Tuesday January 18, 2022

Govt, opposition trade accusations

The marathon sitting of the National Assembly on Wednesday was adjourned after the PPP woman legislator Nasiba Channa pointed out the quorum.

January 13, 2022

ISLAMABAD: Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said Prime Minister Imran Khan is the biggest crisis of the century. There is crisis in every century and Prime Minister Imran Khan is the crisis of this century, he said while speaking in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Taking part in a debate on the Supplementary Finance Bill, Bilawal said the meaning of "Naya Pakistan" is price hike, poverty and unemployment, adding, “This is not change, but it is destruction.”

The marathon sitting of the National Assembly on Wednesday was adjourned after the PPP woman legislator Nasiba Channa pointed out the quorum. The debate on the supplementary finance bill continues during the National Assembly session in which the opposition continued to target the government for mini-budget and the treasury benches claimed economic successes while the government-allied parties, including MQM, showed reservations. Bilawal said the government had approached the IMF in desperation and the government was on a weak wicket when it started negotiations with the IMF. “We had said the PTI-IMF deal was a bad deal at that time. We had called it a weak deal which will be economic strangulation of the people of Pakistan,” he said.

He said the poor people will pay the price of this deal with price hike, poverty, crises of gas, petrol and electricity besides the tsunami of inflation. The PPP chairman said Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari had asked the government to consult the opposition but it took the decision in isolation and the people of Pakistan were harmed by its solo decision and the government did not get the opposition's input. “You could have told the IMF that the opposition had not agreed to accept this deal,” he said. He said the government did not accept that cooperation and compromised the economic independence of the people, adding after the IMF deal, the government once again presented a budget but at that time, every economic indicator was the worst in the history of the country.

He said the government had called it zero tax budget and the government had said that it will not impose any taxes and there will be no mini-budget. “This the government had said in the month of June and now the government is bringing a tsunami of taxes,” he said.

He said one does not have to be an economic expert to see that there will be new taxes of Rs350 billion and there will be Rs250 billion rupees cut in development budget. “No people's representative can take such decisions,” he said. He said this government obeys the directives and orders of the IMF and the government and its allies will not be able to face the public. Bilawal said the prime minister, who used to say that he will come to his office on bicycle, now travels on a helicopter from Banigala to the PM's office but in this mini-budget he has taxed the bicycle of poor people.

He said the government has increased 100 per cent taxes on all kinds of vehicles and the vehicles manufactured in Pakistan will have 17 percent more tax imposed on them.

He said the IT sector is one of a few which the government could boast about but instead of encouraging this sector, the government has started to suck blood from this sector as well. “If this sector was encouraged, it could have been the one to provide jobs to the youth of Pakistan but this government has strangulated this sector as well,” he said, adding at the moment the country is engulfed in agricultural crisis but this government is imposing tax on 1,007 items. “It has imposed 17 percent tax on the agricultural machinery,” he said.

The PPP chairman said there is a urea crisis in the country and injustice in water distribution has already hurt the agriculture sector. He said the government is imposing tax on charity goods and donations while tax has been imposed on goods for the UN, goods used to deal with natural disasters and gifts (equipments, etc) for hospitals. “This government is absent at every natural disaster like in the flashfloods in Sindh and Balochistan,” he said, adding this government has taxed sewing machines as well. "I will not speak on it, you must be understanding."

He said the government is taxing raw material for manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors at a time when medicines have seen a historic rise in price and now it will increase further, adding the government has taxed solar panels at a time when Pakistan is suffering the most due to the impact of climate change. He said the government is also imposing tax on contraceptives at a time when HIV and AIDS are threatening the health of the people. Even infant milk is being taxed while food is a provincial subject and the federal government is imposing tax on food as well, he said and added the government said Pakistan has the least price hike, which is a lie because we have the most price hike in the region.

He said this government said the price hike is due to the Sindh province. “How many lies and for how long this government will tell because every child in the country knows that Imran Khan is responsible for this price hike,” he said.

He said from 2018, the food inflation has increased 54pc, price of edible oil increased 60pc, electricity price increased 60pc and lentils 30pc, which is robbery on the poor people of Pakistan. “When there was inflation during the PPP government, we had started BISP to give relief to the poor women of Pakistan, we increased pension up to 100pc, salaries up to 120pc and salaries of soldiers up to 175pc,” he said. The PPP chairman demanded of the government to increase salaries up to 100pc and said the Sindh government has set minimum wages at Rs25,000 but this was challenged in the Sindh High Court and when the court decided in the PPP's favour, the rich approached the Supreme Court which issued a stay order. “We demand that this stay order should be lifted,” he said.

The PPP chairman said the growers of the entire country are troubled and protesting due to government policies, adding in the month of November 2021, the ministers were claiming that there was excess urea in the country but in December the growers are looking for urea but it is not available. “This urea crisis will create a food crisis in the country in the coming months,” he said, adding this is the only government which creates crisis one after the other.

