ISLAMABAD: Criticising economic policies of the government, the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party vowed on Thursday to oppose the proposed moves to introduce an amnesty scheme for Pakistanis to declare their foreign assets and whiten their black money and to privatise the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM).

The PPP not only announced that it would resist the government’s moves in parliament, but also threatened to launch a countrywide protest movement if the ruling party tried to implement its plan of privatising the national assets.

PPP Senator and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani in a statement expressed concern over the government’s plan to announce an amnesty scheme “for whitening black money” this month and vowed to resist such a move in parliament.

“This is a matter of grave concern and will be opposed in parliament,” Mr Rabbani said.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has already announced the government’s intention to offer an amnesty scheme for Pakistanis to declare their foreign assets, and reduce tax rates to broaden the tax base and to address challenges on the external and fiscal fronts, ahead of the next year’s budget and the upcoming general election.

Speaking at an event organised by the Pakistan Business Council in January, the prime minister had said the government would bring a one-time amnesty scheme and it was working on a plan to allow Pakistanis to declare their assets abroad.

However, Mr Rabbani was of the view that such schemes “are a licence for big businessmen to commit illegal acts and then get the opportunity to legalise their ill-gotten wealth”, adding that such schemes had also failed in the past.

He said it was unfortunate that all economic policies of the government were for the benefit of big business while the middle class, professionals and working classes had been made to suffer under the yoke of direct and indirect taxes and price hike.

He suggested that the government, instead of announcing the amnesty scheme for big business, should announce a one-time amnesty for those people of the working class whose electricity bill on an average was Rs7,000 a month and who had not been able to make payments for a maximum period of six months. He asked the government to write off such bills.

In a separate statement, PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari warned the government against “the loot sale of PIA, Steel Mills and other national assets”.

Mr Bokhari said that Adviser on Economic Affairs Miftah Ismail’s announcement regarding the sale of PIA and Steel Mills would never be allowed to materialise by the PPP and the nation.

He said the country was in an economic mess because of what he called wrong policies of the PML-N government, national reserves were on the decline and massive loans were crippling the national economy.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2018