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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Mini-budget, power tariff prompt bad blood in Senate

ISLAMABAD: Tensions remained high in the Senate on Friday after the controversial ‘mini-budget’ and other bills were bulldozed through the National Assembly, and opposition leaders traded barbs with the treasury benches over the ‘unreasonable’ hike in power tariff.

The opposition leaders warned that the government’s policies would incite people to revolt while the ruling party allies continued to blame their predecessors for the current economic mess.

The action began even before the formal commencement of house proceedings, when Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of the Jamaat-i-Islami rose in his seat even before Question Hour was announced and, without being recognised by the chair, launching into a tirade against the government.

He termed the Rs60 billion increase in power tariff over December and January “a dacoity”, adding that this extortion in the name of fuel adjustment charges was a great injustice with the people.

Opposition claims govt policies ‘inciting people to revolt’; treasury members taunt opposition for failure to stop passage of finance bill

With his mic turned off, an enraged Senator Mushtaq also came down hard on the government for long spells of loadshedding, saying that by making the lives of people miserable through a tsunami of price hikes, the government was inciting the people to revolt. He asked the chair to refer the matter to the standing committee concerned, a request that was accepted.

Leader of the Opposition Yusuf Raza Gilani also endorsed the JI senator’s views, saying that they were already agitating against the mini-budget, which contained very tough conditions levied by the International Monetary Fund that were beyond the masses’ capacity to endure.

“Increases every month can’t be tolerated by the people. Indeed, they are being incited for agitation,” he remarked.

He also protested against the way the Finance (Supplementary) Bill was bulldozed through the National Assembly and sought a debate in the house on this issue.

However, Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem asked the opposition to stick to one position and desisting from double standards. He said that when the opposition parties had been in power, they could pass any legislation on the basis of their majority. However, he claimed that if the government gets passed a bill on the basis of its majority now, the opposition terms it bulldozing.

Senator Waseem said that all the opposition’s threats to the government had fizzled out, such as the plan to bring a no-confidence motion or hold long marches. He said the opposition had announced on the floor of the house that they would not let the mini-budget pass, but it had still been passed.

“Where was the majority you were bragging about and claiming that you are in contact with people? And the one who was all smiles in the National Assembly when he returned from London, looked concerned and embarrassed yesterday,” he noted, a veiled reference to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif.

Senator Gilani retorted, saying that if it was all about majority, then why did they not care about the opinion of the 220 million people of the country? “You managed to get the mini-budget passed and all the newspapers splashed headlines of bulldozing legislation,” he said.

To this, Senator Waseem responded: “They are accusing us of bulldozing. This is the person who, when he was PM, had said that if anyone wants to leave Pakistan, he is free to do so. You can’t keep people illusioned for that long.”

Earlier, the house could not take up the orders of the day, except a supplementary question asked by JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza.

However, as State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan rose to reply, he first mounted an attack on the opposition for undermining the dignity of parliament during the National Assembly session on Thursday. He then made a reference, blaming the opposition for martial laws in the past, prompting a walkout by the opposition benches.

Following the opposition’s exit, quorum was pointed out. When a count was made, only 15 members were found to be present in the 100-member house. At this, the chair asked for the bells to be rung for five minutes. However, quorum requirements still could not be fulfilled, which promoted the chair to the session to resume on Monday afternoon.

However, while all of this was going on, some treasury members kept speaking and blaming the opposition for wasting the people’s time and money by not ensuring their presence in the house.

In reaction, one opposition senator, who had stayed back to point out quorum, hit back by reminding them that it was the government’s responsibility to ensure quorum.

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