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June 29, 2020

Opposition rejects budget, demands PM’s resignation

Top Story

June 29, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The combined opposition Sunday rejected the Federal Budget 2020-21 and demanded resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The opposition said the government had failed to adequately address the challenges posed to the country by the corona pandemic, rampant inflation, endemic unemployment, collapsing industry, shrinking agriculture, deadly locust invasion, and ongoing global economic shocks.

The combined opposition addressed a joint press conference after which a joint statement was issued comprising 19 points and carrying the signatures of Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leaders of ANP, QWP, JI, JUI, BNP-(Mengal), PkMAP, NP (Hasil Bizenjo) and Mohsin Dawar (PTM leader).

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, PML-N Parliamentary Leader in the National Assembly Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Mian Muhammad Aslam of Jamaat-e-Islami, and Opposition Leader in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and JUI-F senior leader Akram Khan Durrani addressed the joint press conference.

Addressing the joint press conference, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said they completely reject the budget 2020-21 and demand that Prime Minister Imran Khan should step down.

"The opposition leaders have unanimously declined and rejected the budget and will take all measures possible to protest against it," he said.

"We were expecting that the government would provide some sort of relief at a time of crisis, but to the contrary, it has increased burden on the masses," he said.

He said the government had imposed a tax on petrol, before the passing of the budget, which was even more than the rate of petrol itself.

"There has been an absolute failure on the government's part to secure our lives and protect our health," he added.

The PPP chairman said the entire opposition had played a responsible role in combating the coronavirus.

He said the PML-N, PPP and other parties had the leadership to fight the pandemic but the PTI lacked the leadership to fight the pandemic.

He said the current crisis could be dealt with by listening to the international organisations' recommendations.

Speaking of PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal said Shahbaz Sharif was making the prime minister sweat even while he was ill.

He said Shahbaz was "in touch with all parties" despite his illness.

He said an all-parties conference would be announced soon after recovery of Shahbaz Sharif.

PML-N stalwart Khawaja Asif said Imran Khan's rule was leading the country to destruction.

"Imran Khan has become a national burden. The way the government allies are breaking the coalition is an indication that the government is on its last legs," he said.

"It is only with his removal that Pakistan can be saved." He said the opposition will formulate a joint strategy in this regard.

He said the opposition will adopt all constitutional ways to change the government.

Durrani said the government's attitude towards the opposition is plain for everyone to see.

Condemning the treatment meted out to Jang Geo Media Group chief editor Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, he said no case had been registered against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman who had been arrested for several months now.

The joint statement condemned the illegal arrest of Editor-in-Chief Geo and Jang Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and said journalists had become most vulnerable and insecure under the current PTI government.

The statement said the persecution of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was a proof of government’s contempt and disdain for freedom of the press.

It said the government had failed to provide relief to the masses, which they needed the most.

“The budget failed to provide for protecting the lives, economic future, and livelihoods of the people. Unprecedented challenges merit an unprecedented response. This budget is nowhere close to that. We, the members of the joint opposition in Pakistan, have deliberated on the budget at length and hereby reject it unanimously and unequivocally,” the resolution said.

It said the government had presented a budget that lacked good news for the people.

“As was the case last year, the fiscal numbers presented are not in the least credible. The obvious deception in the budget has started unraveling very quickly under the scrutiny of the opposition. The fears of the people have proven correct even before the “no new tax” budget has been voted on. The massive and oppressive increase in petrol prices has laid bare the fact that a series of real mini-budgets will start appearing almost every month. How many more tax bombs the PTI government is going to drop on the people?”

It stated that Pakistan was going through a grave fiscal crisis. “The debt increased in a short period of two years by this incompetent government is more than the debt increased by either PPP or PML-N in their 5-year tenure. The record high deficits incurred by the IK government in both its years are more than any deficit ever incurred by PPP or PML-N. These unprecedented deficits and debt, combined with a shrinking GDP, both in rupee and dollars, paint a very grave picture, and put the future of our children in jeopardy. The economic damage inflicted by this direction-less government, its incompetent leadership and their rented experts has mortgaged our future for generations.”

The resolution stated that in the last two years, the government decreased the GDP growth from 5.8% to negative 0.4%. For the first time in history, it has collected less tax revenues than the previous year. This feat the IK government has managed to do twice in two years. It has devalued the currency by 40% and yet managed to shrink exports in both years. It has doubled unemployment and increased poverty. It also increased interest rates and inflation to extortionate levels. The high interest rates benefitted anonymous overseas investors who were able to make billions at the expense of Pakistan. We shall remember all of this.”

It stated that last year the IK government lied to the nation during the budget by claiming a deficit of only 7.1%, which was revised eventually to 9.1%. This year it is claiming a deficit of 9.1% but we know it will be much more.

The IK government also expects to raise 27% more taxes or an additional trillion rupees. This can only happen with the IK government presenting mini-budgets. We know already that this is what it intends to do. The current budget therefore is a ruse.

The resolution stated that Pakistan was going through a grave economic and social crisis because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of addressing its dangers, providing for the vulnerable and the poor, looking to save the lives of so many exposed to disease and hunger, the IK government has played the dance of its deadly and divisive politics on this budget too. The IK government budget shockingly ignores that the world is going through such an unprecedented emergency of epic proportions. The IK government has completely ignored the Covid-19 pandemic in this budget.

Instead of a crisis budget, we have a flagrantly dishonest exercise that completely ignores the heartbreaking life-and-death realities on the ground. Instead of increasing development spending that provides jobs to our people, it has cut it. As per its agenda, it is slowly killing off CPEC by leaving little or no money in the budget for its programme. This budget, it seems, has been made with very different priorities in mind.

