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Saturday July 20, 2024

Blame game overshadows budget discussion in Senate

Syed Shibli Faraz said PMLN and PPP had been governing country since 1971

By Mumtaz Alvi
June 14, 2024
Inside view of the Senate of Pakistan. — Radio Pakistan/File
Inside view of the Senate of Pakistan. — Radio Pakistan/File 

ISLAMABAD: Blame game Thursday overshadowed the budget proceedings of the Senate while some members strongly advocated for political stability and observing austerity by the ruling elite shunning their lavish lifestyle.

Leader of the Opposition Syed Shibli Faraz, who opened the discussion, said the PMLN and PPP had been governing the country since 1971, excluding the terms of military dictators and were responsible for the country’s economic mess. He said the budget carried no economic vision to steer the country out of debt trap. However, he welcomed the increase in minimum wages but rejected the increase in taxes on the salaried class.

Shibli warned that the revenue target was over-ambitious and that it would add to fiscal deficit and force the government to obtain more loans. Slamming the government, he said it was an open secret how the rulers had been brought to power, lacking legitimacy and people’s mandate. He claimed that the PTI and a large majority of people were on one side, while representatives of the elite and those part of the illegitimate government were on the other side. “They are least concerned about the sentiments of people, as they have not been given mandate by the people and lack moral strength and legitimacy. Contrary to Feb 2024 elections here, not a single voice in India was raised about the fairness of Lok Sabha elections, which were conducted in one month,” he said.

He recalled how the then opposition had tried to blackmail the PTI government at the time of FATF negotiations, by seeking to practically legalize corruption through amendments to the law, and hence during the PDM regime, white collar crime and corruption below Rs500 million were almost legalized. The opposition leader said his party stood for political stability and rule of law, being essential prerequisites to attract foreign investment and economic well-being.

Responding to his speech, PMLN parliamentary leader Irfan Siddiqui said according to PTI, the legitimate government would that be of PTI alone, while the rest of the governments are based on poll fraud and rigging and any other force. He said their leader (Imran Khan) had no association with parliament ever since he became an MNA for first time in 2002 and despite being a member of two key standing committees i.e. Kashmir committee and PAC. He hardly attended a single meeting of both panels. “He (Imran) did not take part in 2008 polls and faced defeat in 2013 elections and chose to stage a sit-in for four months and talked of 35 punctures, and later said it was just a political statement,” Senator Irfan recalled.

He said to scrutinise his allegations a commission was formed and their leader agreed with Ishaq Dar at that time that he would stop hurling allegations if nothing was proved before the commission but such scene till continues.

Referring to the 2024 general elections, he said the Election Commission conducted polls in the Centre and four provinces but to PTI, only those held in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were free and fair and the rest were rigged. The PMLN senator insisted that the polls were legitimate and so was the incumbent government and all the state institutions were functioning, including parliament and the judiciary, having provided relief to the opposition party. These decisions were being accepted by the treasury.

Senator Irfan claimed there was not a single case of corruption against Nawaz Sharif. He insisted that record $34 billion remittances this year testified to the overseas Pakistanis’ trust in the government, while investors were coming to Pakistan to explore the investment opportunities. “The PTI regime took loans during its four years, equal to those obtained in 71 years. It were they who brought the IMF back and when out of power, wrote to it not to give loans in the face of default,” he said. About Imran’s readiness for talks, he wondered what and how there could be talks, if the PTI leaders continued the mantra calling those in the government, thieves, dacoits and corrupt.

Awami National Party parliamentary leader, Senator Aimal Wali Khan regretted that due to direct and indirect taxes, life for the common man had become extremely difficult. He even proposed taxes on breathing. “This way we can retire loans in one year,” he said. “We have destroyed the whole country; ours is a war economy, if there is a war here, money will come and when there is no war, the economy will be in trouble”.

He continued that the decision to become a US slave was made by General Ayub Khan and then dictator Ziaul Haq decided to opt for dollars for training the mujahideen to wage a war at the US behest in another country. After 9/11, “We saw more dollars coming. In these years, we tried to run the country by relying on foreign goods and to-date, the situation is the same. This budget is a reflection that it was dictated by the IMF and people’s representatives had no role in it”.

Aimal called for austerity and said this should start from parliament and that there must be accountability of all. He proposed that perks and privileges of parliamentarians should be withdrawn and this should be then followed by members of the provincial assemblies as well. He also proposed evaluation and ‘sale’ of official residences of commissioners, DCs and defence institutions to pay back loans and to put the country on the path of stability.

PPP Senator Taj Haider rose to clarify that the finance minister at the outset of his budget speech had said that the budget document was prepared under the guidance of senior political leadership including PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He emphasized, “It is wrong to link Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with such a document that only repeats failed policies, having no relation with the ground reality. The budget would have a different shape had Bilawal given his input on it”.

He said nothing in the budget was people-friendly and pro-poor. It only stressed upon the old flopped theory of trickle-down economy that first the rich should become richer and then the poor would benefit from it.