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Fawad Chaudhry lambastes opposition, holds previous govts responsible for financial crisis

Updated September 25, 2018

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Information minister Fawad Chaudhry adresses Parliament. — Screengrab
Information minister Fawad Chaudhry adresses Parliament. — Screengrab

Information minister Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday railed against opposition parties, holding them responsible for Pakistan's current economic crisis as the budget debate resumed in the National Assembly.

"They [the opposition] urge us not to run the country on donations. But the state in which the past two governments have left the country in, what other option do we have? Tell us, what other choice do we have?" Chaudhry asked.

The information minister was responding to PPP leader Naveed Qamar, who had criticised the government for raising gas prices and its reported intention to raise power tariffs as well. He had also accused the government of "reversing" all steps taken by the previous government to penalise tax evaders.

"It has only been 21 days since the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) came to power," Chaudhry said, saying that the economic crisis currently plaguing the country was the result of "visionless" policies of past governments.

"Ishaq Dar [the former finance minister] and company have committed a criminal act [by ruining the economy]," Chaudhry declared.

"The PTI has come to power at a time when the country's foreign reserves are so low that they can only cover one and a half month's imports," Chaudhry stated. He further said that until 2008 — the year when the PPP came into power — the public debt accumulated over 60 years stood at Rs6 trillion. When the time PPP's tenure ended in 2013, the debt stood at Rs13 trillion.

"In the [past] five years, during which these experienced Aristotles have been in charge, the debt has surpassed Rs28 trillion.

"Who is responsible for the present state of economy? Those who formed government only 21 or 22 days ago or those 'experienced' governments which ruled the country for the last decade?" he asked.

He said that the PML-N government has "ensured" that the debt of the country keeps increasing so that the rich can reap more benefits while the lifestyle of the power continues to worsen.

He accused the former finance minister of using former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's private plane to fly to London on frivolous pretexts.

Chaudhry termed "Ishaq Dar and company" the "biggest criminals of the country, who were flown out in the former prime minister's private jet". He reminded the house that Dar had been declared an absconder by the courts in Pakistan, yet he had not returned to face charges levelled against him.

The information minister also claimed that the former government had borrowed extensively to buy "toys" for itself.

"Rs11 trillion were spent by Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif alone," Chaudhry said.

Pointing out that even though it had already spent billions on metro bus services in multiple cities in Punjab, the provincial government still needed Rs8 billion annually to ensure that those buses continued to operate.

Chaudhry lamented that due to the "criminal" economic policies of the previous government, every department in the country was in disarray.

He directed the assembly's attention toward the dire situation of Radio Pakistan, where 700 people were employed on contract yet the government did not have enough money to pay their salaries or pensions.

"Should we fire the 700 employees? Where do we get the money to pay their salaries? If we talk about selling [state-owned] buildings [to generate funds], they [the opposition] will protest."

He repeated that there was "no money" in the treasury.

"Should we borrow more to pay salaries? Will we have to run this country the same way that these 'experienced' governments [before us] had been running it?" he asked.

He then said that the PTI-led government had introduced reforms to reduce the difference between the rich and poor.

He agreed with Sharif and Qamar's suggestion that a Charter of Economy be passed, but added that support for people responsible for pushing the country into financial crisis should end.

Opposition demands government to take nation in confidence

Earlier, Qamar had demanded that if the government plans to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, it should tell the people and prepare them for the conditions that will likely be imposed by the monetary body.

He had also warned that if the government continues to increase prices, inflation, that has been subdued for the past few months, will reach double digits again.

He further demanded that the government inform the nation about "promises" made during Prime Minister Imran Khan's recent trip to Saudi Arabia.

"Tell us if you have made any commitments with Saudi Arabia," he said. "This Parliament had opposed the idea of sending troops to Saudi Arabia. Have you made any commitment in this regard? If not then tell this house categorically," he asked.