ISLAMABAD: A crisis hits the world every decade and in the current one, ours is Prime Minister Imran Khan, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said during a National Assembly session Wednesday, as he berated the government over the Finance Bill 2021, dubbed by the Opposition as the “mini-budget”.
Bilawal said the government’s deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would have devastating effects on the nation.
“You went to the IMF when you were weak […] and you made a weak deal with the IMF. We will not bear the burden of the deal. [The] common [man] and poor people will bear its burden,” the PPP chairperson said.
The PPP leader said an “inflation storm” will hit the country if the government passes the Finance Bill 2021, generally known as the “mini-budget”.
The government is seeking to pass the Finance Bill 2021 and SBP Amendment Bill, as it is a pre-requisite to resume the $6 billion External Fund Facility (EFF) of the IMF.
Bilawal said the government’s “arrogance” came in the way of it holding talks with the Opposition over its deal with the IMF. “We asked you to consult with Asif Ali Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif, but you [the government] rejected the proposal.”
After passing the “mini-budget”, you will not be able to set foot in your constituencies, Bilawal told the treasury benches, adding that a trailer of it was witnessed during the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local body polls — where JUI emerged victorious in the first phase.
“The incumbent government’s lawmakers cannot face their voters in their constituencies […] you will soon be under the people’s wrath,” he said.
During the 2018 general election campaign, PM Imran Khan had vowed that he would go to Prime Minister’s Office on a bicycle, but he goes there on a helicopter, Bilawal said.
Bilawal Bhutto dissects ‘mini-budget’
Bilawal said that through the proposed bills, the government seeks to hike taxes on cars, petrol, cycles, motorbikes, mobile phones, internet, laptops and prepaid calling cards.
“You aren’t just taxing imported items, but you are also imposing taxes on locally manufactured goods. The government is taxing eggs, poultry, and seeds — this is the economic murder of farmers.”
The PPP chairman said the government was imposing a 17% tax on agricultural goods and foreign aids. “We have seen enmity with the poor and the people, but this government is the state’s enemy.”
‘Confusion over economic policy’
Bilawal said a “confusion” over the economic policy prevails, which would ultimately lead to the “death” of the country’s economy. He pointed out that in the early days the government claimed that it would not seek assistance from the IMF.
“The government [has since then] made wrong decisions of putting the burden on the people.”
The PPP chairman said Pakistan had never witnessed such bad economic growth as it has during the PTI’s tenure. “Even when we split into two countries — Pakistan and Bangladesh — our GPD growth was still not negative.”
Bilawal said PM Imran Khan was “solely responsible” for the historic inflation in the country, as he noted that several crises — including gas and urea — hit Pakistan recently.
Dissecting the SBP bill
On the SBP bill, Bilawal suggested that the SBP amendment bill should be named “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 Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
“This is an NRO […] the State Bank will now be answerable to international institutions and not the parliament,” he said.
‘Konsi scheme hai ye?’
Bilawal — referring to the 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% after assuming office.
“Konsi scheme hai ye (which scheme is this) that Khan sahab became rich and he made the entire country poor.”
‘They bankrupted the country’
Responding to the PPP chairman, Federal Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar asked the Opposition lawmakers to sit and be patient while he addresses the House.
“They (PPP and PML-N) bankrupted the economy during their tenures. When we came to power, we had to first pay back their loans. However, they speak as if all was good during their governments.”
Admitting that the people were suffering due to the current economic situation, Azhar said inflation had surged across the globe as supply chains broke down due to COVID-19. “But we launched Ehsaas Programme for the affectees.”
He told Bilawal that 90% 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.”
‘Expensive’ LNG agreements
Azhar said Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif had called the PTI-led government “sinister”.
“Let me tell them, that at the end of 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.
Azhar said Shahbaz 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 liquified 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 energy 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.
‘Looting’ Balochistan’s resources
For his part, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) chief Akhtar Mengal said unemployment was increasing in Balochistan, and he had expectations from the Centre to resolve this issue.
“Electricity supply in Balochistan is negligible […] no funds from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are being spent on the province,” he said.
The BNP-M chief said despite billions of dollars being spent on Gwadar’s CPEC projects, the inhabitants of the area were forced to drink dirty water.
He highlighted that the gas which is extracted from Balochistan’s Sui town was not being provided to the people of the province.
“OGDCL [Oil & Gas Development Company] and Pakistan Petroleum have looted Balochistan’s resources […] every government loots Balochistan, our resources are being put on sale.”
He pointed out that the uprising in Balochistan was due to injustice, as he said that the previous and incumbent federal governments struck deals with international companies, but did not give the province its due share.