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Wednesday July 24, 2024

Treasury, opposition in Senate unite against hike in POL prices

On the opening day of the 320th session, ruling coalition faces sharp criticism not only from opposition benches but also from treasury senators

By Mumtaz Alvi
August 18, 2022
—File
—File

ISLAMABAD: The treasury and opposition members in the Senate on Wednesday joined hands to reject the recent hike in oil prices, while even a PMLN senator proposed holding voting in the House on whether or not the increase should have been made.

On the opening day of the 320th session, the ruling coalition government faced a sharp criticism not only from the opposition benches but also from the treasury senators who opposed the latest hike in the POL rates while they had registered a downward trend in the world oil market.

PMLN Senator Irfanul Haq Siddiqui stood up to declare that he agrees with the protesting opposition on the oil prices issue while recalling that the-then opposition used to grill the PTI government over increase in petroleum products’ prices. He said the hike in POL prices had the same impact whoever was in the saddle. “It leads to price hike, poverty and hunger and its defence is not possible.

 It is as regretful today as it was during the days when the PTI was in power. We will have to see how the poor can be provided relief, as more than half of the population has already slipped below the poverty line and there is a need to find a way out,” he maintained.

Irfan spoke also on the issue of his bill which continues to remain missing 70 days after its passage by both the Houses of Parliament and explained the bill seeking to abolish the judicial powers of the district administration had been passed by the Senate on May 23, 2022 and then the National Assembly on June 8, 2022. He pointed out that the President House had recently explained that it had not reached there as yet. The senator sought the Senate chairman’s intervention to help trace it.

Another PMLN Senator Saadia Abbasi was next to express her concern over hike in petroleum prices and proposed a discussion on the issue followed by voting to see if the House accepts or disapproves this increase. She contended: “It would be hypocrisy with our office and the oath if we fail to discuss people’s sufferings while PMLN supremo Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari have already rejected it.”

Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani criticised the elite in all major political parties for what he called playing a game with the masses. He reiterated his demand that the agreements reached with the IMF by the PTI government and the present government should be placed before the parliament, emphasizing that the parliament had the right to know who did what. However, he said the parliament was being kept in the dark as sharing the agreements with the parliament was not in the interest of the elite on both sides of the aisle. He regretted that economic sovereignty had been mortgaged to the IMF under an agreement signed with the donor agency by the PTI government. He sought an explanation on the reports of plans to sell off 50 per cent shares of the Roosevelt Hotel (a PIA asset in USA) and talks of selling 49 per cent shares of PIA and to amend the law to even transfer the PIA management by allowing sale of over 50 per cent shares. He also wanted to know if the Council of Common Interest (CCI) had allowed this.

PTI Senator Faisal Javed welcomed the proposal of voting over the issue of petroleum prices, insisting that the increase must be reversed by midnight on Wednesday. He said the recent hike, in case of voting, would be rejected by the entire House with the exception of a few. However, he forewarned that the government would increase the POL prices in the days ahead as well, alleging that unemployment and prices of essential commodities were rapidly increasing since the ‘imported government took over’. He then called for immediate dissolution of the National Assembly and holding fresh elections. He called for an equal application of the law with reference to Shahbaz Gill and top leaders of parties in the ruling coalition who, he claimed, had made even harsher comments on the institutions and army.

Leader of the House and Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar rose to explain that owing to imprudent financial policies of the previous government, Pakistan was on the verge of bankruptcy, however, the present government had taken difficult decisions to save the economy of the country. He conceded that the increase in petroleum prices was a tough decision and the government had taken this step with a heavy heart. He said people would witness relief in petroleum prices in coming notifications. He alleged that it was the PTI government, which signed an agreement with the IMF and committed itself not to provide subsidies on petroleum prices.

The minister assured the House that the federal government was taking all possible steps to provide relief to people in flood-affected areas, urging all political parties to avoid politics of division at the time of natural calamity. He said: “We all should put in efforts for the relief of flood-affected people.” The federal government, he noted, would provide a relief package for the flood-affected areas in addition to those provided by the provincial governments.

Earlier, Leader of the Opposition Dr Shahzad Waseem came down hard on the government for not reducing the petroleum prices despite a price decline witnessed in the international market and stability of the rupee against the dollar. He recalled that Miftah Ismail was the one to impose petroleum levy of Rs30 in 2018 and increase it to Rs50 in June 2022.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, a close ally of the Shehbaz Sharif-led government, also criticised the increase in prices of petroleum products. The criticism came from JUI Senator Ataur Rehman who declared that their party had rejected the surge in petroleum prices. He blamed the PTI government’s policies for economic hardships. Referring to the opposition’s criticism, he noted that the PTI was a source of disturbances as it raised objections to the dances performed at the Golden Jubilee Independence Day functions.

“I ask the PTI whether their women supporters recite Holy Qur’an or Naats at its rallies,” he remarked, inviting reaction from the opposition benches. On the PTI’s call for holding elections, he said the way would be cleared for this process automatically, but first they should dissolve their governments in the provinces, which they would never do. The House will now resume on Thursday morning.