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June 30, 2019

Major crackdown against money laundering soon

Top Story

June 30, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government will now launch a full-fledged crackdown against money-laundering and plug the loopholes left by the former ruling elite to commit crime.

Taking the floor after the National Assembly passed 107 supplementary grants relating to different ministries, divisions and departments on the last day of the budget session on Saturday, he said the main reason for increase in devaluation of Pak rupee was money-laundering mainly by the ruling elite in the past. “How can others be stopped from money-laundering when those sitting in the government themselves are involved in this illegal practice?” he asked.

The prime minister said in the last four to five years, the properties of Pakistanis in Dubai had reached the figure of $5 billion, while there is also information that resident Pakistanis were keeping $10 billion abroad taken out of the country. He said Asif Ali Zardari also took foreign exchange out of Pakistan through the Omni Group. Making a mention of Hudaibiya Paper Mills and Hill Metal, he asked how the opposition leader who himself was a money-launderer could talk about devaluation of Pak rupee. He came down hard on his critics saying those calling him a ‘selected’ prime minister had signed an NRO with a military dictator to hide their corruption and were manufactured in the nurseries of military dictators. He said Murad Saeed in his speech quoted former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who had mentioned in her autobiography that former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was asked to drop corruption cases against members of the current opposition. The Americans collaborated to have the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) signed because it was in their interest, Khan said, setting the record straight. “That person who signed the NRO with Musharraf to hide his corruption is now using the word ‘selected’,” he said, adding Asif Zardari also sent money abroad through Hundi and Hawala. Without naming Shahbaz Sharif, Khan said he too was using the word ‘selected’ for him despite they were also manufactured in the nurseries of dictators.

The prime minister particularly thanked the armed forces and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa for voluntarily freezing the defence budget despite a tense situation on the eastern borders and the Line of Control. “General Bajwa suggested that savings from the defence budget be spent on development and uplift of Balochistan and Fata,” Imran said amid a thunderous applause from the treasury benches. Khan said the incumbent government had taken special measures in the budget to check lopsided development in the past and develop those areas left far behind in development. He said when the PTI government took over, it inherited current deficit of $19.5 billion and there was dollar crunch in the country. “It is a fact the rate of dollar goes up when it is in short supply in the country and when there is current deficit,” he added. He asked as to how those politicians who were facing charges of corruption and looting public money could deliver speeches in this house of public representatives. “How a person who has been facing billions of rupees corruption charges for the last 30 years can head the Public Accounts Committee, whose task is to protect public interests?”

He regretted the last Parliament had passed a bill allowing a leader, disqualified by the Supreme Court, to head a political party. Imran congratulated his party and ministers, chief whip and allies for their participation in the budget session saying quality speeches were delivered from the treasury benches. Imran particularly appreciated Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar for conducting the budget session and his composure during the proceedings. “He has emerged as a young leader and earned the place of federal minister for himself,” he said. The prime minister was happy to note that the budget was passed despite big slogans from the opposition and despite efforts of a politician who gathered the opposition parties for toppling the incumbent government. He asked as to how those who left behind record current deficit could question the present government. He said the government is sparing no effort to plug the loopholes, which the former rulers had left for money-laundering. “We are also making efforts to attract foreign investment,” he said, adding the government is under tremendous pressure, as the country is passing through a difficult phase. He said special budget had also been kept for various schemes in Karachi and pointed out the government is introducing such a system that would enable the local governments to generate their income.

The prime minister said a detailed package would be announced next week for promotion of the agriculture sector. He said Pakistan had signed an agreement with China for cooperation in the agriculture sector adding China would cooperate with Pakistan in seed production and technology transfer which would help bolster our agricultural production. Khan said the government would also expand the industrial base to create jobs and enhance exports. He said it was the first time after 1960 that a government had taken steps to develop the industry. “We have given incentives to the industrial sector and they will get more in future as well,” he added. Khan appreciated his economic team for taking steps that had brought down the current account deficit by 30 percent.

Regarding the government housing project, the prime minister said different schemes would be launched in the next week, which would create jobs and support about 40 industries associated with the construction sector. He said the government has also cut imports and import of exotic food items would be discouraged. He assured the House all efforts would be made to protect the poor and vulnerable segments of society and shift burden to the affluent class. He said allocations for Ehsas programme had been enhanced from Rs100 billion to Rs190 billion in the Federal Budget 2019-20. He said Rs217 billion is allocated in the budget to provide subsidy to the poor power consumers, while Rs100 billion is reserved as loans for the youth.

In his speech, Minister of State for Finance and Revenue Hammad Azhar said the government has substantially brought down the supplementary demands for grants, as last year these stood at Rs599.4 billion, while this year these were standing at about Rs200 billion. He said the opposition parties should appreciate reduction in the supplementary budget. The House also passed a resolution strongly condemning the language used by the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari against the National Assembly speaker. The resolution was moved by Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, demanding an apology on the floor of the House.

Speaking briefly in the House, Opposition Leader Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif suggested an exclusive session [of the House] to discuss issues relating to foreign affairs at a time when many international developments were taking place. He said efforts are being to get a special place for India in the United Nations. He said the foreign minister should have come up with a suggestion for discussion on foreign affairs. “An in-camera session can also be convened if there are secret matters,” he added. Responding to the opposition leader’s concerns, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the government has no objection to it adding there should be a bipartisan approach on the foreign policy.

Earlier, speaking on supplementary grants, former prime minister and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi raised objections to Rs20 billion supplementary grant for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) which, he said, could not hold free and fair elections. "The country's economy will face the current situation when elections are not transparent," he said, adding many members sitting in this House were elected through votes. He said the finger is pointed at the last elections because the ECP had no role inside the polling stations. He said nowhere in the world security personnel were deputed inside the polling stations. ‘Now the security situation has improved, the security forces’ personnel should not be deputed inside polling stations in the upcoming Fata polls,” he suggested.

PML-N member Rana Tanveer Hussain also objected that a heavy supplementary budget was placed before the House for the ECP which conducted ‘selection’, not elections. He said supplementary grants being sought for the President House and Prime Minister’s House had also exposed the government's claims of austerity. He said the prime minister undertook foreign visits along with cabinet members, friends, relatives and their relatives. "If this is the state of austerity, then Imran Khan should apologise to the House for his claims," he said.

Syed Naveed Qamar of PPP said heavy supplementary grants speak volumes of the government's financial discipline. He said the Supreme Court had also advised the government should spend within the budget limits instead of seeking supplementary budget.

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