ISLAMABAD: As budget debate in the National Assembly continues, the lawmakers from the opposition kept calling the budget 2021-22 a ‘pack of lies, and fake,’ while the treasure members kept challenging with figures how past regimes brought the country to the brink of economic bankruptcy.
Taking part in the debate, Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan said the previous government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) signed expensive power contracts and the country continues to bear the brunt of it in the form of capacity payments.
He claimed that the PML-N government also abandoned renewable energy projects of 4,000 megawatts (MW).
He said we gave the renewable policy and revived the renewable energy projects to improve their share in the energy mix. This, he said, will accrue a benefit of Rs4,000 billion to the country in the next 15 years.
The minister said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government signed a cheaper LNG agreement with Qatar, which will help the country to save $3.5 billion in 10 years.
He said we have made massive investments in the power distribution and transmission system, and steps are also being taken to address the issue of circular debt.
The minister said the previous PML-N government signed LNG agreement with Qatar at 13.3 percent, while our PTI government signed agreement with Qatar at 10.2 percent, and this will benefit the country to the tune of $3.5 billion in the next 10 years.
He said in the previous PML-N government installed LNG, and in the agreement they agreed that Pakistan will pay $500,000 per day.
He said the PML-N government gave the solar projects’ tariff of Rs23-24 per unit, which the incumbent government brought down to Rs6.5 per unit within the period of one year.
The minister said Sindh government could not spent $1.42 billion as given grantee by the federal government, adding Sindh government surrendered Rs220 billion of the development funds which it could not spend in the outgoing financial year. He quoted official reports of the Planning Commission and media publications of February 2018, the last year of the PML-N government in power, which showed the previous government had failed to deliver in all sectors, and the national economy totally collapsed due to its wrong policies.
“Private investment also fell far below the target of 16.7 percent, despite the bonanza of the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor project. While, imports remained far higher than the target of restricting to $31.1 million,” he read from one of the reports. He said the PTI government inherited a $20 billion current account deficit from the previous government that also failed in controlling the fiscal deficit.
He said Matiari to Lahore High Voltage Director Current (HVDC) transmission line was near completion, adding that the government was dealing with the issue of capacity charges “fixed-payment”, so that it could be matched with the quantum of planned supply.
He said that in 2013, the capacity payment [whether you use or not] was Rs185 billion that increased to Rs468 billion in 2018, due to the PML-N government’s wrong agreements of “take or pay”.
“Today, 70 percent energy-mix of the country depends on imported fuel,” he observed, adding this year the capacity payment would reach Rs860 billion and by 2023 it would be Rs 1,455 billion due to faulty strategy and policies of the previous government.
He said during the PML-N tenure the Residual Fuel Oil (RFO) usage in power plants remained 29 percent, which the PTI government brought down to four percent.
“With this, we saved billions of rupees.”
Ayub said an amount of Rs64 billion was payable to the Pakistan State Oil by the Nandipur Power project management, but when the record was checked, it came to know that the payment had been made but misappropriated by the previous government.
Recounting the incumbent government’s achievements, he said this year, the flow of circular debt had been reduced by Rs100 billion as compared to 2018, by shutting down inefficient plants and renegotiating agreements.
He said the PTI government spent more than Rs49 billion in upgrading electricity transmission lines, and during last summer as many as 25,000 MW of electricity was transmitted through the system, which was 18,000 MW in 2018 – the last year of the PML-N government.
Commenting on the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), he said in 2017, the Punjab government approved the 4th LNG-based power plant at a cost of Rs80 billion without any agreement and keeping in view its viability.
He said the National Power Control Centre had informed, in writing, that the plant would remain 90 percent closed in a year. The minister said the PML-N during its tenure also signed expensive LNG import agreements on ‘take or pay’ basis that caused billions of rupees loss to the national exchequer.
Besides it declared the LNG, petroleum product and with this the gas sector’s circular debt had reached Rs300-350 billion.
“It was for the first time that the gas sector faced circular debt.” He said the PML-N government collected an amount of Rs295 billion on account of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) but it [the collected amount] had no trace in any file, terming it, another proof of the previous government’s corrupt practices.
Ayub said a Planning Commission report of the PML-N tenure had stated that loans had to be taken as debt-to-GDP ratio had increased, adding the current account deficit surged due to wrong exchange rate policy [by artificially maintaining dollar at Rs100 for four years] of the previous government, causing a loss of $23-24 billion.
Former prime minister and PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf said that efforts should be made to ensure food security, saying this is important for the development of the country. He said the budget envisages no incentives for the farmers. He said the proposal of granting arrest powers to the FBR should be withdrawn as it will only pave way for harassment of taxpayers.
Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said that a country where there is no inflation would eventually stop progressing.
He termed the opposition’s criticism of the government over rising inflation, a drama.
He said that inflation and people’s lives are correlated.
“Take a look at Europe or the US and analyse if there had been any price cuts in basic commodities. Countries, where there is no inflation, will eventually stop [progressing],” he stated.
The minister said he is also in the construction business for years in private capacity.
“I struggle to find people in this work, and the opposition still claims of inflation.”
The minister said that it seemed that the opposition has a strategy to repeat its lies, so many times that they may sound like truth, adding that the year 2023 would reveal the results of the good work done by PM Imran Khan.
Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul said Rs260 billion has been allocated for Ehsaas Program which aims to provide assistance to the poor segments of the society.
She said the PSDP worth Rs900 billion will help accelerate the process of development in the country.
Mian Javed Latif of the PML-N said the budget 2021-22 is not people friendly as loans will be taken to meet the deficit.
He said, if the economic indicators are on a positive trajectory, then why the prices of essential commodities are high. He said that no one needs to issue any one certificates of patriotism.
Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, in his budget speech, said a new NFC award should be announced, so that the provinces could effectively fulfill their responsibilities.
He said funds should be given for the development of tribal districts.
Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Haider Zaidi said multiple measures have been suggested in the next budget to provide relief to the common people and to put the country on a path of development. He said we saved Rs700 million in Port Qasim, while its net profit will likely reach Rs19 billion by the end of this fiscal year.
He said Port Qasim contributed eight billion rupees as tax to the national exchequer.
He said the gas sector has totally been deregulated.
The PPP leader, Dr Nafeesa Shah, said paying electricity bills has become difficult for the people, while the government is busy in self-adulation.
She said the levy on petroleum goods should be withdrawn to facilitate the common people of the country.
Shahida Akhtar Ali, Sheikh Rashid Shafique, Riaz Fatyana, and others also spoke on the budget.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021