ISLAMABAD: In a special PILDAT Briefing and Orientation on Tuesday, newly-elected Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) were briefed on the federal budget process by veteran MNAs including former finance minister Syed Naveed Qamar, former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and public finance expert Nohman Ishtiaq.
The orientation titled ‘Federal Budget Process in the National Assembly of Pakistan: How can MPs Optimise Contribution to Budget Debate’ mostly brought together first-time elected MNAs who engaged in a constructive interaction with the panel of speakers.Explaining the federal budget process, Nohman Ishtiaq said per article 80 of the constitution, the federal government presents an annual budget statement to the National Assembly (NA).
Walking MNAs through budget books, Nohman emphasised that in order to understand the budget, it was essential to first understand policy, which was made possible through Federal Medium Term Budget Estimates for Service Delivery. Explaining further, he added that a budget call circular is issued by the Ministry of Finance to all ministries. The government also presents a Budget Strategy Paper to the cabinet. However, he emphasised that parliamentary committees, which are supposed to be part of the process are generally not allowed to play a role in Pakistan.
He further explained while national income is spent on big ticket items such as debt servicing, defense, pensions and salaries and perks, items such as federal recurring expenses, grants to provinces, additional grants, subsidies and PSDP, have to be met by borrowing that has put the country into a debt-trap.He said it is important for MNAs to understand the distinction that while budget making is the job of the executive, its scrutiny, analysis and passage is the responsibility of the National Assembly. However, Parliament has been unable to play that role effectively, he added.
Briefing MNAs on how they can effectively use the tools available in rules of assembly to scrutinise budget and effectively contribute in budget debate, Syed Naveed Qamar, MNA, said it is important for MNAs to utilise the time of budget debate effectively. MNAs should be prepared for budget debates at the start of the session to use maximum time, he stated. Parliamentary parties should divide topics among their members to allow for a focused debate, he said.He also said that traditionally, the business advisory committee finalises six to seven ministries on which the debate focuses.Coordinating the discussion, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, MNA, said it is important for MNAs across parties to join hands for necessary parliamentary and constitutional reforms to strengthen budget scrutiny and oversight by Parliament. – PT