LAHORE - Whenever Hamza Shahbaz speaks in Punjab Assembly, he visualizes himself to be present in the National Assembly of Pakistan. And, when he is mentally there, he tries to act as Leader of the Opposition, a political office currently held by his father Shehbaz Sharif. He remains in this mental state till he is halfway through his speech.

In line with the parliamentary traditions, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif initiated the mandatory budget debate on Monday. His speech focused mainly on the federal subjects, though he also touched upon issues relating to the Punjab province.

But it proved a blessing in disguise for the Treasury. It made the things easier for Punjab Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Muhammad Basharat Raja who conveniently ignored most of Hamza’s concerns regarding the federal government.

Opposition leader started off his speech criticizing the federal government for its failures to address country’s economic problems. He was critical of the ex-Finance Minister Asad Umer and Prime Minister Imran Khan for their initial wavering stance on getting loan from the IMF and their statements to review the CPEC project. According him, all this confusion [on key] issues created an uncertain situation causing irreparable loss to national economy. Hamza also mocked government’s austerity drive by making mention of sale of buffalos and bullet proof vehicles which belonged to the Prime Minister’s House.  

“Mr Speaker! You cannot run the economy by selling buffalos and vehicles”, he remarked.

Opposition leader also showed his concern over what he called the unrealistic tax collection target of Rs 5,555 billion set by the federal government. He believed that government won’t be able to meet the target in the wake of worst economic crisis the country was in at the moment. 

In his opening remarks, Law Minister made it clear that most of the concerns raised by the Opposition leader related to the federal government, and hence he would not be responding to them. “It is [something] between them and the federal government”.

But still the minister could not resist giving his reaction on some of the federal issues highlighted by the Opposition leader. Raja Basharat in fact could not digest Hamza’s taunt on sale of buffalos and vehicles of the Prime Minister’s House. 

“True, we are living on the proceeds from the sale of buffalos and vehicles. But we were left with no other choice but to take such austerity measures. And look at them……..they are yet to deposit their dues of Punjab House [Islamabad] worth Rs 500 million”, Raja scored a point. The minister also asked the defaulters [present parliamentarians from the PML-N] to pay their dues, failing which, the amount would be deducted from their salaries. 

At this point in time, Speaker Parvez Elahi intervened and asked the minister to present the list of defaulters in the House. Raja Basharat assured the Chair he would do the needful.

In response to Hamza’s contention that Punjab Chief Minister and the Governor spent more than their allocations, the minister told the House that Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had only one camp office, 7-Club Road, which served as his office as well as residence. The previous chief minister had set up four camp offices on government’s expense despite having an enormous fortune, he added.

Except for the initial disruption of Hamza Shahbaz’s speech, the House witnessed calm for most part of its proceedings. Speaker Parvez Elahi on Monday assumed the role of a Head Master who is very strict in the classroom.

“I will make you stand [on seats] and force you to read the relevant rules which I can apply on the adamant lawmakers”, he warned while holding the book of rules high in his hands. The caution worked.