The joint statement stated, “This budget provides no extra protection neither for doctors on the front lines nor incentives for health workers putting them in danger, so that we may live with our families in peace. The budget has not catered for extra hospitals, ventilators or oxygen-fortified.

On the contrary, like all commodities under this regime, even oxygen has become scarce and the IK government has left people at the mercy of oxygen “mafias” with no one to protect them. IK government lacks any roadmap for health or economic recovery. Other than paper-statements, both the opportunity and the challenge presented by Covid-19 has not been seen in the “budget. By the government’s own data, until last year there were 1,279 hospitals in the country. No new hospitals were added in the years 2018-2019. There is no special package for Balochistan for the setting up of isolation and quarantine centres and for the electrification of its villages.

It is shocking how — despite the 18th Amendment and consequent devolution — the IK government failed to consult provinces in designated constitutional forums such as the CCI, NEC and NFC. The National Finance Commission is completely illegal in its notification. The budget also ignored the WHO entreaties to the Government of Pakistan to add crucial health infrastructure. Instead of enhancing the percentage of GDP spent on health, for instance, which is in need of critical infrastructure and human resource support, the IK government has illegally and callously slashed federal support to the provinces. The money allocated to the provinces this year is 20% or Rs 500 billion less than what was stipulated last year. The budget should have had a health package for all the provinces.

Despite the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization repeatedly supporting opposition warnings, that Pakistan's GDP can be adversely affected by the locust attack to the tune of Rs600 billion, the federal government has not just ignored attempts to fight it, but has only allocated Rs10 billion for it.

With 140,000 acres of crops already damaged by this locust tsunami, now hitting other parts of Asia and Africa as well, the budget has criminally neglected calls for pesticide spray planes and other equipment.

As it stands, 3 million square kilometres of farmland is already affected badly in Pakistan, and further agricultural damage is expected with such inaction. With 60% of Pakistan hovering the edge of hunger and food insecurity, such federal indifference and inattention to one of the world's greatest plagues will cost countless lives, not to mention livelihoods and exports from Pakistan.

If at least a minimum of 20 aircraft and matching budget, five times the budgeted allocation, is not immediately provided, the FAO's estimate of damage to Pakistan's economy will shoot up to Rs2,000 billion. The world is warning that this is the worst locust attack in 25 years. The IK government is ignoring the world, ignoring the opposition, and not even implementing its own Locust National Action Plan,” it stated.

The IK government is hiding the just announced petrol bomb under the head of “petroleum levy”, so as to avoid sharing this revenue with the provinces as required by the Constitution. This will not only place an unfair burden on the people and the provinces, but is also illegal.

The IK government has protected crony capitalists by allowing money laundering through the construction sector, which has already made windfall profits through amnesty schemes and other tax breaks. In open contradiction to the famous IK government’s promise to provide 50,000,00 houses for the poor, no such shelter for the poor was provided.

Instead of enhancing the BISP grant three-fold to help the population exposed to immediate financial trauma by the recessionary economy, the IK government slashed social protection by Rs34 billion.

The only relief given to the poorest of the poor was in the shape of a one-off BISP grant, which was nothing more than the ordinary allocation expensed for the year.

It stated that the people of tribal areas had been totally ignored, the internally displaced persons continue to languish in camps, the development budget allocations transferred to non-development sectors and the area remains a black hole as people denied internet.

The joint statement stated that Imran Khan government did not increase salaries and pensions despite double-digit inflation and historically highest food inflation for the first time in many decades. All previous governments have — to one extent or another — provided relief on this count. At a time when the population is vulnerable to an enhanced and dangerous level of health and economic risk, this is a crucial need to support senior citizens in a pandemic, and has been ruthlessly overlooked.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the minimum wage was not adjusted for inflation thus putting additional burden on the lowest paid workers.

The Imran Khan government has been at pains to portray its “stellar” performance prior to the corona pandemic, whereas its own numbers paint a different picture.

The policy of very high interest rates, sudden massive devaluation of rupee and witch-hunt of investors through the NAB resulted in stagflation and has been responsible for ruining the country.

The state of the 4th pillar of democracy, the media, continues to worsen under the PTI government. Despite repeated reminders, the PTI government has not provided any relief to the journalist community, which is among the hardest-hit by the corona pandemic.

The sector was already reeling from an economic crisis with mass lay-offs and salary cuts after the PTI government weaponized government ads to push its propaganda and lies. The PTI uses NAB and other threats to gag the news media in Pakistan while its lynch-mob continues to demonize the 4th pillar of the state through its social media trolls, at times inciting violence. Journalists have become the most vulnerable and insecure professionals in the country under this government. Persecution of the Jang Group’s Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is a proof of the government’s contempt and disdain for freedom of the press in Pakistan.

This vindictive government has weaponized NAB to silence and oppress the opposition. The continued prolonged incarceration of former Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah and Punjab’s current Leader of Opposition Hamza Shahbaz is a proof of this. To this day, no charge has been brought forward against them. This is the worst example of victimisation.

This country needs to be saved from this incompetent, anti-poor, vindictive, and fascist Imran Khan government before it brings the country down under the weight of its own blunders.

The resolution concluded that the Federal Budget 2020-21 had failed on every account to adequately address the challenges posed by a global pandemic, rampant inflation, endemic unemployment, collapsing industry, shrinking agriculture, a deadly locust invasion, and ongoing global economic shocks.

Imran Khan government has failed miserably in providing relief to Pakistanis when they need it most. The Federal Budget 2020-21 fails to provide for protecting the lives, economic future, and livelihoods of the Pakistani people. The joint opposition rejects it unanimously, entirely, and forcefully,” the resolution concluded.