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Senate opposition rejects budget

By Our Correspondent
June 22, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Joint opposition in the Senate on Friday rejected the budget, fearing if approved by the Parliament, it would add to crime and poverty, as it had been thrashed out not by the government but by the International Monetary Fund.

On the other hand, a treasury legislator insisted that there would be inquiry into the spending of Rs24000 billion in previous governments’ ten years rule, which led to the precarious condition of the national economy and it forced the PTI government to knock at the doors of IMF. A senator from Balochistan cautioned that their number one problem was not of CPEC or Gwadar but of water.

Taking part in the ongoing discussion on the budget in the House, former interior minister and PPP Senator A. Rehman Malik said that the budget would add to poverty and unemployment, for it would unleash a tsunami of new taxes and storm of inflation. He argued that it would be difficult for the lower class to sustain livelihood in view of the increasing inflation rate. Senator Malik strongly criticised the ongoing selected accountability, terming it political victimization and cautioned that there should be no victimization in the name of accountability.

The PPP legislator said to have had gone through the contents of the budget very minutely but unfortunately found nothing for the relief of a common man. He added that he could weigh massive extra burden, being put on common man in the budget.

He threw up a challenge to the government to point out five reliefs for a common man, it had announced in this budget. He said that his leader Asif Ali Zardari in the National Assembly presented a comprehensive roadmap to overcome the ongoing economic crisis in the country suggesting that the government and opposition should sit together to discuss issues affecting the economy and formulate a common strategy with national consensus.

Malik appreciated ex-finance minister Asad Umer, who had also advised his government to revisit the budget. He said that this budget would lead the country to a state of national default and absolute bankruptcy, as the financial sovereignty had been compromised to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He pointed out that the target of the taxes had been set without having a knowledge and analysis of the ground realities, as the people were crying under price hike, unemployment and above all the lawlessness.

Senator Malik paid tributes to slain former premier Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto on his sacrifices for democracy and the rule of law and said that she would always be remembered for her matchless services for Pakistan and its people and her struggle against extremism and terrorism.

He added the economic parameters coupled with deficit, GDP and taxes would cause hike in prices because of inflation and ever sliding Pakistani rupees. He said “I, in this House had predicted that the rupees will fall to 160 against one US dollar if urgent measures are not taken, once again I predict that it might be devalued up to Rs170 or more”.

As chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, he noted, had taken up the matter in the month of December 2018 regarding devaluation of Pak rupee when it jumped from Rs108 to 128 and then at the second time when it jumped to Rs128 to 138, with a sudden depreciation of the rupee to 25 to 30 per cent.

He said that he had directed the FIA to investigate and submit a detailed report to the Senate committee by 22 December, as to how the rupee had taken such a sharp and sudden drop and he was glad to say that on the directions of the committee FIA ceased 200 foreign accounts.

The PPP senator pointed out that Pakistan was passing through a state of war against terrorism and there was a need to empower the law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) through modern equipment and better training but he was shocked to know that budget for the Ministry of Interior was cut and even sufficient funds had not been allocated for the National Action Plan (NAP).

Malik questioned how government would fulfill its promise of constructing new schools, colleges and universities when the budget for education was reduced by 25 percent and how would it make new hospitals and provide free health facilities when the budget for health was reduced by more than 20 percent.

“The fire was already raging even before the budget presentation and it has now increased. What has gone wrong should be probed, as Pakistan was to be included in G-20 and its stock exchange was among the top five performing exchanges in 2017,” asserted Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan of PML-N.

Likewise, he continued that why the national economy was in ICU within no time and Pakistan had been mortgaged to the IMF and the present government had nothing to do with the budget.

He paid tribute to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Asif Saeed Khosa for his concern over the state of affairs and even the Pakistani cricket team performing poorly in the ICC World Cup but emphasized it should also be seen, why were initially three years given to General Musharraf by the apex court.

The senator also noted that there was also a chief justice, who had an unprecedented event, when he addressed a news conference in London with two PTI office-bearers sitting on his right and left and this was not done previously even by a civil judge or a magistrate to maintain their impartiality. He saluted SC Justice Faez Isa and Justice Shaukat Siddiqui for what he termed as calling a spade a spade.

He said ex-PM Nawaz Sharif was being punished for putting the economy on sound footing, building infrastructure and signing CPEC. “Our fight is with a mindset and we know how to fight,” he remarked. He questioned why no accountability was conducted of PTI, which had ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for six years and why DG Ehtesab Bureau was sacked again recently.

Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Sirajul Haq said, “there is a consensus among all that the budget neither belongs to Pakistan nor its people. PTI government also did not make this budget and there has been no consultation of even five minutes on it”.

He termed the budget directionless and a ‘qarz-nama’ and alleged the poor would be forced to pay more taxes for payment of interest on loans to the lending agencies. Even, if the government managed to get it passed from the National Assembly, he feared it would increase crime and poverty in Pakistan. He called for complete elimination of the interest-based system and regretted that his petition in the Supreme Court was pending since long.

Senator Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party said despite a commitment by Prime Minister Imran Khan on the issue of missing persons in Balochistan, there had been no progress at all. He called for freeing of 9th class student Ali Haider, who was picked up in Gwadar, who had walked from Karachi to Islamabad, when he was seven years old for the recovery of his father.

Given the present economic situation and the new budget, he said that it could lead to very dangerous repercussions in near future. He pointed out both Pakistan and India became independent countries same day but the neighbouring country was today among the top six world economies, whereas Pakistan was relying on loans even today.

“There is a basic difference between the two, India had its constitution introduced in three years after independence and then first election was held in 1952 and then they never looked back and had elections regularly and never this democratic process was obstructed, which strengthened their state institutions. Today, all their institutions function within their constitutional limit,” he noted.

He cautioned that Balochistan was in dire need of new dams to meet its water needs, as already about 5 million fruit trees had dried up in recent years while onion production had plunged from four lakh tones to one tones and thousands of tube-wells also went dry. “Our biggest issue right now is of water and it is more vital than CPEC or any other project,” he said.

Aurangzeb Khan of the treasury benches said those who plunged the country into debt trap should be punished and was confident that Commission of Inquiry would find out those responsible for it.

He made it clear that Prime Minister Imran Khan was not responsible for taking massive loans and ruining institutions like PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills. However, he urged the government to give tax exemption to steel and ghee business of the tribal districts, which was being previously done.

PML-N Senator Nuzhat Sadiq expressed concern over 40 percent reduction in the budget for the Higher Education Commission and wondered how the commission would be able to complete the on-going projects. She noted the Foreign Direct Investment had decreased by 52 percent due to economic mismanagement of the government in last ten months. She suggested the government to review the budget in consultation with the opposition.