Taking part in the discussion on the money bill, senators from the opposition criticised the government for what they called a ‘directionless policy’, and its failure to address issues facing growers. They said that the government was adding to citizens’ problems by continuing to increase gas and electricity tariffs.
Senator Imamuddin Shoukeen of the Pakistan Peoples Party, while initiating the debate, accused the government of having struck an underhand deal with banks, explaining that the reduction in the tax rate for the banks on their income from agricultural financing would serve only to benefit institutions already earning windfall profits. This, he said, clearly meant that a covert deal had been reached with banks, and that growers would not get any benefit from the step.
Additionally, he said that concessions had been granted to multinationals in what he called the ‘anti-people’ mini-budget, while criticising the government for the devaluation of the rupee against the dollar and rejecting the claim that this would serve to boost exports.
Terms it an attempt to appease corporate sector, capitalists
Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the same party said that the statement of objectives of the money bill started with “the purpose of this bill [being] to give effect to the fiscal stabilisation objective of the government…”, adding that this translated to stabilisation targets not being achieved from the original budget. Pointing out that the power tariff had been increased by 57 paisa per unit only a day before, he lambasted the government for being unable to import liquefied natural gas in a timely fashion due to what he termed its ‘incompetence’. Claiming that 63 per cent of the country’s workforce is dependent on the agricultural sector, he regretted that the mini-budget contained nothing that directly addressed the issues of growers.
He added that while a decision had been taken to benefit banks lending money to growers, the latter would continue to pay interest that was highest in the region.
Mr Khokhar criticised the government for creating uncertainty on whether it would approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to seek a bailout package, yet claiming that at the end of the day, it would have to nevertheless go to the IMF. “From where will the government meet the deficit,” he stated, “when revenue targets are not being achieved.” Further, he alleged that the prices of gas and electricity had been increased to meet the IMF conditions.
Senator Abdul Qayyum of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz said that the mini-budget fell short of outlining any plan to bridge the fiscal and current account deficit and increase exports. Observing that the decision to levy taxes on mobile phones would be counter-productive in this era of hi-tech devices, he said that grappling with merely minor symptoms would not help the government come out of the woods. He expressed his belief that the government ought to have explained how it would arrest inflation, boost exports, and manage the repayment of loans.
On its part, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s Ghafoor Haidri said that 35 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line but there was nothing in the money bill for the poor, regretting that every time a budget is presented, claims are made that the taxation measures would not affect the poor, but taxes on products are passed on to the end user. Meanwhile, Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party expressed his belief that the mini-budget provides concessions for multinational companies and capitalists.
On the other side of the coin, Faisal Javed of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf defended the mini-budget, saying that corrective measures were under way to overcome challenges. He claimed that public debt that stood at Rs6,000 billion had been taken to Rs30,000bn in 10 years by the two previous governments.
Without naming anybody, he also criticised those who acquired properties abroad with taxpayers’ money, and claimed that a significant reduction in poverty levels would be witnessed soon.
The opposition reacted strongly when Revenue Minister Hammad Azhar tried to respond to issues raised by the former, saying that according to tradition the minister could make a winding-up speech at the conclusion of the discussion. The Leader of the House in the Senate, Shibli Faraz, though, insisted upon inquiring about any law under which the minister could not speak during discussion, and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani said he would present a ruling in the next few days.
Earlier, the opposition had staged a walkout from the house for the second consecutive day to protest the absence of federal ministers soon after the commencement of the day’s proceedings.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2019