Regarding the PTI government's health card, Bilawal said this is to benefit private hospitals and insurance companies as this card has the same amount for the rich and poor and this is not the correct use of our resources. “This will harm the government's health sector,” he said, adding the aim should be to provide health facilities to the poor people of Pakistan. “This could be done by providing them free health facilities like Sindh has three hospitals (NICVD, Gambat hospital and SIUT) which provide free health facilities to the people.”

He said the most important point is our economic sovereignty and the government said that the country's economy plays an important role in national security. The government's legislation will make the State Bank of Pakistan a slave to the IMF and this will be the greatest attack on Pakistan's economic sovereignty, which will also impact the national security. No one accepted this in the history of Pakistan. “The SBP should be answerable to Parliament and the judiciary,” he said. “How is it possible that the governments in future cannot go to the SBP for loan, which is the bank of the people of Pakistan, bank of the nation,” he said.

Bilawal said instead the government will have to go to commercial and international banks for loans on their conditions. “The government increased the tenure of the SBP governor from three years to five years with a salary of Rs15 million,” he said, adding his legislation also provided immunity to the governor, deputy governor and SBP directors, which is an NRO given by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

He said this is a part of an international conspiracy that will impact CPEC, our foreign policy and relations with our neighbours. He said this will create problems for our nuclear programme and this legislation stated there will be only one defence account and that too in the same SBP, which will be overseen by international financial institutions. “We are exposing our nuclear programme to the world,” he said.

"We have two questions to ask from the government -- the first is about NAB which has accused everyone of corruption but when its chairman was summoned by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, the prime minister stopped him from going to PAC. “Why Imran Khan saves him? Is it because he saves Khan?” he questioned.

The PPP chairman said the NAB had claimed that it had recovered Rs800 billion of corruption but only Rs6 billion was deposited in the treasury. “We demand all the NAB officials, from the chairman NAB to the investigation officers, to disclose their assets. Now the NAB has been caught red-handed,” he said

He said the question from Prime Minister Imran Khan is that before becoming the prime minister, he had paid over Rs2 lac tax as tax but now after assuming the prime ministerial slot, he had paid over Rs98 lac. "Has Imran Khan got a magic wand that increased his income 5,800 percent,” he asked and said at a time when the people were becoming poorer, Imran Khan has become richer.

“How is it possible when he does not have any business and says that he made money from selling cricket bats. We are starting our long march from Karachi on February 27 and will hold him accountable. Enough is enough,” he said.

Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar, while defending the Supplementary Finance Bill and responding to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said that 90 percent of the taxes mentioned by Bilawal Bhutto will be refunded. “Bilawal was not told that these taxes are adjustable,” he said.

He said new taxes will not impact the people as 90 percent are adjustable, adding the PPP and PML-N had destroyed the economy during their tenures but the PTI government saved the country from bankruptcy.

He said out of 300 billion rupee taxes proposed in the Finance Supplementary Bill 2021, 270 bn rupees are adjustable taxes to document the economy, adding the remaining taxes have been imposed only on luxury items.

The minister said the government took difficult decisions to save the country from bankruptcy and steered it on the growth trajectory, pointing out the economy grew by four percent during the last financial year and it was expected to touch five percent during the current financial year.

He said tax collection was witnessing a growth of 30 percent and will touch the level of six thousand billion rupees by the end of this fiscal year. “The private sector credit has also witnessed an increase of 50 percent, a manifestation that the economy is growing,” he said.

Hammad Azhar said the government has put the country again on the path of industrialisation and the large-scale manufacturing is continuously witnessing growth. He said the crop growth has also doubled in our tenure compared with the previous regime, adding “We are expecting record production of major crops this year." He said there has been growth of 25 to 30 percent in exports, which will touch 30 billion dollars by the end of this financial year, adding, the government is fully cognizant of the problem being faced by the people due to inflation. He said the government had disbursed about 200 billion rupees amongst millions of deserving families under the Ehsaas programme in the wake of Covid-19. “We are also providing people with the Insaf Sehat Card under which each household is entitled to medical treatment worth one million rupees,” he said. He said the international community is appreciating Pakistan for successfully tackling the Covid pandemic, adding, about 20 to 25 thousand tons of urea is being produced in the country on daily basis.

He said the urea prices in Pakistan are much lower when compared with the international market, adding, we are providing uninterrupted gas to the fertiliser plants from November.

He said at the end of the PML-N's tenure, the circular debt was Rs450 billion, and we have reduced it to an annual Rs130 billion. The government was also trying to bring down the Rs2,300 billion current account deficit, he said.

