ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the National Assembly, on Wednesday, continued grilling the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for “dancing” to the tune of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the sake of few bucks, saying its flawed economic policies have ruined the country to the point of no return.
As the debate on “The Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021” continued for the second consecutive day, the opposition lawmakers were unanimous in saying the recent mini-budget is nothing but a “tsunami of taxes”.
They said that they would not give up on the PTI foreign funding case pending before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), adding the controversial legislation with regard to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP)’s autonomy would compromise the nuclear programme of the country.
Taking part in the debate, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that Prime Minister Imran Khan kept claiming of opting to commit suicide, is now confused whether he should approach IMF for taking loans or not.
He said the government contacted the IMF when it was on a weak-footing and it struck a deal with it, which is a frail deal on the part of the government.
He said the government has been issuing mini-budget after every two or three months after presenting the federal budget.
He said if the government had given importance to the opposition, it could have claimed before the IMF that the opposition leader is not getting ready to honour the deal with it.
He also spoke at length about the proposed taxes in the mini-budget, saying those who stood by PM Khan will have to bear the burden of heavy taxes being imposed on computers, internet, mobiles, and phone calls.
Bilawal said that 17 percent tax is being levied on poultry, cotton seed, red-chilies, and hybrid seeds, adding taxes are also being imposed on charity stuff and donations.
He said 17 percent tax is being imposed on the machinery, which is required to handle some natural calamity, adding solar panels are also being levied taxes, besides imposing taxes on contraceptives, and added there is a high trend of HIV aids in the county, while taxes are being imposed on contraceptives.
He said the government is handing over financial resources of government hospitals to private hospitals and private insurance companies in the name of health cards.
He said the government is also doing legislation on the SBP to make it dependent on the international financial institutions.
He said the SBP Bill would restrict the government regarding borrowing money from the SBP, adding there must be discipline in the government and it should not borrow money from the SBP.
However, he said, if a government is compelled to borrow money than it should borrow from the commercial banks. He said the salary of the governor SBP is being set at Rs 15,000,000 and his term is being enhanced to five years from three years.
He said the defence expenditure would have a single account in the SBP, which would expose nuclear programme of the country to the world.
Bilawal sarcastically remarked that that the SBP amendment bill should be named the “State Bank slavery bill”, as the government could not borrow money from the central bank.
He said the governor of State Bank’s tenure was being moved up from three to five years and that the officeholder would not be answerable to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
“This is an NRO [...] the State Bank will now be answerable to international institutions and not the parliament,” he said.
He also vowed to keep following the foreign funding case of the PTI.
Bilawal, while referring to Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) Tax Directories of parliamentarians for the tax year 2019 — asked the prime minister in which scheme he had invested that his income increased up to 2,000 percent after assuming office.
Akhtar Mengal of Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-Mengal) spoke about the extra judicial killing in Balochistan and said that 250 bodies were recovered from a single mass-grave in the province.
He said Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) killed 19 persons and termed them terrorists, while it gets no retaliation of any sort from these terrorists.
He said the government got mandate of the public to make South Punjab as a separate province but there is no development on it. He termed division of Balochistan out of question and said that it was one, it is one and it will remain undivided.
When Federal Minister of Energy Hammad Azhar was given floor by the chair to defend the government, Rana Sanaullah of the PML-N pointed out the quorum.
He was of the view that he is pointing out quorum to mark his protest. The quorum was found incomplete on the count and the sitting was adjourned for a while.
The House started its proceedings again when the quorum was complete.
Taking the floor, Azhar, while defending government that the PPP and the PML-N bankrupted the economy during their tenures, adding “when we came to power, we had to first pay back their loans, but alas, they speak as if all was good during their governments.”
Admitting that the people were suffering due to the current economic situation, he said inflation had surged across the globe as supply chains broke down due to the Covid-19, but Ehsaas Programme was launched for the poor. He told Bilawal that 90 percent of the taxes that he mentioned in his speech would be refunded and took a jibe at him, saying the PPP chairman was not informed about a thing called “tax adjust appeal”. “There is a crisis of fertilisers as the mafias are getting stronger due to a weak government in Sindh. The shortage of fertilisers is due to smuggling.”
Azhar said that the opposition leader in NA Shehbaz Sharif had called the PTI-led government “sinister”.
“Let me tell them, that at the end of the PML-N’s tenure, the circular debt was Rs450 billion, and we have reduced it to an annual Rs130 billion”. The energy minister said the government was also trying to bring down the Rs2,300 billion current account deficit.
He said Sharif had called the government a “thief”.
“Our prime minister’s servants don’t have billions of rupees in their accounts,” he said, hitting out at the PML-N president.
The energy minister said the incumbent government struck cheaper liquefied natural gas (LNG) deals with the same company that the previous regimes had.
Azhar said the previous governments had struck costly LNG agreements, as he said the current account deficit was high due to their expensive deals.
The minister said the price of petroleum products was high due to the rates in the international market and claimed that false propaganda was being propagated against the government.
He said the economy is growing at five percent and the government aims to cross tax collection of Rs6,000 billion through the FBR.
He said large scale manufacturing has witnessed growth at 10 to 15 percent, adding Rs270 billion taxes suggested in the mini-budget would be adjustable.
Khawaja Asif of the PML-N said that stopping the “destructive” mini-budget and the bill aimed at “selling” the autonomy of the central bank was the opposition’s responsibility. He said that the people of Balochistan have the right of pre-emption over major development projects and resources, adding unless the people of the country are treated equally, the fault lines in Pakistani society would continue to expand.
Terming the mini-budget an expensive-budget, he said filthy rich of the country called investors are spending Rs2 billion on their weddings, while there are billions of households, which could not afford two time meals.
He added that the government itself admitted that their agenda of accountability failed and it failed because it was not based on the principles of justice.
He also lashed out at the government’s claim of the military and civilian leadership being on the same page, stating that this was a constitutional requirement.
About the SBP autonomy bill, he said that the word “state” should be removed from the central bank’s name as it had become a branch of the IMF as the central bank governor has now become more powerful than the country’s prime minister.
Salahuddin of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) said that his party supported the government in the passage of the federal budget and the Senate elections, but it did not take them into confidence on important issues confronting the country.
Khursheed Shah of the PPP asked the government to take due care of the common people and help ease their financial hardships.
He also invited the MQM-P leadership to work for the welfare of the people living in Sindh, adding the PPP government was providing the best health facilities to its people. PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal blasted the government’s economic measures and reminded that it, while passing the federal budget 2021-22 had assured that there would be no mini budget, but it presented the Finance Supplementary Bill 2021.
He said that the government had missed all the economic targets.
The PTI lawmakers including Aliya Hamza, Kanwal Shauzab and others were all praise for the government, saying the mini-budget and other economic policies are simply best any government had ever done.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022