ISLAMABAD: The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, on Thursday, severely criticised the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for what he termed “fake budgets” prepared in three years by the incumbent government, resulting in “five million job losses”. Sharif, who finally delivered his about three-hour-long budget speech in the National Assembly after three days of pandemonium, said that during the ongoing tenure of the present government, many taxes were imposed by it, which ended up “snatching the bread from the poor masses’’.
He continued: “there is hunger and hopelessness wherever you look in the country due to anti-poor budgets of the PTI,” adding that Budget 2021-2022 would further “skyrocket” inflation, and the poor man would be further pushed into hunger and poverty. “Twenty million people have fallen below the poverty line in these three years. Income has been reduced by 20 percent. People are asking ‘where are the 10.5m jobs promised by the PTI before coming into power?’ As a result of these fake budgets, 5 million people have lost their jobs,” said Sharif.
He claimed that posh housing projects had also been included in the government housing schemes aimed at poor people.
"What could be bigger fudging and deception than this?" he questioned. He said “15 percent unemployment has combined with 16 percent inflation,” asking whether "anyone had imagined that a man would go to sleep hungry in Riasat-e-Madinah", adding that the rulers never tired of claiming that a “Naya Pakistan” would be created.
Sharif demanded that new taxes on prices of essentials should be eliminated, besides reversing the duty on milk powder for children, adding that there should be a 20 percent increase in salaries of government employees, while the minimum wage for labourers should be set at Rs25,000. “Taxes on LNG and RLNG should be removed and electricity tariffs reduced to rates set during the PML-N's tenure. DAP fertiliser, urea prices and tariff on tube-wells should be reduced to the level in 2018. Sales tax on machinery must be ended immediately,” he maintained.
Without elaborating any further, the opposition leader said that work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects should be “restarted” immediately.
He pointed out that there was a lack of trust among provinces, and between the provinces and the federal government, claiming that such differences have never been seen before. "If only Punjab progresses and the rest of Pakistan does not, then it is not progress," he added. Sharif said that instead of resolving issues such as food inflation, the PTI government had spent the time “taking revenge from the opposition”, adding that nobody was saying that accountability should not take place but fairness should be the benchmark for it.
He also criticised the PTI government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the entire opposition termed the Covid-19 a national emergency, which both the opposition and the government should have tackled together after setting aside their differences, but it was not done.
The Rs1.2 trillion package to deal with the coronavirus that was announced by the government also fell prey to “incompetence” and “negligence”, he added.
He asked: “China and other countries gave us vaccines as gifts but did we have to start the vaccination drive with just gifts? What did you do in the space you got between the waves of the virus?” The PML-N leader said the per capita debt in Pakistan had risen to Rs 0.14 million, adding that every “last hair” of our coming generations is mortgaged.
“No sir. You cannot survive like this with an atomic bomb on the one hand and a begging bowl on the other,” he declared, adding that “the country would have to generate resources, if we are serious about ending the dictation [from the powerful countries]”. Criticising government’s economic policies, he said the government had made no effort to increase exports, adding that the rupee had fallen 35 percent against the dollar during the ongoing tenure of the PTI government.
The PML-N leader said that the government had widened the fiscal deficit by Rs10 trillion in three years. He asked: "What did they do in three years? Did they build any hospital, university, technical school or LNG storage?” He said that while the government should help in setting up langars (soup kitchens), but its "real work" is policymaking and making sure that those who have to go to soup kitchens are able to stand on their feet.
He said during the PML-N's government the International Monetary Fund's programme had been completed, but now, the progress had reversed during the PTI's three years. "The government should share with the Opposition the conditions set by the IMF," he said, as the government keeps reiterating that the international money lender had imposed harsh conditions on the country.
The Opposition leader slammed the prime minister for not taking the house into confidence. Sharif, pointing towards the prime minister's seat, said: "This seat is found empty when there is a discussion on Afghanistan; this seat is found empty when there is a discussion on Palestine and Kashmir, this seat is found empty when there is a discussion on inflation and unemployment; and this seat is found empty when there is a discussion on coronavirus."
Taking a jibe at Prime Minister Imran Khan again, Sharif said that before his election, he stood upon a container and made tall claims that he would end corruption in the country, but failed to do so.
"Today, the practice of giving and taking bribes in Punjab has become rampant," he said. Talking about Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin's speech in the NA last week, Sharif recalled that "the minister said Pakistan is a very successful crop-producing country but he also said in the same breath that Pakistan has become a food importer."
A visibly perturbed Asad Umar, the Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, began his budget speech by saying that the leader of the opposition spoke at length on various issues, “and each of his statement can be disputed by laying before the House correct figures". He said Shehbaz Sharif stressed upon the PTI’s top brass to care for the poor and think of the country’s downtrodden segments.
He said the PTI government had initiated the Ehsaas Programme to serve the poor. The minister also highlighted that his government had curtailed the expenses of the Prime Minister’s House and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat by Rs1.1 billion, and now the same amount was being redirected to welfare schemes. He said the Pakistan government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic challenge had been hailed by the World Economic Forum, the World Health Organisation, and many other similar institutions, and “that happened because of our proactive policies.”
He said every citizen should be proud of this recognition by the world bodies. Taking exception to Sharif's remarks that the incumbent rulers have putting Pakistan under increased debt burden with their “own lifestyle growing lavish”, the minister said when an ex-premier was questioned about his assets “the inquiry was termed an attack on democracy.”
Umar said the Supreme Court had summoned Imran Khan, seeking the sources of funds for the apartment he had purchased in London in the early 80s. “But instead of making it an ego issue, the prime minister produced all documents of his property and in turn, the apex court hailed Imran Khan as "Sadiq aur Ameen" (truthful and honest)".
He also said that ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif could not build even a single hospital in the country where he could get himself treated. Responding to Sharif’s objection of the premier's “constant absence” from the Parliament, Umar said “the prime minister does attend the assembly proceedings, but not too often".
He added, however, that "the man [Nawaz Sharif] who has been the PM of the country thrice is not even willing to come here. I think Shehbaz Sharif should also ask him [Nawaz] to make it [to the budget session] here.” He also said that the PTI was re-elected in the 2018 general elections with a heavy majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to its “great performance”.
He said the PML-N had also been in power in that province, claiming that the people of KP rejected them for their “below-par performance”. The minister told the House that his party witnessed in the KP that their workers were displeased, but voters were happy, “and we respect them who voted us to power.”
He said Pakistan's foreign reserves stood at $10.2 billion and net reserves at $3.5bn when the PTI government took charge, while fiscal deficit was at $2bn average per month. “We reduced the deficit by half in our first eight months,” he added.
Referring to Pakistan’s economy as the “sinking Titanic” in the year 2018, Umar said Prime Minister Imran Khan saved the economy regarded as a sinking ship because “he is a leader, and not a politician” and that his decisions yielded results. He said that, for the first time in an ongoing fiscal year in the history of the country, a record-high Rs4,164 billion had been collected in taxes so far and the figure might reach Rs4,800 billion by year-end. Lawmakers belonging to the JUI-F and other parties also took part in the budget debate.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021