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Claims, counterclaims on economy: Govt, PML-N exchange barbs

ISLAMABAD: The main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government ministers Thursday blamed one another, holding each other responsible for the bleak and devastated economy of the country.

Speaking at different functions, they censured economic policies of each other and charged each other with pushing the country to the brink of devastation. From the government side, Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Shaukat Tarin, Minister for Energy and Petroleum Hammad Azhar and Minister for Industries and Production Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar accused the PML-N government of leaving a devastated economy for the PTI government.

However, the PML-N leaders including Shehbaz Sharif, Shahid Khan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Miftah Ismail and other leaders said the Imran Khan government had increased inflation, poverty and unemployment in the last three years.

Shaukat Tarin claimed that Prime Minister Imran Khan suffered due to PML-N Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s wrong economic policies, while PML-N President and Opposition Leader in National Assembly Shehbaz said the PTI government’s wrong policies increased poverty, inflation, unemployment in the country.

The ministers claimed the government was fighting against price-hike and other issues and in the upcoming years it would overcome these problems. They said the PMLN was finding it hard to digest the economic successes of the Imran Khan government and that was why they were holding seminars to fool the masses.

However, the PMLN leaders said inflation had gone up by 3 times, and food inflation by 5 times due to PTI government’s wrong policies. The economic volume of the country had been reduced from $313 bn to $296 bn by the PTI govt during the past three years, they alleged. They also announced presenting their own budget for the masses.

Ruling out the possibility of suspension of the IMF sponsored programme, Shaukat Tarin said the government would present an “alternative plan” before the Fund authorities to convince them the circular debt would not increase without hiking the power tariff.

He also said that the tax exemptions worth Rs140 billion would not be abolished in the upcoming budget but the government would share its plan on eve of upcoming budget to prove that the desired FBR target would be achieved with full backing of facts and figures.

Federal Minister for Information Ch Fawad Hussain stated in his tweet that the opposition was totally confused as on one side they stated that they would not allow to pass the budget, but on the other hand they arranged budget seminar.

In a hurriedly called virtual press briefing, Tarin said that the PMLN had achieved GDP growth rate of 5.8 percent in 2018 with the help of “borrowed” money. “The exchange was kept artificially stable so this kind of mechanism was used to increase GDP growth during the tenure of PMLN led regime. “We never stated that they had fudged the figures,” Tarin said. Flanked by Federal Minister for Industries Khusro Bakhtiar and Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar on the occasion, Tarin said Prime Minister Imran Khan took decision that the government would not burden masses by hiking power tariff. “We will give alternative plan to the IMF that the circular debt will not be allowed to go up without hiking tariff”.

The minister blamed the PMLN for pursuing flawed exchange rate and said that the wrong policies of the past forced Pakistani negotiators to accept IMF’s unjustified front loaded demands on account of discount rates.

Hammad Azhar said the PMLN was using commentary of those economists who had criticised their tenure in more harsh tones. To another query about increasing CPI based inflation, he said that the government brought down to petroleum levy for providing relief to poor masses for saving them hiking POL prices in the domestic market. He said the capacity payment stood at Rs480 billion had now peaked to Rs1.2 trillion and it was the gift given by the last PMLN led regime. The minister said the revenue would be increased by 20 percent in order to jack up tax collection to Rs7 trillion over two-year period. He said the development budget was increased by 38 percent for next budget to increase development allocation to Rs900 billion.

Shaukat Tarin said FBR’s tax collection would be increased to Rs5.8 trillion in next fiscal year against Rs4.7 trillion for outgoing fiscal year. The government, he said, would increase tax collection through use of technology and broadening of narrowed base. The nominal growth – real GDP and inflation – would materialise 13.2 percent growth in tax revenues and remaining would be achieved by bringing retail sector into the tax net, the minister added. Additionally, he said that some tax exemptions would also be abolished in the budget. Minister for Industries and Production Khusro Bakhtiar said the country’s economy was improving and strengthening due to the government’s prudent economic policies under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

However, the PMLN leaders earlier launched a severe attack on the government policies. PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif said the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had not confirmed the economic statistics, presented by the government, which left a big question mark on the credibility of the figures.

Addressing the pre-budget seminar, he said the fake government knew the art of manipulation. He said the mini budget presented by the government in the past was also in front of everyone and inflation had broken the backs of the people in three years. He said unemployment in the country had increased immensely and the progress on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC) had slowed down.

PMLN leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the seminar PTI government’s wrong fiscal policies had increased poverty and unemployment in the country. “Five million Pakistanis have lost their jobs and an additional 20 million have been pushed below the poverty line, and increased the electricity tariffs by 62%,” he alleged. Former finance minister Miftah Ismail said the PTI government 7was "toying with the economy" and claimed it had increased the loans of the government and state institutions by Rs45,000 billion.

Miftah claimed the fiscal deficit during Imran Khan's tenure in 2019 stood at Rs3,829 billion, while it moved up to Rs3,892 billion in 2020, and Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin had also admitted that an increase in interest rate increases debt.

Former Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair said four finance people have held the finance ministry's portfolio during the PTI government's tenure and questioned as to who are those 200 people who claimed they could fix the economy. Slamming the government, he said PM Imran Khan had sacked PTI's "poster boy" Asad Umar as the finance minister within a span of eight months.

Zubair said he had advised Umar that the problem in their government was the captain — Imran Khan.

Former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal said the PMLN had approved development projects for Chilas and Mirpur, and Muzaffarabad in 2016, "but even after five years, the PTI is unable to inaugurate those projects.”

He said that Imran Khan had not been able to start work on projects like Railway ML1 and Keti Bandar. "During PMLN tenure, meetings of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) will occur every six months."

PMLN leader Khurram Dastgir presented receipts of the bill of necessary daily-use items including sugar, ghee, moong pulse, and wheat flour, and proved that the prices of these four items went up by 96 per cent in the last three years compared to May 31, 2018 when PMLN was ruling the country. The GDP growth nosedived by 32 percent, GDP size by 5.4 percent and per capita 13.2 percent under the PTI-led government in comparison with 2018. The inflation went up by 126 percent whereby food inflation in rural areas went up by 530.4 percent under the PTI government. Total public debt went up by over 52 percent in last three years, he added. Former finance minister Ishaq Dar, in his online address, stated that the inflation had touched 24 percent at one point of time and currently it was in double digit. This level of food inflation was simply unsustainable, he added. He said that PMLN led government increased GDP size from $80 billion to $315 billion in its five year rule from 2013 to 2018. The PTI led government, he said, had achieved average GDP growth of 1.8 percent while PMLN had achieved average growth rate of 4.7 percent which was much higher than population growth of 2.4 percent on per annum basis. The per capita income had gone up $1650 during its five- year rule. Former minister for planning and Secretary Genera PMLN Ahsan Iqbal said the government was celebrating converting Current Account Deficit (CAD) into surplus instead of focusing on macroeconomic indicators such as GDP growth, inflation, revenue mobilisation efforts, exports, foreign direct investment, decreasing expenditures and fiscal deficit. He said that the CAD had gone higher on the assumption that the import of machinery and CPEC related investments would be one time phenomena and then these economic growth would provide dividends and imports would come down.