PTI-PML war of words overshadows IMF debate

Published October 11, 2018
Minister of Information Fawad Chaudhry speaking on the Senate floor — File
Minister of Information Fawad Chaudhry speaking on the Senate floor — File

ISLAMABAD: The Senate hall on Wednesday resonated with heated arguments between the opposition and treasury members, with the former assailing the government for its decision to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package and the latter defending the move, alleging that they had to “swallow this bitter pill” due to wrong policies of the previous two governments.

The opposition members, particularly those belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), also lambasted the government for the arrest of party president Shahbaz Sharif, terming it an act of “political victimisation”.

The treasury members responded by claiming that the government had no role in the arrest of the opposition leader in the National Assembly and that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was independently functioning.

During question hour, the house proceedings were disrupted because of a verbal clash between Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan when the latter insisted that the minister apologise over his allegations that the former had got his brothers and other family members inducted on lucrative posts in the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Govt is ‘intentionally spoiling’ the Senate atmosphere to avoid discussion on rupee devaluation, says Raza Rabbani

Instead of apologising, Fawad Chaudhry repeated his allegations and declared that he would not offer an apology. Even he further alleged that Mushahidullah Khan had acquired medical treatment abroad at government expenses at a cost of 54,000 British Pounds.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani asked the minister to apologise, but he flatly refused, compelling the chairman to warn that then he could expel him (the minister) from the house.

The upper house of parliament had witnessed a similar scene last week when the minister had intelligently managed to dodge the chairman’s request for apologising to the PML-N senator.

“If he (the minister) manages to find six members of my family who are part of PIA, I will resign and if the minister fails, he should resign,” Mr Khan said while denying Mr Chaudhry’s charges.

The PML-N’s outspoken senator alleged that the government had started victimising his brother who had been asked to immediately return to the country from London where he was stationed at Heathrow airport.

Realising that the situation could worsen, former Senate chairman and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) stalwart Raza Rabbani asked the chairman to use his authority and get the issue resolved.

Mr Rabbani alleged that it seemed that the government was “intentionally spoiling the environment” in the house as it was running away from discussion on main issues, such as the devaluation of the rupee against the US dollar and the decision to approach the IMF.

The Senate chairman then requested senior members of the house to settle down the matter and Mr Rabbani was seen dragging Mushahidullah Khan to the lobby and Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi taking Mr Chaudhry outside the house.

Mr Khan and Mr Chaudhry returned to the house after a few minutes, but no further discussion was held on the issue.

Later, speaking on matters of public importance, Mr Rabbani lashed out at the government for seeking an IMF bailout package on tougher conditions. He said that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had taken another U-turn by deciding to approach the IMF. He recalled that Finance Minister Asad Umar had given an undertaking on the floor of the National Assembly and the Senate that if such a decision was taken it would first be debated in parliament, “but this was not done”.

Mr Rabbani said that the government had raised gas price by up to 143 per cent and also that of CNG which was now touching Rs100 — higher than petrol rate for the first time in the country’s history — apparently on the “dictates of the IMF”. The international financial institution, he added, had even suggested a further increase in the prices of gas and petrol, and obviously this would be part of the conditionalities attached to the bailout package.

The PPP senator also warned against privatising public utilities, saying that his party would strongly resist any such move.

Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar said that both the PPP and the PML-N had sought bailout packages from the IMF for 18 times and now they were making a hue and cry.

He said the government had started taking “corrective measures” to bring the country out of “debt dependency” and it would take advantage of the “fiscal space” it would get after receiving IMF loan and ensure that in future no government would approach the IMF.

PML-N senators Mushahidullah Khan and Asif Kirmani took the government to task over what they called humiliation of PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif in the name of accountability.

They duo alleged that NAB had become a tool in the hands of the PTI government to victimise political opponents. They also condemned Prime Minister Imran Khan for “hurling threats” during his press conference.

They said similar NAB cases were pending against several persons, including PTI’s Pervez Khattak, Zulfi Bokhari and Jahangir Tareen, but none of them had been arrested.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018

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