LAHORE - While it is not quite sure if the Punjab budget for the year 2012-13 was really a tax-free statement of government’s financial accounts; it was certainly the first one in Assembly’s history heard in pin-drop silence without even a minor interruption from the opposition benches.
Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, who was performing only the ritual of making the budget speech without any real contribution in the budget-making exercise, also made history on Saturday by becoming the first finance minister to have presented the budget in a cordial atmosphere, something very rare in Assembly’ history.
As the traditional hullabaloo was clearly lacking during the budget speech, the credit for Opposition’s good behaviour certainly goes to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who had directed their parliamentarians not to repeat the history of National Assembly’s budget session when PML-N lawmakers created rowdy scenes by disrupting the budget speech by Mr Hafeez A Sheikh. They also scuffled with PPP legislators at that time to aggravate the tense environment.
The PML-Q legislators also fell in line with the PPP on Saturday by observing complete silence in the House.
The only interruption, if it could be called so, was caused by Punjab Chief Minister’s belated arrival in the House when his finance minister had already finished around two-thirds of his budget speech. The sound of desk-thumbing by treasury members to welcome their leader made the otherwise dull atmosphere of the House a lively one.
Those sitting in the Press Gallery also witnessed a visible change in the tone and tenor of the finance minister who suddenly became charged with his voice getting louder and louder with every passing moment. He then turned to that part of the speech full of praises for his leader and the government. Loud desk-thumbing and sloganeering followed every time he uttered words of praise for Mr Shahbaz Sharif and his government. Mujtaba was certainly more vociferous in delivery of his speech with CM sitting just close to him.
Former finance minister Rana Asif Mehmood, who was supposed to present the last budget, but forced to resign a few days back for being a dual nationality holder, kept looking at his successor with envious eyes throughout the session. The party honoured the Rana from Sialkot by allowing him to sit on the benches reserved only for the ministers in the front row.
Another special feature of the budget session was that initial 10 minutes of minister’s speech focussed entirely on the energy crisis and federal government’s alleged inefficiency to overcome it. This was something very hard to digest for the Opposition, but it had to keep quite to keep the words of its leadership. The finance minister also provided some other opportunities where the Opposition could have reacted, but its hands were tied.
The Opposition members, however, observed a silent protest by wearing black bands around their arms to show resentment over PML-N’s attitude in the National Assembly at the time of presentation of national budget. Three female PPP legislators, Sajida Mir, Nargis Faiz and Riffat Sultana Dar adopted a novel way of registering their protest. They kept their mouths shut by placing a black ribbon on their lips throughout the speech.
Another hallmark of the budget session was non-availability of the copies of the budget speech for the members and the reporters covering the event. The finance minister had to wait for quite some time to start his speech in the absence of budget documents.