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ISLAMABAD: The opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly, on Wednesday, termed the federal budget for 2021-22 “for the rich and by the rich” that reflected a painful story of the country and the bankruptcy of its economy. Taking part in the budget debate, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who is also a former prime minister, hit out at the government over the state of the poor economy, rising unemployment, skyrocketing inflation due to flawed policies, and anti-poor budget of the government.

He alleged that in order to achieve the revenue target, Rs500-600 billion new taxes would be imposed under the head of petroleum levy, adding the sales tax as indicated by the finance minister, shows that indirect taxes would also be increased. He demanded that tax details of judges, generals, and bureaucrats should also be made public, as there should be no holy cows in the country.

He also questioned the government’s claim of record production of wheat with an increase of two million tons to 27.3 million tons from 25.3 million tons, saying if so, why the cabinet has given approval to import wheat. Abbasi said 10 percent ad hoc relief in salaries of government employees was insufficient in these circumstances when inflation is at an all-time high.

Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that it was the opposition that had created nuisance and showed hooliganism during the first speech of PM Imran Khan after becoming leader of the House. Now during the current budget session, he added, again it was the opposition that started a confrontation and even injured two members of the treasury benches and blamed the government for it.

He reminded that it was the PML-N that had launched an attack on the Supreme Court, adding the PML-N’s history was full of such confrontation with the state institutions. He said that the entire aviation sector in the world faced a financial crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic and they were compelled to lay-off some of their employees and curtail salaries.

But in Pakistan, he said, the scenario remained different as no employee was ousted and no curtailment in allowances of aviation sector employees was done, despite financial constraints caused by the virus. He said the prudent policies, initiated under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan had started yielding the required results as all economic indicators were moving in the right direction.

Although, he said, the agriculture sector was showing good performance but there was a need for more incentives for further uplift and welfare of the farming community. He expressed confidence that the Rawalpindi Ring Road project would start and complete during the tenure of the PTI government.

Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N said that the government had allocated Rs12 billion for the agriculture sector, which is inadequate and asked for mitigating sufferings of the poor by bringing down the prices of edible items. He said the opposition would not allow mortgaging of any national asset including airport and motorways, saying any such move would be resisted tooth and nail.

He said the PML-N would oppose the ousting of the incumbent government through protests or sit-ins as it would set a wrong precedent for the future governments. The PTI chief whip, Amir Dogar, said that all segments of society were quite happy with what he claimed “the growth-oriented budget” presented by the government.

He said that the budgetary proposals were prepared by the economic team of the prime minister without any influence and pressure by external financial institutions. He said Pakistan would become an “Asian Tiger” under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, highlighting the steps taken by the government for economic growth and welfare of the common man. He suggested increasing the salaries of government employees by 20 percent, keeping in view the existing inflation.

The Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs, Babar Awan, said Budget 2021-22 will take the economy towards growth and address the problems of the people. He said poor households will be given interest-free loans for construction of houses, adding the prime minister is making all-out efforts to strengthen the institutions. He said that the government is serious about electoral reforms, adding use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) is important to ensure that the elections are acceptable to all.

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said that the prime minister has set an example of austerity by significantly reducing the expenditures of his house and office. He said that the prime minister saved Rs1 billion out of total Rs2.75 billion budget of the PM House and the PM office over the last three years. “The prime minister has no camp office, while the foreign visits undertaken by him cost far less when compared with the visits of his predecessors,” he added.

Habib said that the economy grew by four percent during the current fiscal year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, adding the exports, remittances, and foreign exchange reserves are increasing. “We are taking the economy towards export-led sustainable growth…the government is determined to take the country towards self-reliance and free it from the debt trap,” he added.

Javed Ali Shah Jilani regretted delay in execution of the Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway, saying it is an important section of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and quality must be ensured in its construction. Nawab Sher said the farmers got better prices for their crops this year because of the policies of the government, adding the rural population should also be supported to build houses.

Nosheen Iftikhar said that the PTI government has failed to fulfill the promises it made for the development of the country. Khalid Lund said that water scarcity in Sindh is affecting the agriculture sector, hence the province should be given its due share of water. Nisar Cheema said that the people are perturbed over the price-hike of essential commodities including sugar and flour, and that the budget carries no relief for the common man.

Khalid Magsi said that a special committee should be formed to address the longstanding problems of Balochistan and sufficient funds should be allocated for early completion of development projects in the province. Hina Rabbani Khar said like wheat, support price of sugarcane should be increased. Andleeb Abbas said that it is the first budget in which the welfare of the poor households has been given top priority.

Qaisar Sheikh proposed the government to grant small loans to farmers and small businessmen as well as increase salaries of the government employees in proportion with rate of inflation. Sardar Bux Mahar rejected the budget for “ignoring Sindh in allocations of funds” and called for accommodating local people in the industry established in Ghotki district.

Saleh Muhammad commended the government’s relief efforts for the common people. He urged the government to give special attention to provide clean drinking water and ending load-shedding in Mansehra. Nasir Bosal suggested that solar panels for agri tube-wells should be subsidised and reduce prices of the agri inputs to strengthen the agriculture sector in the country.

The lawmakers belonging to both treasury and opposition proposed the government to give more incentives in import of agri-machinery and equipment, seeds, fertilisers and pesticides for getting better yields of all crops and coping with food inflation.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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