Despite having a minority in the Senate, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government managed to get the crucial State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill passed from the upper house on Friday — a development that has raised many eyebrows.
With the numbers in the upper house on their side, the opposition’s strength of 57 members — excluding Ishaq Dar — out of 100 failed to prevent the passage of the controversial bill, which finally passed with a one-vote majority.
However, in an unusual move, the joint opposition submitted a dissenting note on the SBP bill to the Senate secretary during Friday’s proceedings, terming the draft law a document of “financial surrender”. “This is a document that brings Pakistan’s national security and assets under severe strain and scrutiny of international financial imperialists,” the opposition maintained.
On Friday, at least eight opposition senators, including opposition leader Yusuf Raza Gilani, skipped the session, while at least four members of the Dilawar Khan-group voted in favour of the government bill.
In addition, senators Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Nuzhat Sadiq, Talha Mehmood, Sikandar Mandhro, Shafiq Tareen, Muhammad Qasim and Naseema Ehsan were also not present.
Two treasury members, Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Faisal Sabzwari and Khalid’s Ateeb, also did not turn up.
When Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin moved the motion seeking leave to take up the bill for consideration, a rare tie was seen as both sides were locked in a dead heat at 43-43.
“I will go with the treasury,” Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani announced, casting the deciding vote.
But the number of opposition lawmakers further dwindled to 42 when voting for passage of the bill was carried out when Awami National Party Senator Umer Farooq Kasi, chose to leave the Senate chamber at this crucial juncture.
PTI lawmaker Dr Zarqa Suharwardy, who was in ill-health, showed up to the session hooked up to an oxygen cylinder and other paraphernalia.
Earlier in the day, the finance minister had come to the upper house, but sensing that the treasury was short of the requisite numbers, quietly slipped away before the bill could be taken up.
When Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan was asked to move the bill, he said the finance minister himself would come and do it.
However, the chair facilitated the treasury by not only deferring this item of business – despite the opposition’s demand to move on with the agenda – but also adjourned proceedings for 30 minutes, allowing the government to regroup.
During the voting process, opposition members gathered around the chairman’s dais in protest, tearing up copies of the agenda and strewing them across the house floor.
The passage of the bill was one of the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the release of a $1 billion tranche.
NOTE OF DISSENT: In its note of dissent, the opposition criticised the government for “bypassing procedures and the rules of business when important legislation is to be taken up”, saying that this had become standard practice.
“It was disappointing that such an important bill was put on the orders of the day under the cloak of darkness in the late hours of the night,” the note said.
The note pointed out that while the bill had yet not become a law, “the State Bank has issued a notification, requiring commercial banks to consider the possibility of default on government loans while making their loan allocations. This is a very serious situation and can have consequences for immediate mobilisation in matters of national security”.
The dissenting note pointed out that the central bank, which was always “the lender of last resort”, would no longer be able to mobilise the funds needed in times of crisis.
The amendment bill proposes to increase the tenure of the SBP governor from three to five years, with a maximum of two terms.
It was also proposed that the governor’s salary would be Rs15 million per month, while the bank would employ two deputy governors with similar perks.
The amendments propose to provide immunity to the SBP governor, deputy governor, directors of the board, including sitting directors or those who have completed their terms, from accountability through the National Accountability Bureau or the Federal Investigation Agency.
Under the new amendment, SBP will not extend direct credits to or guarantee any obligations of the government or any government entity. It shall also not purchase government sureties.
In its dissenting note, the opposition states: “The sum total of the proposed amendments is that the financial control of the federal government will be lost, as a consequence of which CPEC will be affected, foreign policy and relationship with neighbors will go under strain, the defense budget will be affected, Pakistan’s nuclear assets and their funding will come under strain and there will be one account for defense expenditure in the SBP, which will be under the scrutiny of IMF.”
“Other elements of Pakistan’s national power are already under US scrutiny, now finance will also be Pakistan will become the worst example of modern day colonialism,” the note concluded.