A third budget in a single fiscal year

  • Relief for the rich, promises for the poor

It seems we are back to the Musharraf style democracy where steamrollering the government bills had become a norm. This had driven the opposition to create rumpus in the house making it impossible for the military ruler to fulfill the constitutional duty of addressing the joint parliamentary session once a year The mini-budget presented on Wednesday is aimed at incentives for investments rather than taxation. It ushers in sweeping incentives for banks, industry and greenfield investments. There is however little relief in it for the common man who continues to suffer hardship due to a steadily rising inflation during the current fiscal year.

Revenue shortages remain unaddressed despite the FBR sustaining Rs237 billion shortfall during the first eight months of the fiscal year. In a major retreat, the government allowed the non-filers of the income tax returns to purchase cars of any engine capacity while in January Asad Umar had proposed to allow them to purchase only up to 1300cc cars. Preferring revenue collection from non-filers instead of bringing them into the tax net would raise questions about the government’s rhetoric against black money. While it would erode the government’s moral authority the measure would also promote the culture of tax evasion

On Wednesday the Speaker allowed only three opposition leaders to speak on the budget while refusing to hold a general debate in disregard of the opposition’s protests. This led the opposition to tear up the copies of the bill and stage a boycott. Instead of bringing the opposition back, the bill was put to vote and passed setting aside all the 55 amendments recommended proposed by the Senate.

One had vainly hoped the political parties had gained maturity over the years. That this should have happened when there are voices calling for a consensus among major political parties over the basics of a long term national economic policy remains all the more worrisome.

The Wednesday brouhaha raises the question as to how long the government wants to remain in an all-out confrontation mode with the opposition. An unending confrontation even at a time of heightened tensions with India does not bode well for the country.