* Upper House unanimously passes recommendations of Standing Committee on Finance
* Committee proposes withdrawal of one percent increase in GST
* Senators recommend 60% raise in salaries of grades 1 to 16 govt employees
By Zeeshan Javaid
The Upper House of the Parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved 74 budgetary recommendations and forwarded them to the National Assembly for their incorporation in the Finance Bill 2010-11.
Senate’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs Chairman Ahmed Ali presented the recommendations in Senate and informed the lawmakers that a total of 235 suggestions had been received from senators, out of which only 74 had been approved.
Under the Constitution, the National Assembly passes the finance bill each year and the Senate can only submit its recommendations to the Lower House, which are not binding. Some of the important recommendations approved by Senate are: withdrawal of 1% increase in the General Sales Tax (GST), 60% increase in the salaries of government employees from grade 1 to 16, reduction in duty on crude palm oil, raising minimum wages from Rs 7,000 to Rs 9,000, increasing minimum pension from Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 and increasing pensions for widows of superior court judges from 50% to 75%.
The Senate has also asked the government to restructure the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), the Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO), the Pakistan Steel Mills and the Pakistan Railways (PR).
The government has been asked to reduce the number of official foreign visits and to ensure that each official delegation comprises no more than 10 members.
Earlier, while participating in budget debate, Senator Raza Rabbani said that the gulf between the rich and poor had widened in the country, which could trigger a street revolution.
He urged the government to practice austerity, radically alter economic priorities, and decrease its reliance on foreign aid. “Such a positive revolution is only possible if there is a grand economic road map and all stakeholder of the Pakistani society are taken on board,” he said.
Rabbani said that the president and prime minister had earlier promised that they would amend the Banking Companies Ordinance. However, he said the promise had not been fulfilled.
“In the 18th Amendment, GST on services has been clearly stated to be a provincial subject. However, this is not being done. We want to make it clear that we will not allow Pakistan’s constitutional agenda to be dedicated by donors or lending institutions,” he said.
Rabbani stated that the federal government was also continuing with the practice of imposing excise duty in the form of sales tax, which was an open violation of the constitution.
He said that the working class would not allow the privatisation of organisations such as the steel mills, PIA or PEPCO.
However, to improve the performance of these institutions, the present board of directors of these companies should be dissolved, Rabbani said. Participating in the discussion, Senator Haji Adeel said that the government had not consulted its allies over the budget.
Senator Sajid Mir said that government members were enjoying perks and privileges worth billions of rupees at a time when most of the people found it difficult to earn their livelihood.
He informed the Senate that the annual expenditure of President’s House would amount to Rs 420 million after the proposed increase of Rs 35 million in the 2010-11 budget. “Similarly, the PM Secretariat expenditure will rise to Rs 420.80 million,” he added.
Mir said that funds for the National Assembly Secretariat had been increased to Rs 1.70 billion, while Senate’s expenditures had been increased to Rs 900 million in the new budget. He urged the government to reduce expenses at all levels.
Fauzia Fakhar Zaman, Rehana Yahya and Kalsoom Parveen also participated in the budget debate.
Pakistan’s Ignored Rural Areas
By Khwaja Aftab Ali
Five regional cities should be upgraded within the provinces in Pakistan: Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP, Gawadar/Qalat in Balouchistan, Sukkar/Larkana in Upper Sindh, Jehlum/Rawalpindi and Multan in Punjab province.
These cities have been ignored by the federal and provincial governments although they have their own history, culture and languages. Dera Ismail Khan in the south of Pakhtun khwa/MWFP is under siege, Multan/DG Khan in the south of Punjab is the next target of religious extremists, Sukkar/Larkana is being ruled by criminals, Gawadar/Qalat appears troublesome. The people of these regions have to travel to provincial capitals trivial reasons.
A good number of people are also forced to travel to big cities to earn livelihood as the local feudal who own majority land treat the common man as their virtual slaves.
Creation of regional government and upgrading of regional cities will save a lot of money and time of the poor people of these areas. Circuit benches of the High Courts are already functioning in these places and what is required is additional staff to beef up different departments engaged in additional work at the provincial capitals.
The concerned authorities should immediately consider to upgrade the regional cities. And immediate attention should be given to upgrade/build the airports, TV stations, civic centers, libraries, hospitals, educational institutions and bolstering investment opportunities for Pakistanis living abroad. Foreign firms should be encouraged to create jobs in the areas as the majority population in rural Pakistan does not have enough resources to survive.
In this context I am reminded of the conditions obtaining in Iran before the Islamic Revolution when rural Iran continued to be ignored and the capital Tehran was developed and called the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. A couple of big cities, including Isfahan, and the Caspian Sea area were developed because of the attraction they possessed for foreign tourists but the rural area was ignored and plagued by problems of sorts as it was ruled by ruthless police and intelligence forces. It was but natural that the rural population supported the Islamic Revolution and moved to Tehran and other big cities and later ruled the cities. After the revolution, the new government was motivated to develop the rural areas of Iran.
There is thus a pressing need to set up a fund to upgrade/build the regional cities in Pakistan under the aegis of the public and private sectors. Our foreign friends and Pakistanis living abroad could be asked to participate in this singularly important developmental effort.
Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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