Friday June 09, 2023

Opposition in Senate batters government’s anti-corruption credentials

Opposition senators demanded an explanation from the government over its so-called narrative of combating corruption

January 26, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The latest Transparency International report echoed in the Senate Tuesday, as legislators on both sides of the aisle, traded allegations of massive corruption, while the opposition slammed the PTI government over Pakistan’s worst score on TI’s annual corruption perception index (CPI).

Senators, belonging to the opposition parties, demanded an explanation from the government over its so-called narrative of combating corruption. The opposition had filed an adjournment motion in the Senate Secretariat concerning the Transparency International report and urged for taking up the matter immediately for discussion. The motion was signed by senators from PML-N, PPP, JUI, PkMAP, ANP, and Jamaat-e-Islami. Reacting to the opposition’s onslaught on corruption, the treasury reminded it of the offshore assets of their senior leadership and wondered how they were making noise, whose leaders had been convicted and declared absconders by the courts.

Speaking on a call attention notice on the growing trade deficit, PPP parliamentary leader in the House, Senator Sherry Rehman came down hard on the government for the slide of Pakistan on the Corruption Perception Index by 16 places in just a year. She contended that this government ran its entire campaign and post-election container narrative on the pledge to end corruption in Pakistan. Despite the media frenzy of 'tabdeeli', it has become obvious that the government has not just failed disastrously but also exposed Pakistan and itself to a shameful verdict of its burgeoning corruption by its own yardstick of Transparency International surveys. “When we used to question some of the local findings of this organisation. Instead of clamping down on the real corruption taking flight in Pakistan with impunity, PTI has put itself in an untenable corner where under its government Pakistan has been ranked 140 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 2021,” she pointed out. “Those who called the opposition thieves and robbers have also seen the unceremonious exit of their accountability Tsar (Shahzad Akbar) for failing to prove corruption against opponents. Rehman questioned, how this government will introduce an Economic Security Charter when they refuse to foster dialogue on any of the issues that were plaguing the country.” “They refuse to discuss policies with parliamentarians and find solutions that will benefit the country and threaten the country when they are faced with due scrutiny. Now it is high time to give the people credible answers for the state of this country’s economy. No one will listen to their narrative that the past is responsible for where we are today in a rising storm in public finances,” she emphasized.

She said the trade deficit of Pakistan had reached a massive $24.787 billion in the first six months of the financial year, while in December it grew by another $4.139 billion, and all the macroeconomic indicators that were crashing were linked to the country’s huge trade gap, which is in turn linked to the collapse of the rupee against the dollar, not to mention Pakistan’s balance of payments. “Their domino effect has led to an unprecedented quantum of suffering for the people of the country,” she said. The Senator said a dangerously high trade deficit had led to the unprecedented devaluation of the rupee which was currently pushing towards Rs200 to a dollar in informal currency exchanges and poses a serious threat to the economy. This places inflationary pressure on Pakistanis as the rupee devalues and costs of imports, production, agriculture, fuel etc. soars. The imports of agricultural and petroleum products increased by 119% compared to December 2020, while for the July-December period the imports for food and oil increased by 73% from $8.67 billion last year to $14.97 billion. . She said, “why are we importing food when in the PPP government there was a surplus in food exports including wheat, rice, and sugar. We had a trade surplus in terms of food of $285.6 million.

PML-N’s Senator Azam Nazir Tarar grilled the government for slipping Pakistan down to 140th from 124th position on CPI and said its claims of progress, justice and transparency stood exposed now. He said the alarming increase in institutional corruption in Pakistan needs to be debated in the parliament. He regretted that the menace of corruption had been institutionalized during PTI regime, which used to boast of fighting and eliminating corruption. The independent institutions including TI and Gallup have certified that the institutional corruption has increased during the incumbent government which is claiming transparency. Senator Tarar said the government should answer what is happening in the country and requested the chair to adjourn the regular business and initiate a debate on the TI report.

In response, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan to the call attention notice said it was strange that those having Swiss bank accounts and named in the Panama papers were giving lectures on corruption. The minister asserted that those whose main defence argument in the Supreme Court was based on a Qatari letter, notwithstanding the fact they failed to provide a money trail, cannot hurl allegations of corruption against the government. Not touching upon the Transparency International report, he said there were just nine billion US dollars foreign exchange reserves when the PTI came into power and today the reserves have gone up to 19.5 billion dollars. The minister said the country’s exports during PML-N’s days in power were around two billion dollars a month and now they have surged to three billion dollars a month. He continued, a growth rate of 5.37 percent has been recorded at a time when the global economies were shrinking due to the challenge posed by Covid-19. He said it was strange that friends of former president and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari with Swiss bank accounts were lecturing them on corruption. “PM Imran Khan would not budge an inch from his slogan of accountability whether he would remain in power or not,” he said.

On trade deficit, the minister said that an overall increase of 25 percent has been witnessed in exports of the country from July to December 21 as compared to the previous year. He said that increase in import bill of cooking oil and the increase in petroleum prices besides the Covid-19 pandemic were the main reason behind the trade deficit. He claimed that the government was making efforts to decrease inflation during the next three to four months.

For the second consecutive day, the opposition staged a token walkout as a protest against the absence of advisor to the prime minister on commerce and textile Abdul Razak Dawood to answer the call attention notice. As many as 22 members were present in the House, when the count was made after quorum was pointed out by one of the opposition senators, following their walk-out from the House. To this, the chair asked for ringing bells for five minutes and in the meantime, the opposition returned to the House. Later, the House was adjourned to meet again on Friday morning.