Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar on Thursday hit back at former finance minister Ishaq Dar's criticism of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government, questioning the absconding PML-N leader's right to point fingers at the state of the economy when the financial crisis the country is currently mired in "was a result of his own policies".
"There are [corruption] allegations against him (Dar)," said Azhar during a speech in Islamabad. "He did not surrender himself to the courts as per the law of Pakistan. And he is directly responsible for the economic mess we are in. Yet he still [has the audacity] to come on TV and ask that the 'contract' — because that's how his brain works — of this economy be handed to him."
Dar, who faces trials in Pakistani courts and has been declared a proclaimed absconder for his failure to return, recently did a round of TV interviews, where he slammed the incumbent government's economic policies.
"My question to him is: 'should you be given the 'contract' so you once again increase Pakistan's current account deficit by seven times, double the trade deficit, and triple the losses of state-owned enterprises so the State Bank's reserves start falling again?'," Azhar said.
"He (Dar) says that if the command is given back to him he would take the dollar rate back to Rs120. This is some new principle of economic policy that Ishaq Dar has come up with. He should be given a Nobel Prize for saying that he will increase deficits and strengthen the rupee simultaneously. We are hearing this for the first time. How he can do this, he should let us know.
"Let me tell you how he managed to keep the rupee stable in the last 4-5 years. He borrowed $24 billion from external sources and injected those funds into our currency markets to keep the rupee value high. This way, he kept the deficits growing, and the rupee value remained high but the economy went into the gutter. Today, that very person whose policies brought us into this lurch lectures us on the economy."
The state minister said that Dar's policies had left the State Bank of Pakistan's coffers empty and boosted losses in multiple sectors.
"When we took over, the State Bank did not even have enough reserves to manage its short-term liabilities," said Azhar. "We stopped the depletion, and the reserves today are building up."
"The power sector, in the last one year alone, incurred losses worth more than Rs600bn. Railways, PIA both saw their losses increase. Steel Mills got shut at one point. Not the Jeddah steel mill — that one is constructing apartments and what not: Pakistan Steel Mills is shut. The person who swore on an affidavit about how he laundered money out of Pakistan should not tell us how to run the economy.
"'We are reaping what you sowed. We are mending your mistakes, but God willing, when the economy is through this stabilisation phase, it will flourish in a way it never has before."
Azhar vehemently denied that the government has already agreed on a dollar rate with the International Monetary Fund, as accused by Dar, saying that any such suggestions are a ploy to destabilise the economy.
"They are completely wrong; we have not fixed the dollar rate with the IMF," he said. "They are saying this so there is speculation in the currency markets. They first wrecked the economy and they are not resting easy even now when their era has ended. They want to stay out of Pakistan, live their lives lavishly and still affect the economy with their statements. I want to advise him to come back if he thinks he is so clean."
The PTI minister also contested Dar's claim of high economic growth during his era. "Dr Hafeez Pasha dishes out severe criticism to us," he noted. "His wife has been a PML-N minister, yet even he has written in his book that growth in the last three years was overstated via manipulation of statistics."
Azhar also gave an update on an impending tax amnesty scheme as well as plans to boost tax collections, saying: "We are about to start an aggressive tax broadening scheme. Those who had managed to evade the tax net will now not be able to do so. A serious thought currently being pondered is to give them a chance to regularise [their assets] but that is from the point of view of broadening the tax net.
"We have ceased our raids and actions because we have extended the deadline. We want to give people more time. We are also preparing for the new budget. Our current focus is on giving notices.
The state minister said that the government has sufficient data on $11bn worth of funds parked abroad by Pakistanis. "According to data received from 29 countries, there are 152,000 accounts in which $11bn have been parked. Of this, 40 to 50 per cent has been declared in taxes or amnesties," he said, hinting that the government will go after the rest.
When reminded that his fellow PTI minister Murad Saeed had (in)famously claimed to work to repatriate $200bn upon coming into power, Azhar said that Saeed was only quoting figures provided by Dar himself.
"That figure ($200bn) was quoted by Ishaq Dar on the floor of the house," he said. "Murad Saeed was referring to data quoted by the finance minister of the time. He should not have done so because the World Bank had fined him (Dar) for giving inaccurate data. Maybe Murad Saeed did not know Ishaq Dar very well, and he put too much stock in those figures."