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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, on Friday, termed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s budget and the ongoing session “illegal” in the absence of an agreed National Finance Commission (NFC) award.

Bilawal, in his budget speech, lambasted the government’s claims about the economic growth, saying: “If there is economic progress then [PM] Imran Khan should come out of the IMF deal. The budget is a bundle of lies, a bundle of fake statistics, designed to impress Facebook and Twitter users. If economic growth has increased in the country, then why is Imran Khan standing like a beggar before the IMF?”

He added: “I think both, the budget and the budget session, are illegal…Ever since the government has taken over, no new NFC award has been given to the provinces. Every budget will be unconstitutional until the NFC award is given.”

“Whenever we talk about the 18th Amendment and the NFC, we are criticised for using the ‘Sindh card’. Implementation of the 18th Amendment and the NFC are constitutional obligations and are not options,” he said, adding that withholding funds was not only against Sindh but also against Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Bilawal also warned PM Khan and his ministers against using the term “state of Madinah” for this “failed, illegitimate and incompetent” government.

Referring to the last days’ chaos in the House, Bilawal maintained that the government actually wanted to prevent the “PTIMF” budget from being exposed before the masses.

“The budget is a relief for the rich and a burden for the common man,” he added.

“They [the government] believed that they could avert to be exposed before the nation by creating rumpus in the House. They believed that they could prove the “falsehood” about the four percent growth rate and the “false” story of economic growth as true through the use of abusive language and staging the drama,” Bilawal said.

Bilawal claimed that the PTI lawmakers were tasked to do so.

“Because Imran Khan’s feelings were hurt. He was upset…[because] someone called them a ‘donkey’. So, he sent his friends to the National Assembly to abuse the mothers and sisters of the opposition [members]. Then he asked the same friends to try physical assault against the opposition leader [Shehbaz Sharif], who is a cancer survivor and elder to them. Now this should be problematic…because, unfortunately, they have been selected to run a nuclear country,” he maintained.

He claimed that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was leading the “assault”.

“He [Qureshi] needs to be taken seriously by countries like China, Saudi Arabia, India, the United States of America…He can’t do that,” he added. Speaker Asad Qaiser, however, advised Bilawal to focus his speech on the budget after he was interrupted by the treasury members.

On this, Bilawal responded by asking the Chair “not to police” his words, adding that what happened that day in the House was a “black day” in the parliamentary history of the country.

“[The] PTI will have to pay a political price for what it did in the Parliament and we will not let this day be forgotten. It is not possible to censor my speech to make it palatable for the prime minister,” he maintained.

“Those who bargained on Kashmir and tried to give an NRO to Kulbhushan considered it appropriate to hit the opposition leader with the budget book. After what happened in parliament, every embassy in Islamabad is writing its observations about the government of Pakistan to their respective governments,” he continued.

Bilawal also raised questions on the role of Speaker Asad Qaiser, asking him: “Mr Speaker! Your kids didn't ask you if this were the way to run the country?”

Further challenging the government’s claims with regard to economic growth, he stated the people do not need to listen to their speeches as they already knew that the government’s claims about economic growth are “lies”.

“Because, the hardworking class and the poor who are unable to send their children to school due to “Imran Khan’s inflation”, know very well that the claims of economic growth are all “lies”. Every mother, who is running kitchen of her house, knows about the price hike and knows that Imran Khan’s claims of economic growth are “lies”.”

Further, criticising the government for “abandoning” the people during challenging times, he said that the ruling PTI could never realise the predicament of the common man.

Referring to the PPP’s government’s initiative – the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) – he stated that people were facing inflation in the PPP’s tenure too, “but by initiating the ‘revolutionary’ BISP, they wanted not to abandon the people at the challenging times.”

“If the claims of the economic growth are true, and the growth rate is reaching four percent and [if] revenue generation is showing a 20 percent increase, then the allocations for the programme [Ehsaas Programme] should have reached Rs800 billion… You always talk a lot about Ehsaas [feelings] but [actually] you don’t have any Ehsaas [feelings],” Bilawal further attacked the government, adding that there has been a “historic” increase in inflation, poverty and unemployment, “but a nominal increase in allocation for the BISP [Ehsaas programme].”

Bilawal recalled that the PTI had reached an agreement with the government workers on raising their salaries, adding that the insufficient hike in their salaries was an act of deception by the government.

He added that despite the “historic” inflation and poverty, there has been a raise of a “meagre” 10 percent rise in salaries when food inflation has increased to around 17 percent on average.

He said that the government had proposed many indirect taxes in the budget, which would further burden the people and add to their sufferings. Referring to Pakistan Economic Survey, Bilawal mocked the government by saying that if nothing else has shown improvement, the population of donkeys has increased in the country, “for which Prime Minister Imran Khan’s policies must be lauded.”

He said that only Rs12 billion had been earmarked for the agricultural sector, which is the backbone of the economy.

Referring to a report by the UNDP, he claimed that the poverty has reduced the most in Sindh and increased the most in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province which has been ruled by PTI, for eight years.

He complained that the federal government employees in the FIA from Sindh are being sacked while the Sindh Public Service Commission is closed.

“Steel Mills is closed because it was founded by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, thousands of employees were laid off during a pandemic,” he added.

He recalled that PM had announced Rs1 trillion Karachi package but no such package is included in the budget.

He said that taxes are being imposed on erstwhile tribal areas.

“Kashmiris are surprised that tax was also imposed on them while the people of KP are demanding their share in hydel profit. They received only Rs23 billion,” he added.

He said the prime minister wanted to keep the buying price of wheat at Rs1,600, Sindh fixed it at Rs2,000, and then Punjab set the price at Rs1,800 against the PM’s wishes.

He further said that the CPEC cannot succeed unless it benefits the common man of Balochistan.

He further maintained that the legislation regarding electoral reforms is in fact an attempt to rob the people of their votes once again.

He also expressed reservations over the government's policy on Afghanistan.

In the past, he added that “we have seen that dictators, Zia and Musharraf take personal advantage of the Afghan war over the country’s interests.”

He added: “We will not allow Imran Khan to use Afghanistan for his own benefit instead of national interest when the issue of Afghanistan is entering a new phase.”

He said an amnesty was given to the construction sector but the common man got nothing out of it as no new employment was generated.

Bilawal also demanded Speaker issue production orders of the arrested members including Syed Khursheed Shah, Ali Wazir, and Khawaja Asif.

JUI-F’s Maulana Asad Mahmood said that no relief has been given to the masses in the budget.

He said the budget 2021-22 is “unrealistic” and it will further fuel inflation.

He said the government has failed to bring reforms in the state-owned enterprises, adding that salaries of employees should be further increased and the minimum wage be fixed at Rs25,000.

Ghous Bux Mahar of the GDA said that subsidy should be given to farmers on fertilisers.

Ayesha Ghaus Pasha of the PML-N said that the tax collection proposals for the next fiscal year are “inflationary”. She said indirect taxes will add to the woes of the common man. The PTI’s Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh, Sardar Talib Nakai, and PPP’s Nawab Yousuf Talpur were among those who took part in the debate.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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