LAHORE: The previous property tax rates have been restored by Punjab as the provincial assembly has adopted the Punjab Finance Bill (Amendment) 2014 on Friday with majority and in the absence of the combined opposition.
With the passage of the amended bill, the previous ratio of property tax levied on immovable properties throughout Punjab has been restored, and the Property Tax Wing of the Punjab Excise and Taxation Department has been restricted from collecting property tax at the increased rates.
It was interesting to note that the treasury benches, in the absence of opposition lawmakers, gave nod to the law to accomplish their legislation agenda.
After the adoption of the bill, the assembly session was prorogued for an indefinite period.
On the other hand, the combined opposition, terming the Punjab Finance Bill an “anti-poor bill”, staged a walkout from the proceedings.
Opposition leader Mian Mahmoodur Rashid, speaking on the floor of the Punjab Assembly, said that the Punjab Finance Bill was an attempt by the provincial government to overburden the masses with enhanced tax ratio.
He declared the Punjab Finance Bill a conspiracy against the poor masses, and staged a walkout by giving remarks that opposition lawmakers could not be a party to the anti-poor amendment bill.
According to details, the Punjab Assembly’s session started under the chairmanship of Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal with a delay of one hour and 15 minutes from its scheduled time. As per the agenda of the assembly business for Friday, the Punjab Finance Bill (Amendment) 2014 and the question and answer session on the Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD) was done, but as per the assembly rules of business, when the Finance Bill was on the agenda of the House proceedings, no other business could come under discussion.
Owing to this, Secretary on Parliamentary Affairs Nazar Hussain, soon after the start of the House proceedings, presented a motion to suspend the assembly rules, which was approved immediately and the question and answer on the S&GAD were included in the assembly agenda.
During the question and answer session, Parliamentary Secretary Ali Asghar Manda could not respond to the queries of the opposition legislators and repeatedly told the members to consult him in his chamber for further reply. The opposition lawmakers strongly criticised his stance. Smelling the bitterness of the situation after a reply to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker Murad Raas’ question was not given properly, the speaker remarked that the parliamentary secretary had failed to respond satisfactorily to the question and “its better to postpone the question, and he must get accurate reply from the department concerned”. To another question by treasury member Rahela Khadim Hussain, Manda gave a contradictory reply and told the House that there was no daily-wage employee in the department, but to a supplementary question, he told the House that in the Punjab Benevolent Fund Al-Falah Building, clerics were working for the last seven years and they had been hired for 89 days, and after the expiry of 89 days, they were re-employed in the department if desired. He, however, could not tell the House about the exact date of five employees’ appointment who had been working on daily wages.
Likewise, to another question, he told the House that State Officer Tariq Jamil was appointed in Secretariat on November 14, while in a written reply, the date of appointment was December 18.
He also failed to reply to some other questions, upon which opposition lawmakers protested and said that the parliamentary secretary was not showing seriousness with regard to assembly business.
The speaker in the situation remarked that the parliamentary secretary had to submit accurate replies, and if the department concerned was not supplying facts, action must be initiated against the related officers.
Soon after the question and answer session, when the Punjab Finance Bill was tabled, the opposition members strongly opposed the bill and Mian Mahmood said that the bill was presented without appropriate announcement, which was not in public interest, and that the opposition would not become part of this atrocity.
He then, along with other opposition members, walked out of the House.
Interestingly, the opposition members while walking out pointed out the quorum, but after two minutes’ bell, the quorum was complete.
On the directives of the speaker, two ministers – Malik Yawar Zaman and Waheed Chaudhry – tried to bring back the opposition members, but the opposition had the stance that they would not attend the session during the adoption of the Punjab Finance Bill.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah criticising the attitude of the opposition and said that it was ironic that the opposition, without reading the bill, opposed the same, and that the government had reduced the property tax ratio to its old rates.
He said that the government decided to withdraw the increased ratio of tax after the protest of traders and business organisations.
It is notable that the Punjab Assembly on Friday pended the adjournment motions of treasury member Sheikh Alaudin and opposition members Dr Noshin Hamid, Sadia Sohail Rana and Rahela Anwar about the lease of Punjab University’s land to a private transport company.
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