By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD: Gender bias marked the end of a tumultuous budget session of the National Assembly on Thursday when the house passed a Rs564 billion supplementary budget for the outgoing fiscal year but opposition manipulation blocked a pro-women resolution.
The house also discussed supplementary demands for charged expenditure, which is not subject to voting, for fiscal 2010-11 ending on June 30 and approved long pending excess demands for three years – 1988-89, 1995-96 and 200-01 – as approved by its Public Accounts Committee before being prorogued after a three-week budget session.
The concluding stage of the parliamentary process of the present government’s fourth budget remained free of heated
arguments and furores seen since the Rs2.76 trillion budget for fiscal 2011-12 was unveiled on June 3, though some members of the opposition PML-N criticised the supplementary demands, such as Zahid Hamid accusing the government of taking too much loans “as if there is no tomorrow” and over-estimating revenue and under-estimating expenditure, and Khurram Dastgir proposing that the government in the future seek prior approval of the house for any non-budgeted expenditure exceeding Rs1 billion.
Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said the supplementary demands were a routine affair happening every year and they would amount to only Rs387 billion if it were not for additional expenditure necessitated by power crisis.But some unrest was visible on PML-N side when a PPP female member and a former minister of state for law, Mehreen Anwar Raja, sought to move a resolution to condemn a perceived insult of women by a PML-N member’s reference to bangles – as a sign of cowardice –while speaking on the previous day about his party’s tensions with the ruling PPP.
“We are not wearing bangles,” PML-N’s Khwaja Saad Rafiq had said in a speech in the house on Wednesday when denouncing what he regarded as indecent remarks used by President Asif Ali Zardari in a speech on the previous night about PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, in an apparent response to the former prime minister’s recent outbursts against the president in speeches at election rallies in Azad Kashmir.
Dr Raja had protested against the use of the common description for cowardice in a male-dominated society as an insult to women, recalling that PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto had died wearing bangles.
But on Thursday, the member came with a resolution that recalled the leadership of democratic struggles by the late Miss Fatima Jinnah, sister of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and Ms Bhutto and sought rejection of the use of negative language about women’s jewellery and clothes.
While Speaker Fehmida Mirza put off the matter for a while, asking the mover to let PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah, who was not present at the time, to return to move a motion for taking up the resolution immediately, Mr Rafiq and some other PML-N members were seen signalling party back-benchers, including women, to leave the house before one of them, Rana Tanveer Hussain, pointed out the lack of quorum.
Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, who was chairing the proceedings at the time, ordered a count, but the 342-seat house seemed far short of the required quorum of 86 members even after some more PPP members, including Mr Shah, had come back to the chamber, leaving Dr Raja and several other PPP female lawmakers eager to move the resolution helpless.
And then, without announcing the result of the count, Mr Kundi read out the presidential order proroguing the house, signalling a dubious victory for PML-N lawmakers in defeating what female members of the PPP and allied parties seemed to have made a cause of their honour.
The passage of the supplementary budget turned out to be a tedious affair as the finance minister, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and for Finance Hina Rabbani Khar and two other ministers had to take turns to read out a total of 259 demands for grants one by one before they were put to voice vote separately.