Speaker suspends proposal for cuts in NA, Senate budgets

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Thursday faced embarrassment when for the first time in the country’s history the speaker of the National Assembly suspended one of the budgetary proposals, terming it “unconstitutional”.

Speaker Asad Qaiser gave the ruling amidst desk-thumping by the opposition as well as some of the treasury members after three different ministers, including Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, refused to withdraw the proposal to cut the budgetary allocations for the National Assembly and the Senate despite his repeated requests.

The issue was first raised by PTI lawmaker from Mianwali Amjid Ali Khan and then by Syed Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) while discussing the recommendations of the Senate after conclusion of the general debate on the federal budget.

The Senate through its recommendations had asked the government to restore the original budget of the Senate passed by its finance committee. The senators had declared the cut of Rs170 million in the Senate budget as “unconstitutional”.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

Mr Qamar and Mr Khan endorsed the Senate recommendation and drew the attention of the speaker towards the similar cut to the budget of the National Assembly.

Ruling given after ministers’ refusal to withdraw suggestion

Quoting Article 88(1) of the Constitution, Mr Qamar said the government and the finance minister had actually interfered in the powers of the speaker by cutting the budget of the two houses of parliament.

Article 88(1) of the Constitution states that “the expenditure of the National Assembly and the Senate within authorised appropriations shall be controlled by the National Assembly or, as the case may be, the Senate acting on the advice of its Finance Committee.”

The MNA said the finance committee had become a constitutional committee and the executive could in no way override its decisions.

Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar, who had presented the budget, was speechless when the speaker repeatedly asked him to explain under what law he had announced cuts in the budgets of the two houses of parliament.

At this point, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan and Foreign Minister Qureshi requested the chair to defer the matter, saying the government would agree to whatever the finance committee would recommend.

However, on the insistence of the two MNAs, the speaker asked Mr Azhar to withdraw the proposal, but he once again sought time.

The speaker then finally issued the ruling leaving the ministers red-faced.

“I want to bring it on record that he (the minister) had no powers to do it and he has exceeded his powers. And I suspend it,” the speaker announced.

Mr Qureshi took the floor again, only to say that “we bow before your ruling”.

Earlier in the day, the MQM lawmakers staged a walkout over prolonged power outages in Karachi and Hyderabad.

The issue of budget cuts was first raised in the Senate by Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif of the MQM, who said the government had no jurisdiction to slash the budget of Senate. Later, Javed Abbasi of the PML-N termed the move an attempt against supremacy of parliament and referred to Article 81 of the Constitution, which deals with expenditure charged upon federal consolidated fund. He said the article specifically mentions the administrative expenses, including the salary of the staff of the two houses of parliament.

Meanwhile, PPP’s Senator Raza Rabbani hailed the speaker’s ruling, saying the federal government had violated the Constitution by cutting the budget of the Senate.

“This reflects the scant respect they have for parliament and the Constitution. What can you expect when the budget is prepared over two telephone calls with staffers of the IMF?” Mr Rabbani said in a statement.

He said the international donors had contempt for democratic institutions in Pakistan and with “their lackeys” in key positions they did not miss any opportunity to weaken federalism, the democratic process and Constitution.