Editor: Rana Qaisar   
Founding Editor: Shafqat Munir   

Reflection of Poor Performance of Legislators and the NA: 

16 Julie 2011 02:23:01

Reflection of Poor Performance of Legislators and the NA:

80% of Speeches by MNAs in Budget Session-2011 were on Non-budget Issues: S.K. Abbasi

Evaluating the performance of the National Assembly of Pakistan during Budget Session 2011, Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, MNA, said that approximately 80% of the budget speeches were on non-budget issues.

He was speaking at the Citizens Forum on Performance of the 13th National Assembly of Pakistan: Budget Session 2011-2012 which was organized by PILDAT to analyze the Budget Session Performance of the 13th National Assembly. Mr. Abbasi said that quality of the debate were very poor and only  few members of the National Assembly understand the Budgetary Process, therefore, budget remains mystery for most of the members. Besides, parliamentary leaders fail to guide / educate their members about the budgetary process, he added. Mr. Abbasi said that the Finance Minister himself most of the time was absent during the budget debates and he hardly attended any session except budget presentation day.

Other speakers at the Forum included Mr. Abdul Rashid Godil, MNA, (MQM, NA-252, Karachi-XIV, Sindh, Mr. Wazir Ahmed Jogezai, Former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly; Mr. Abdullah Yusuf, former Chairman Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director of PILDAT.

Presenting an analysis based on PILDAT Citizens' Report on Performance of the 13th National Assembly of Pakistan: Budget Session 2011-2012, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director PILDAT said that the Federal Budget 2011-2012, tabled in the National Assembly on June 3, 2011 and passed on June 22, 2011 lasted for a dismal 17 actual working days. There was a 16% drop in time consumed in budget debate 2011 compared to 2008; total 35 hours consumed in Budget process in National Assembly compared to 41.6 in 2008. The decade long average of budget sessions from 1998 to 2011 is 12 days while in comparison, in our neighboring country India, the Parliamentary Budget Process spans over 75 days. Unlike the practice in other developing as well as mature Parliamentary democracies, Standing Committees in Pakistan are not allowed any role to scrutinize departmentally-related estimates or demands for grants and therefore no meaningful input is made in the Budget. Mr. Mehboob said that while the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab has instituted a Pre-Budget Session every year from January to February, the National Assembly, despite understanding the need to do so in order to allow members to make an input into budget making and priorities, has failed to institute the tradition of a Pre-Budget Session.

Mr. Mehboob said that a sharp decline is witnessed in the number of Members of the National Assembly participating in the budget debate over the last 4 years of the 13th National Assembly as 39 % less MNAs spoke in 2011 compared to 2008. In 2008 budget session, a total of 229 members participated in the budget debate whereas only 139 members participated during the 2011 budget session. The dwindling number of participants may be indicative of the waning interest of members in the budget debate. The budget session is considered by many MPs as a mere formality in which not much role is there for MPs to make any significant contribution. Year after year, MPs demand during the budget debate a greater role for influencing the budget at its preparation stages. It has also been repeatedly suggested that once the budget is presented, the National Assembly should have an increased duration to review it and the demands for grants for ministries should be referred to the respective standing committees for scrutiny before the budget is passed. This key reform in the Parliamentary budget process, however, remains elusive. During budget debate 2011, members from across political spectrum forcefully raised that these reforms be instituted in the Parliamentary budget process.

He highlighted that during the 2011 Budget Session, a total of 139 members took part in the discussion, 84 (60 %) of whom belonged to the treasury benches while 55 (40 %) belonged to the opposition benches. Treasury benches consumed 22.5 hours or 64% of total time while opposition members spoke for 12.5 hours or 36% of the time in Budget debate. A 4% decrease was also witnessed in the time used by opposition members in budget debate compared to 2008 budget session. MQM members utilized almost twice as much time than warranted by their numbers followed by PML-N and JUI-F members.


He shared that the Prime Minister of Pakistan attended 12 days or 70% of budget session sittings compared to 3 days or 18% of the sittings attended by the Leader of the Opposition, though he explained his absence was on medical grounds.

While the principal opposition party, PML-N, criticized the conduct and performance of the defence sector and brought cut motions against the defence sector, the 2011 session saw a decrease of 58% in number of cut motions introduced by the opposition in the House compared to 2008: 485 cut motions were introduced by the opposition during the budget debate 2011 where as the number of cut motions introduced during the Budget session for the financial year 2008-2009 were 1148.

Discussing proposed reforms in the Parliamentary Budget Process of Pakistan, Mr. Mehboob said that the Parliament should institute holding of a Pre-Budget Session at the start of the Federal Budget Cycle; the Finance Committee of the National Assembly essentially should hold Pre-Budget public hearings; Duration of the Parliamentary Budget Process should be extended to about 45 days and each National Assembly Standing Committee should scrutinize relevant Demands for Grants of concerned Ministry and present reports to the House based on which budget debate should take place and Parliament should consider the establishment of an Independent Budget Analysis Unit;; . He also emphasized that Article 84 of the Constitution needs a review on executive's powers to spend beyond the originally approved budget and supplementary budget should be sent to Parliament for approval during the year when needed for pre-approval.

Speaking at the Forum, Mr. Abdul Rashid Godil, MNA & Member of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance, said that Parliamentarians speak about their own constituencies during the budget debate and not about national economic issues. The Forum was attended by a large number of Civil Society representatives, youth, Media and business.

Criticizing the borrowing mechanism, Mr. Abdullah Yusuf said that this strategy will not work for long time to support the economy of the country and there are no easy solutions available for improving our current economy. But, still, there is potential to liquidize our national resource such as public sector entities to cope up with the situation. He added that for Federal Budget improvements, National Assembly Standing Committees can add some details and thoroughly scrutinize the budget and adopt clear policies and pursue them to the bigger forum. He said that sustainability will be challenging without taxing and suggested that any income, generated by anybody should be taxed in the same manner as per national tax policy.

Mr. Wazir Ahmed Jogezai, while speaking at the Roundtable Discussion said that members of the National Assembly are unaware of the Federal Budget, therefore, they have no contribution in budget process. It is economics that runs the country not the budget policy and parliament must play its role for revenue generation.