Following a week of ruckus in the National Assembly, the government and opposition finally agreed not to disrupt a debate on the federal budget — presented on June 11 — giving Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif the opportunity to open up the general discussion on Wednesday.
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari spoke briefly at the start of today's session, urging Speaker Asad Qaiser once again to issue the production orders for former president Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N's Saad Rafique, and North Waziristan MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar.
Making the most of the opportunity, Shahbaz delivered a speech which went on for more than 3 hours, and touched upon a number of topics, including PML-N government's performance, state of economy, International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, foreign debt, rate of US dollar — and the budget.
Shahbaz began his speech by first addressing the chaos the assembly had witnessed in its last three sessions, expressing regret over "wasting days". "It [the pandemonium] was against the traditions of this house, it does not add to its glory."
He also backed Bilawal's demand for the production orders of the four MNAs.
"They have received votes from the people to represent their demands. You are the custodian of this house, you have a big responsibility to ensure their presence under the powers given to you, that they are able to come here and represent their constituencies," said the opposition leader while addressing Speaker Qaiser.
'Reject Budget 19-20'
Finally coming to the budget, Shahbaz said that it had only brought a message of disappointment for the people.
"We completely reject this budget. Budget is a sword of torture that is slitting the throat of the average man.
"If they were to make a people's budget, there were five things that were important: employment opportunities, raising gross domestic product (GDP), increasing exports and trade, further reducing prices, and providing social and economic justice."
The opposition leader said that at the end of the financial year, the government had a Rs500 billion hole in their revenue target.
"Imran Khan used to say PML-N government imposes indirect taxes. What happened today? The 'masters of U-turn' in this budget have imposed 70 per cent indirect taxes."
Shahbaz claimed that the budget was "IMF-led and IMF-dictated".
"Those who had come to create a naya Pakistan and to turn Pakistan into heaven, have taken it towards economic hell through these bad steps."
Shahbaz said that the current government had presented two mini-budgets in the financial year, following which they went to the IMF "and said they can't fulfil their targets and asked for exemptions".
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"They will compromise on such crucial national interests that the economic and political situation of Pakistan will further worsen."
Demands for change in the budget
"There is still time for Prime Minister Imran to admit that they [PTI] made mistakes and want the forgiveness of the people of Pakistan," he said, adding that the opposition may give him an allowance "to take a U-turn" on the budget.
Shahbaz said that there were conditions for this, which he presented on behalf of the opposition:
The "anti-people" budget should immediately be taken back and a budget taking into account the needs of people be presented.
Minimum wage be raised to Rs20,000 per month.
A minimum 50 per cent increase in the salaries of officers up to Grade-16.
Reintroduce tax exemption for those who earn a salary of Rs100,000 per month, which had been introduced by PML-N.
Electricity and gas prices should be brought back to their value on May 21, 2018.
Tax on ghee be taken back.
Health and education budget allocation be increased and free health care treatment provided during PML-N government be expanded to all of Pakistan.
The government should immediately take notice of the concluding of zero-rated industries.
Two-party system wrecked country, says Omar Ayub
Responding to Shahbaz's speech, Federal Minister for Power Omar Ayub said that flaws that were being highlighted by the PML-N were the result of their own policies. He accused the PML-N of drafting hasty policies just to secure votes.
"They (PML-N) knew elections were approaching and the vehicle was out of their control. So they took decisions that led to increase in deficit."
He recalled that both PPP and PML-N approached the IMF seven and three times respectively.
"In 1988, foreign debt amounted to $13bn. In 1999, [the debt was] around $39bn. In 2008, the debt increased to $41bn. In 2018, these debts increased from $41bn to $91bn," he said.
"They mortgaged our country [...] They should tell us the reason [for accumulating debts] because we had to allocate $3,000bn [in the proposed budget] solely for the payment of the interests of those loans."
"This two-party system has wreaked havoc on our country," Ayub said, referring to the tenures of PPP and PML-N. He said that the PTI government is "gradually" paying off the loans borrowed by previous governments.
He rubbished PML-N claims that economy was performing better during its era, saying that the party had sustained the economy artificially by "printing additional notes and borrowing loans". He also alleged that the foreign direct investment was stagnant.
'Challenges faced by PML-N'
Earlier, during his speech Shahbaz said: "In 2013, the genuine votes of the people elected the PML-N government. We had to face tremendous challenges immediately. During [former president retired] Gen Pervez Musharraf's time, there was a lot of load-shedding.
"When we were given the responsibility, there were days when there would be no electricity for 20 hours at a time. This was a big challenge that I, not through a slip of tongue, had said that we will try to solve in six months [...] God helped us.
"The then opposition of PTI came out on containers for seven months. They attempted to damage the economy; these were efforts to undermine our work. But 'man proposes and God disposes'."
