FAFEN Report on National Assembly’s Budget Session

ISLAMABAD, July 8, 2024: The first annual budget session of the incumbent National Assembly recorded 179 lawmakers participating in the discussions on budgetary proposals for financial year 2024-25 with the opposition lawmakers receiving the majority (52 percent) share in the time allocated for the discussions. The budget proceedings, from presentation of budget to laying of authorized schedule of expense before the House, consumed around 48 hours and two minutes.

The lawmakers participating in budget discussions comprised 69 from Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), 40 from Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian (PPPP), 37 from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), 18 from Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQMP), five from Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam Pakistan (JUIP), five independents and one each from Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), National Party (NP), Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP), Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen Pakistan (MWMP). Approximately 125 (70 percent) of the lawmakers participating in the budget discussions expressed critical views on the budgetary proposals in their speeches. The criticism came from members of both the treasury and opposition benches.

The general discussion on budget spanned five sittings and consumed almost two-third of the entire time allocated for budget approval. The discussion and voting on demands for grants and cut motions on these demands took around 20 percent of the time. The discussion on the charged expenditure accounted for six percent, the debate and vote of the Finance Bill 2024 took four percent, and the discussion on Senate recommendations on the Finance Bill took two percent. The Finance Minister’s budget speech consumed two percent of the total budget proceedings.

The opposition lawmakers sought reduction in 30 out of 133 demands for grants to meet the expense of government ministries and divisions through 422 cut motions. However, all these motions were defeated. Nevertheless, the motions provided the movers an opportunity to express their concerns on the government performance. The supplementary and excess demands for grants for the financial years 2022-23 and 2023-24 were approved without any discussion.

In addition to the demands for grants and the Finance Bill, the House passed five government bills with minimal debate and by suspending the due legislative procedure. Furthermore, three resolutions were adopted, and six calling attention notices (CANs) were raised, highlighting various governance issues. No private members’ business was conducted throughout the session.

According to official attendance records, the average attendance per sitting was 231 (68 percent of the total membership) during the session. The Prime Minister attended seven (54 percent) sittings while the Leader of the Opposition attended all sittings. As many as 60 lawmakers had a 100 percent attendance while five did not attend any sittings. The Speaker chaired 43 percent of the proceedings while the Deputy Speaker 44 percent. The rest 13 percent were presided over by two members of the Panel of Chairpersons.

The Prime Minister and members of his cabinet made nine specific commitments in response to issues raised by private lawmakers during the budget session. This number excludes the financial commitments announced by the Minister for Finance in the budget speech. The government commitments included plans to induct 975 new teachers in Islamabad schools, setting up Daanish School in Islamabad, increase monthly payments to widows under the benevolent fund by 10 percent, address the issue of electricity outages and overbilling in Karachi, and resumption of work on the Sukkur-Karachi motorway. Only two commitments included implementation timelines. The House Committee on Government Assurances is yet to become functional as it has not elected a chairperson till date.

Transparency and accessibility of House proceedings and business information were largely maintained through the Assembly’s official website, and guest and media galleries. Records such as the agenda items, daily bulletins, drafts of legislation, and lists of questions were uploaded, although verbatim records were only available for five out of 13 sittings. Certain parts of the video recordings on the official YouTube channel were muted without announced reasons. Video records of as many as 10 out of 13 sittings had muted segments. A comparison of both the video and verbatim record for a sitting shows the remarks censored in video were included in the verbatim record.

Lawmakers from both opposition and treasury emphasized the need for targeted interventions and financial commitments for women and other marginalized groups. Issues raised included funding for girls’ schools, financial support for widows and women affected by floods, adherence to employment quotas for persons with disabilities, and business loans for women. The women-focused commitments in the Finance Minister’s budget speech  included privatization the First Women Bank, increase allocations for the Benazir Income Support Programme, and launch initiatives such as a free meals program for schools and the pink bus service for girls. However, some remarks during the session reinforced gender stereotypes and faced backlash from the House. One SIC lawmaker’s membership was suspended for using inappropriate words during his speech.

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