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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif openly admitted on Tuesday that the federal budget for 2024-25 was prepared on the dictation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the government had no option but to accept its demands due to prevalent poor economic condition of the country.

Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly – Sharif emerged as the first-ever prime minister – who openly admitted – that “given the poor economic condition, it is a fact that we had to prepare the budget on the dictation of IMF.”

“This was the demand of IMF, and we got a response, we’ll present it before you. We should be optimistic that we will get a good news from the IMF,” he said, without any further elaboration.

He said that all out efforts would be made to curb expenditures and combat the menace of corruption.

He announced the abolition of the Public Works Department (PWD), citing rampant corruption within its development budget.

He disclosed the formation of a rightsizing committee, led by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, tasked with streamlining government operations and delivering substantial outcomes by the specified timeline.

Emphasising his government’s commitment to regional development, he underscored initiatives aimed at uplifting southern Punjab.

He noted that the PML-N-led government has consistently allocated budgets and employment opportunities exceeding the region’s population ratio.

Sharif stated that specific measures included a 10 percent increase in allocation for southern Punjab under national schemes such as the laptop distribution and PM Rozgar schemes.

He continued the Zevar Taleem Programme saw a significant rise in stipends for female students, from Rs200 to Rs1,000.

PM Shehbaz asks authorities to ‘immediately engage’ IMF regarding Extended Fund Facility

He also highlighted federal investments in major infrastructure projects across southern Punjab, including the Lodhran-Khanewal Motorway and the Dera Ghazi Khan-Muzaffargarh Motorway.

Responding to opposition concerns, he highlighted the imminent results of these initiatives, expected to manifest within approximately six weeks.

Taking part in the debate, the lawmakers belonging to treasury and opposition members discussed economic development, tax reforms, and infrastructure.

About the Senate’s recommendations on the Budget 2024-25, Naveed Qamar of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said that Senate recommendations are not meant for the finance minister as these are for the National Assembly.

He said that the entire budgetary process has become farcical, adding passing the budget is the exclusive prerogative of the National Assembly while threadbare examination of finance bill is done by Senate.

“The Senate had no role in the budget process and after 18th Amendment, it was given an advisory role, and it should not be done at the cost of National Assembly. It’s an irony that the finance bill is not discussed in any committee of the National Assembly and the debate on budget here is more of a political debate than a debate on the finance bill,” he regretted.

He said that the PPP would bring an amendment in NA rules – which are the biggest roadblock in budget making – to empower National Assembly a meaningful role in the finance bill, adding there is a need to change the budget-making process altogether as NA committees should have a role to study the finance bill threadbare.

Responding Qamar, the Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar said that there is a provision in the constitution that the Senate Committee on Finance – where all the parties have equal representation – may give its recommendations within 14 days.

“There was a time when NA used to trash Senate recommendations within 10 minutes and perhaps Naveed wants that […] but I would say we should respect both the houses. It would be a contempt to say we do not care about Senate recommendation. Let me make clear that the Senate has a role in budget making as its members play their constitutional role in the budget making process,” he declared.

Mohammad Ilyas Choudhary of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) emphasised the potential to boost foreign remittances by offering enhanced facilities and incentives to overseas Pakistanis, suggesting this could alleviate the country’s economic challenges.

Ali Khan Jadoon of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-backed (PTI) Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) called for reduction in taxes for the business community, highlighting the industrial sector’s current precarious conditions.

He noted global practices where imports often enjoy tax exemptions, contrasting with China’s rebates for importers. Jadoon cautioned against taxing agricultural machinery, citing potential negative impacts on crop production.

Rana Muhammad Faraz Noon of SIC voiced support for initiatives like the Sukkur-Hyderabad Motorway and a recycling plant for sacred papers while advocating for tax exemptions on children’s milk.

Mohammad Usman Badini of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Pakistan (JUI-P) expressed concern over delayed Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) plant constructions in Balochistan, urging improvements in the coal mining sector.

Dawar Khan Kundi, another member of SIC, highlighted the impact of the war on terror in South Waziristan, urging financial assistance for locals affected by landmines.

Umair Khan Niazi of SIC stressed the need for merit-based appointments in the government sector, advocating for improved services at Mother and Child Hospitals to combat rising child fatality rates. He called for strategic policies on water reservoirs, solar energy, and agriculture.

Mehboob Shah of SIC called for a 10-year tax exemption for businesses in Dir, Malakand Division, and the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), citing their historical challenges due to conflict.

Zubair Khan of the SIC urged thorough investigations into the presence of terrorist elements despite border fencing.

Shabbir Ali Qureshi of the SIC appealed for increased funding to develop South Punjab and restore Kot Addu’s district status, citing the lack of higher education institutions in the region. He supported the COMSATS University project for timely completion.

Awais Haider Jakhar of the SIC emphasised the importance of gender equality for economic growth, calling for improved infrastructure in Layyah, including electricity, gas, and a dedicated heart disease hospital.

The SIC chief whip Malik Aamir Dogar urged the government to reduce taxes on essential items like milk and stationery.

Criticising the lack of relief for both common people and businesses, he said that higher electricity bills were making it difficult for exporters to compete globally due to rising production costs.

He said that agriculture was the backbone of the economy and should be more incentivised to strengthen the national economy and support the farmers.

Shahid Usman Ibrahim, Anwar-ul-Haq Chaudhry, Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Engineer Amir Muqam called for a consistent and non-political approach to combating terrorism in the country.

He expressed gratitude to the prime minister for extending the tax exemption in the erstwhile Fata and Pata regions.

He said that the tax exemptions, originally granted in 2018, had been extended until 2023.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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IMTIAZ CASSUM AGBOATWALA Jun 26, 2024 11:36am
' Poor economic conditions '. Who is responsible other than the government itself.
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