ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin was all praise for Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Monday, saying no government paid any attention to overhaul the foreclosure law except Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI’s), due to which all the banks in the country are ready to give housing loans to people.
A mild-mannered Tarin lost his cool in the National Assembly, after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker, Birjees Tahir, dubbed the budget 2021-22 a “pack of lies”, forcing him to respond – in a somewhat aggressive tone – to make the opposition understand that the budget “carries everything a poor man has been looking for”.
“I’d no intention to speak but Birjees Tahir tried to remind us that he is the only friend and follower of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah,” he regretted. He continued that he wanted to remind the opposition that he is the son of Col Jamshed Ahmad Tarin, who was a member of the Muslim Students Federation, and underwent imprisonments in both British and Indian jails.
“And he [my father] was a passionate Pakistani. So we are also Pakistani. And I think, no one can claim of having a monopoly on Pakistan... don’t talk like this that you are the sole Pakistani,” he retorted. He recalled that despite all-out efforts, he could not overhaul the foreclosure law when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, adding that “if nothing else, at least give credit to this government which has put the foreclosure law in place in a manner that now all the banks are ready to give housing loans to people”.
The finance minister seemed extremely perturbed over the PML-N MNA’s remark that the budget is a “pack of lies”, and said: “Let me tell you: Shaukat Tarin who, is the son of Col Jamshed Ahmed Tarin [retired], will never lie. He [I] will never tell a lie”. He said he would respond to all the criticism by the opposition on the budget on June 24, adding, “Birjees Tahir knows me very well and he knows it well that Shaukat Tarin will never lie. So, when you say that it is a budget based on lies, it is my budget, I have prepared it, so keep this thing [lie] aside”.
He said that no country can progress without mortgages and housing loans, adding that at present, the size of country’s total mortgages is 0.25 percent of the GDP, while India’s is 10 percent, Thailand’s 24 percent and Malaysia’s 36 percent. According to him, mortgage loans as a share of GDP in the US constitute 80 percent, “which makes it $18 trillion”. “How can we progress when the housing industry will not make any progress, and the advantages of the housing industry is that you get shelter, labourers get jobs, and over overall it creates 40 industries due to which Imran Khan paid special attention to it,” he added.
“So, at least give some credit to him [Prime Minister Imran Khan]”, he maintained. Besides, he said that for Ehsaas programme – the social safety net programme –Rs260 billion have been allocated in the budget”. According to the World Bank, he added, the Ehsaas Programme headed by Dr Sania Nishter has been ranked among world’s top four social protection initiatives.
He drew the attention of the opposition towards the budget and said: “Oh man, talk sense…where are we lying? Are we lying that we are giving shelter to the poor? Are we lying when we are giving Rs300,000 interest-free loans to a farmer? Is the budget a “pack of lies” because we are giving Rs500,000 for business to small house holders”? “You are dubbing it [the budget] as fake budget because for the first time, a government thought about the poor man. I don’t want to spill the beans about the previous government as I know everything about them,” he warned.
In the same breath, he said that if things were so good, when the PML-N was in power, why the people had started saying that the current account had reached the record level of $20 billion at the start of 2018. He asked: “Why were you tight-lipped when the current account deficit reached the record level of $20 billion in 2018 and at that time the PTI was not in power?”
In an obvious reference to former finance minister Ishaq Dar, Tarin questioned why people like Birjees Tahir were in deep slumber when their “biggest economist” created that huge current account deficit. “We had to pay $28-30 billion … and this was the reason we had to go to the IMF [International Monetary Fund] as we have no machine to print dollars. And we went to the IMF, they put forth ‘1, 2, 3, and four things’ to do which include increase in discount rate, currency devaluation and hike in the power tariff etc., and did a frontload and categorically said there will be no money [loan] unless you do these things, due to which the economy went down,” he lamented.
He continued that when the economy went down, there came the Covid-19 pandemic, but “a competent leadership led by Prime Minister Imran Khan was running the country, who invested in the construction sector, helped increase exports, and agriculture output due to which the economy flourished once again. “Now the strategy we are going to adopt is that we will not only take measures to give relief to the poor but will also pay attention to the agriculture sector; housing and power sectors will also be given top priority,” he declared.
He also rejected the opposition’s claim of “25 percent inflation in the country,” saying that the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) – which the former government also used – has projected inflation at 11.5 percent and food inflation at 13 percent. He said the reason behind rising food inflation is because the country has become a net importer of food as there is not enough wheat and sugar, adding he was shocked when – during a meeting of the price control committee – he was told 70 percent of pulses – are imported.
He questioned: “What the previous governments did for the agriculture sector during the last 10 years, and why they did not spend on this sector?” “When we look 10 years back,” he added, there has been zero progress in any product involving staple food and the reason behind today’s inflation is because the international food prices are at their all-time peak. We are importing these food items, and that is why inflation is hitting us”. International prices are affecting us because the country is importing these things, so the government will work on agriculture, he said, adding that the government will increase the production through increased lends for seed, water and fertiliser. He described he took Budget 2021-22 the “most constructive budget ever” as relief has been given to the industry and to support the local industry, duty has been zeroed, so that the local industry can stand on its own feet too and compete with regional and international market.
He said the government has also neutralised the taxes in exports as whenever there is growth, there comes the shortage of dollars. “So to cope with this challenge what we need is: exports, exports, and exports. We should increase our exports both traditional and IT exports. New avenues will also be opened. Besides, in special economic zones, Chinese investors will be brought in, so that they can export from Pakistan,” he added. He concluded his speech with a claim: “through this budget, we are inching towards growth besides materialising the dreams people had about their future in this country.”
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021