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After NA, SBP Bill passes through Senate by the thinnest of margins

Updated 29 Jan, 2022
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman during a Senate session. Photo via Twitter/@SenatePakistan/File
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman during a Senate session. Photo via Twitter/@SenatePakistan/File
The treasury and the opposition had a tie, with 43 votes each, after debating on the bill. However, it was passed after Senate Chairman Sanjrani also voted in the favour of the bill, bringing the government's vote count to 44. Photo via Twitter/@SenatePakistan/File
The treasury and the opposition had a tie, with 43 votes each, after debating on the bill. However, it was passed after Senate Chairman Sanjrani also voted in the favour of the bill, bringing the government's vote count to 44. Photo via Twitter/@SenatePakistan/File

With 44 votes against the opposition's 43, the treasury benches in the Senate successfully passed the SBP Autonomy Bill from the upper house of parliament, on Friday.

The opposition's recommendations in the bill, moved by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, were rejected. In reaction to the bill's passing, opposition leaders protested against the treasury in front of Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani’s desk.

The bill was passed only after the opposition's demand for a second count of votes was accepted.

The treasury and the opposition had a tie, with 43 votes each, after debating on the bill. However, it was passed after Senate Chairman Sanjrani also voted in favour of the bill, bringing the government's vote count to 44.

Opposition leaders slammed the government for bulldozing the bill in Senate and tore down copies of the bill.

"It is now evident and open that the government has been defeated while tabling their most important bill and they have faced such a defeat. Today, I congratulate the joint opposition on this," PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said.

During her speech, Finance Miniser Tarin was seen leaving the Senate.

She alleged that the government was compromising the country's sovereignty and national security under the garb of such bills. "They are dependent on loans and they don't limit their expenses," she said. She demanded the government to decrease their expenses and said Prime Minister Imran Khan should step down.

JUI-F leader Maulana Ghafoor Haideri was of the view that the House with the passage of bill was putting "Zarb-e-Azb" on the economy. He also like Sherry demanded of the House speaker to omit the bill from the agenda amid Sanjrani's call to other opposition leaders to keep quiet.

"We are trying to destroy the economy with such a bill," he said and urged the House speaker to omit it from the agenda.

PPP leader Farooq H Naek urged the Senate chairperson to adjourn the session and order the House to bring it back after a month.

Leader of the House in Senate Shahzad Waseem said, "Mr Naek, himself, has been the House chairperson. Please tell me, on what grounds the opposition is demanding that the speaker adjourn the intended legislation as this bill and the motion is on the order of the day."

He added, "They [opposition] are making fun of parliament by pressurising and coercing you [house speaker]. On many occasions, you have given the ruling in their [opposition] favour and we accepted it but they are making this bill controversial."

Sanjrani advised the leader of the house to stick to his speech.

Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz said he was "astonished" to see the opposition's reaction against the bill. He also criticised PPP for "treatment of MQM-P" during a protest on Wednesday.

He asked the opposition to present solid reasons for rejecting the bill.

"Today it is evident that this is a 'document of financial sovereignty surrender'," PPP Senator Raza Rabbani said, as Tarin came back to the house and presented the SBP amendment bill that was passed by the National Assembly. Tarin urged the house speaker to vote on the bill and said the government will accept the decision of the House, whateverit maybe.

Upon count of the vote, the government and opposition tied at 43 votes each. To this, Sanjrani said: "I will go with the treasury benches. Moreover, the amendments were rejected after the finance minister rejected them.

The Senate session has been postponed till 3:30pm.

Talking to media after the session, Senator Rehman said that the PTI government has refused to follow democratic norms and turned the Parliament into a circus by bulldozing the SBP Amendment Bill, 2021, using condemnable tactics.

Rehman said: “Today marks a black day in Pakistan’s history, as the SBP Amendment Bill was bulldozed in the Senate today despite the vehement protests from the joint opposition. The PTI government has refused to follow democratic norms and has turned the Parliament into a circus by bulldozing a bill using condemnable tactics that had not been witnessed in Pakistan’s history until today and have disparaged parliamentary tradition.”

She continued on to say, “They had to call for votes twice as they had failed to get enough numbers to pass the bill at the first attempt. They adjourned the meeting and in a categorically reprehensible move, the government asked members currently suffering from Covid-19 to come out, whilst being oxygenated, to get enough numbers to bulldoze the bill through. Alongside completely disregarding parliamentary norms, this government gave the exact same regard to the Covid-19 SOPs to push their catastrophic agenda forward.”

She said, “This [SBP] bill is a direct threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and national security; it will ensure that the lender of last resort is unable to take Pakistan out of any future crisis. Central banks are autonomous only to the extent they make monetary policy. It seems PTI has borrowed so much in its three and a half years term that commercial banks will become the only lenders.

What will happen to the SBP, lender of last resort when crisis looms? What will happen to the government’s ability to put down sovereign guarantees in big projects? These are listed as contingent liabilities, which is debt, so the IMF can now overrule even these. Such terms are unheard of and totally rejected by the joint opposition.”

The PPP leader said that the government has no plan or pathway to ensure a safe passage outside of the perilous hole of debt they have put this country in.

She said that Pakistan’s current public debt stands at a whopping Rs50.5 trillion and the PTI cronies have failed to reduce spending and continue to indulge in their lavish lifestyles at the detriment of the hard-working taxpayers and the ballooning public debt.

“Why has the government not shut down the helicopter from Bani Gala and reduced expenses?” she asked.

She concluded by saying, “We only received the agenda of the Senate meeting after midnight: another card out of the deck of cowardly politics that this government continuously utilizes. After three and a half years of disastrous economic policies that have brought the country to its knees, the government has now bulldozed a Black bill in Pakistan through the means of undemocratic tactics. The opposition condemns any bill that seeks to sell Pakistan’s sovereignty off to the IMF.”