He said the previous governments had struck costly LNG agreements and the current account deficit was high due to their expensive deals, adding the price of petroleum products was high due to the rates in the international market, claiming that false propaganda was being made against the government.

Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) chief Akhtar Mengal said unemployment was increasing in Balochistan, and he had expectations from the Centre to resolve this issue. "The electricity supply in Balochistan is negligible while no funds from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are being spent on the province," he said, adding despite billions of dollars being spent on Gwadar's CPEC projects, the inhabitants of the area were forced to drink dirty water.

He highlighted that the gas which is extracted from Balochistan's Sui town was not being provided to the people of the province. "OGDCL and Pakistan Petroleum have looted Balochistan's resources and every government loots Balochistan, our resources are being put on sale," he said.

He said the previous and incumbent federal governments struck deals with international companies, but did not give the province its due share.

He said bodies emerge from mass graves in Balochistan but no one took notice. “No one dares to talk about those who were behind it,” he said, adding “The cheapest thing in this country is death.” He said billions of dollars in gold, silver and copper resources looted from Saindak and no account has been given of the wealth gained from these reserves.

PML-N’s Parliamentary Leader in the National Assembly Khawaja Muhammad Asif said it was not the time for confrontation, rather it would be in the better national interests to keep the nation united.

Referring to an earlier speech of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, he said the same words were being used by the people of East Pakistan but the lesson was learnt when the tragedy had occurred. “This is not justice that there is no gas in Dera Bugti but Sialkot people were having the same,” he said, adding that he was talking about the country’s sovereignty and the Constitution’s supremacy.

“Why a bill giving rights to ex-Fata people is facing delay in the Senate,” he questioned. About the mini-budget, he said that it would be yet another ‘Mehngai Budget’ (Inflation Budget). Hitting at the government over the SBP bill, he said it was tantamount to selling the sovereignty of the bank and the opposition will not allow it.

Khawaja Asif also pointed out that the opposition was maintaining the dignity of the House by completing the quorum. “Today we kept sitting when the government side pointed out a lack of quorum,” he said.

He observed that the government was taking exports of the country on the verge of disaster due to its policies. On an occasion, he said, the prime minister admitted fraud in the Rawalpindi Ring Road project. He said the names of all the main opposition leaders were on the Exit Control List (ECL). “As to why dacoits sitting on the other side are not being placed on the ECL,” he said.

Khawaja Asif also demanded for bringing the report of the Scrutiny committee of the Election Commission of Pakistan on foreign funding case before parliament if the PTI had nothing to hide.

Senior parliamentarian of the PPP Syed Khursheed Shah said Parliament is being mocked all over the world because of non-serious members

He said the government has to pass the money budget but not through the assembly. The country's debt in 2013 was Rs14,200 billion but today, the country is indebted to the tune of over Rs41,000 billion. “The government says it has paid a loan but the number is increasing,” he said.

Khursheed Shah also presented a comparison of prices of daily use items in 2018 and in the tenure of PTI government. Secretary General PML-N Ahsan Iqbal while speaking on the finance bill said the mini-budget will have a serious impact on Pakistan's future.

He appealed to the government allied parties, MQM, GDA and BAP, to stand up against the mini-budget and leave the coalition so that the government could be sent back home. He said the SBP bill has devastating effects on Pakistan's future. “It is up to the House to decide whether it is subordinate to the IMF or a representative of the people of Pakistan or more conditions will be imposed tomorrow,” he said.

PTI MNA Aliya Hamza said the national economy was on the growth trajectory due to prudent economic policies introduced by the government, adding the country’s economy made a significant progress that was evident from the fact that the listed businesses gained 59 percent profit despite an economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

She said the country’s GDP growth rate stood at 3.98 percent in the last fiscal year, and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government was confident of achieving the 5 percent GDP growth rate this year.

MQM-P legislator Salahuddin said his party supported the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in difficult times, adding the MQM-P had supported the government in the passage of the federal budget and in the Senate elections, but it did not take his party into confidence on important issues confronting the country.

PTI MNA Kanwal Shauzab said: “We took measures to improve the economy. When they (PMLN) left the government in 2018, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy, and it was PTI that took corrective measures to save the economy from downfall.”

She rejected the opposition’s stance that the new taxes in the money bill would have inflationary pressures for the masses, saying: “These taxes are adjustable and the majority of them will not impact the masses.”

Lawmakers in the National Assembly urged the government to revisit the finance supplementary bill-2021, keeping in view the hardships of the common man. They were of the view that the bill would cause further inflation and affect the general public due to increase in the prices of various items of daily use.

Participating in the debate, Shahida Akhtar Ali of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) said tax exemptions of Rs343 billion as suggested in the bill would put extra burden on the common man. The tax exemptions should be kept intact to provide relief to the common man in getting basic necessities of life, including powder milk, bakery items and other edibles and items, she added.