Shahbaz then spoke about Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Pakistan in 2014, saying: "The country won't forget that when Xi Jinping was visiting, PTI leaders were requested to get up from D-Chowk for only three days — but they said no and, as a result, the Chinese president's visit was postponed."
"For seven months the visit was postponed, and somewhere around May 2015, the agreements were inked.
"We have a few numbered friends — China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But at that time, when there was electricity shortage and terrorism, who came to our rescue? It was China.
"During [former prime minister] Nawaz Sharif's era, 11,000 megawatt electricity was generated. PTI had said that we will generate so much electricity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) that we will provide it to all of Pakistan.
"I will not waste your time, I am not telling stories. I will not say anything that is irrelevant or not based on fact. In KP, from 2015 to 2018, -6 megawatt electricity was generated."
'Pakistan falling behind'
Saying that the PML-N under Nawaz Sharif had improved the condition of the country, he lambasted the Imran Khan-led government for "burdening the people".
"Afghanistan is our brother nation and we want a good relationship with them, but this is all about economic competition. Afghan currency is stronger than the Pakistani currency.
"Bangladesh's per capita income is ahead of us. Fifteen to twenty years ago, we used to have a healthy competition with India. We were ahead of India in textile; in some sectors, we were ahead and in others, they were behind."
'Dollar is galloping'
"Whenever a budget was presented, some segments were happy, others were unhappy. This is the first instance that the poor are strongly protesting," alleged the opposition leader as he continued uninterrupted.
"Widows are saying that their stoves have no gas [...] while even the rich, the traders, and shopkeepers are also feeling the pressure. The entire economy has been destroyed.
"This is the situation in not a year, but in a mere ten months. Everything is sky-high, the dollar has reached the sky. On the last day of our tenure, the rupee was 115 against the US dollar.
"God forbid, when I finish my address, the dollar will be at 170. The dollar is galloping.
"All the members are extremely worried about what will happen. They [PTI] have no vision, nothing on their mind. Only one thing has come forward: their ineligibility and incapability."
'Look into Musharraf-era debt'
Speaking on Prime Minister Imran Khan's late-night address to the nation on June 11, in which the premier vowed to go after the "thieves who left the country badly in debt", Shahbaz said that he had gone to sleep when the address started as he's an "early bird".
"I asked the next morning if he had said anything new. I was told that he has formed a new commission to examine the debts and to look into who has mishandled/created problems that led to the rise in debt."
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The opposition leader said the commission would also have to look into the Musharraf-era debt and the ones "they [PTI] took in KP".
'Imran has no authority to give NRO'
During his address on June 11, Prime Minister Imran had said: "My mistake is I didn't cave under pressure and give them an NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance]. The country fell into debt because of two NROs."
Referring to the premier's comments, Shahbaz said that Imran Khan did not have the authority to give an NRO, terming it "notorious relief order".
"I want to ask, for the last time, because Imran Khan has repeatedly spoken about refusing 'NRO', who asked for it? Who was the witness?
"Tell the country, when and who asked him [PM Imran] for an NRO? Is there any witness? The country is very worried; Imran Khan says something but doesn't give any evidence.
"I am saying this for the last time on the floor of the house: please tell this country who asked for an NRO, when did they ask and who is the witness."
'More loans taken by PTI than PML-N'
According to Shahbaz, "quoting PTI's facts and figures, the PML-N took a loan of Rs10,600bn". "On May 21, 2018, the total loans were Rs24,952 billion. Historic work was done with the loans we took," he said, giving examples of Gwadar port, gas pipeline, and a 22 megawatt atomic powerhouse.
"Dying projects were brought to life again. Along with Sindh government, the Thar coal project was initiated."
Referring to the $6 billion worth IMF loan agreed to in May, Shahbaz recalled that Imran Khan had said he would 'commit suicide but not go to the IMF'.
"God forbid he ever commits suicide, but he has taken the country to the brink of suicide.
"In the past 10 months, they have taken Rs10,000 billion loans. They have not started one project of their own.
"The premier had promised to build 5 million houses; this is the eleventh month of their government, forget building houses, they haven't even laid one stone."
'Super NAB' commission on loans
"How is this justice that allegations are made against us about loans?" asked Shahbaz.
A day earlier, the cabinet had approved the formation of the Commission of Inquiry aimed at ascertaining how foreign debts swelled to Rs24,000 billion in the last decade during two successive governments of the PML-N and PPP. The commission will be headed by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) deputy chairperson Hussain Asghar.
"Whether the deputy chairperson of NAB can chair the commission is a legal matter," remarked Shahbaz during his speech. "Whenever this 'super NAB' commission calls us, we will be present."
More to follow