposition on the matter.
On Wednesday Mr Shehbaz Sharif put forth the opposition parties' stand on the budget. He criticised the high bank rate, the steep devaluation of rupee, the backbreaking rise in power, gas and petroleum prices, indirect taxation rising up to 70 percent, lack of subsidies for the farmers and of incentives for the export sector. He called upon the government to fix the minimum monthly wage at Rs 20,000 per month, revise electricity and gas tariffs, increase the salaries of government employees up to BPS-16 by 50 percent, withdraw taxes on edible oil and ghee, restore educational stipends of youth, revert to the zero-rated export industry regime, and restore free medical treatment and provision of free medicines at government hospitals.
On Thursday the PTI's Asad Umar was the star speaker in the budget debate. While repeating the PTI's refrain of inheriting a sick economy, Umar wanted the tax on sugar, edible oil and ghee to be withdrawn. He wanted a five-year tax remission on fresh investments and a reviewing of the tax on small cars. He also wanted a raise in pensions from 10 to 15 percent.
Mr Umar knows only too well that the budget was prepared under guidelines set by the IMF and the supervision of PM's Finance Adviser Hafeez Sheikh. Further, the budget was owned by the PTI government and presented by the Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar. How to interpret Mr Umar's reservations then? Were some of the provisions that he objects to put in the budget document only to be withdrawn as a concession to the ruling party? To avoid creating the perception of a made-up encounter, the government should accommodate some of the sensible proposals put forth by the opposition also that include subsidies for the farmers, incentives for the export sector, raise in the minimum monthly wage to Rs20,000, provision of free medicines in government hospitals and restoration of educational stipends to the youthful scholars.