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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expresses objections to debt commission

Updated June 22, 2019

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Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi speaks in the National Assembly. — DawnNewsTV screengrab
Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi speaks in the National Assembly. — DawnNewsTV screengrab

During his speech in the National Assembly on Saturday, former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi criticised the constitution of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate a rise in public indebtedness over the last decade.

The Cabinet Division had yesterday issued a notification announcing the terms of reference of a 12-member commission that is to be headed by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Deputy Chairman Hussain Asghar.

The commission has been tasked to probe how Pakistan's debts swelled to Rs24 trillion over the past 10 years.

Apart from Asghar, the commission includes one representative each from NAB, the Federal Investigation Agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the State Bank of Pakistan, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the Federal Board of Revenue, the Auditor General of Pakistan, the Accountant General of Pakistan (Revenue), Military Intelligence and the special secretary of the Finance Division.

Expressing objections to the move, Abbasi asked how members of NAB, ISI and IB could question parliament and the budgets passed by the house.

"Those [who have] no basic knowledge about the economy will now review the decisions of prime ministers, parliament and cabinets," the PML-N stalwart said.

Abbasi also expressed scepticism over the ambitious revenue target of Rs5,550 billion set by the government in its proposed budget.

"[The government has been] unable to collect Rs4,000bn [in the outgoing year]; how will it achieve a target with an additional Rs1,550bn?"

"The only way [to achieve the FY2020 revenue target] is by further increasing inflation and prices of electricity and gas and devaluing the rupee even more," he said.

The former premier pointed out the difference between the amount of money allocated to interest payments in the 2019-20 budget and last year's budget.

"The previous government was paying Rs1,400bn interest on foreign loans. This government has allocated Rs2,900bn for interest. This budget has been drawn up by the IMF (International Monetary Fund)," he declared.

Expressing concern over the deteriorating situation of the economy, the PML-N leader said: "Only one year ago, the GDP [gross domestic product] was around 6 per cent and inflation was 4pc. Within 10 months, the growth has narrowed by 50pc and inflation has increased by 100pc."

"If this is the state of economy in 10 months, what will happen in five years?"

He said that the dire economic situation was the result of the incompetency of rulers.

"Because of the incompetency of the government, we had to reduce our defence budget... These rulers have put the country's national security at stake."

Abbasi was also critical of the government's decision to include those people in the tax net who earn more than Rs50,000 a month, calling it "unjustified". The former premier said that the government had lost the confidence of the masses.

"Can you justify the imposition of [additional] taxes with your luxurious lifestyle and expenditures?" he asked. "People will not pay taxes until the rulers pay taxes."

Abbasi also urged the speaker to issue the production orders of two more MNAs who are currently under arrest. He was referring to Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, who are currently under police custody and are facing multiple charges including murder, attempted murder and interference in official affairs after the May 26 Kharqamar checkpost incident in North Waziristan.

'Balochistan wants equal rights'

Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) MNA Rubina Irfan raised objections over the government's proposal to deduct provinces' share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) award in order to allocate more funds for the development of erstwhile Fata.

"Balochistan's situation is similar to that of the tribal areas," she complained, adding that she expected support from the PPP, MQM and PML-N.

She also lamented that while gas from Sui fields was being provided to Azad Kashmir, Balochistan was still facing loadshedding for upto 16 hours.

"The people of Balochistan want equal rights," she said, demanding that a committee comprising all 20 MNAs from Balochistan be formed to discuss the budget with the government.

'Why would I ask for an NRO now?'

Former president Asif Ali Zardari talks to journalists outside the National Assembly. — DawnNewsTV
Former president Asif Ali Zardari talks to journalists outside the National Assembly. — DawnNewsTV

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, who is being investigated by NAB in connection to a case pertaining to fake accounts, denied claims that he had asked for a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) from the government.

"Why would I ask for an NRO now when I did not ask for it eight years ago?" he responded to a question by a journalist outside the National Assembly. Zardari was brought to the parliament by NAB authorities so he could attend the sitting, after Speaker Asad Qaiser issued his production orders.

When asked what he thought of the government's agreement for a Charter of Economy, the PPP co-chairperson said: "Let the prime minister explain his stance on the Charter of Economy, then we will discuss [the development] with the party. We will also consult other opposition parties before giving a response."

Ayaz Sadiq meets Asif Zardari, Shahbaz

Former speaker Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N also held a meeting with Zardari and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif.

"Zardari and I agreed that we have to work towards the betterment of the country," he told journalists outside the National Assembly.

He said that both Zardari and Sharif had suggested that a Charter of Economy be arrived at.

Commenting on the debate over the proposed budget in the ongoing National Assembly session, Sadiq said: "It is the opposition's job to suggest amendments in the budget."

"We will to any lengths for the benefit of Pakistan," he declared.

He questioned the Election Commission of Pakistan's decision to deploy security forces inside polling stations in the upcoming elections in the tribal regions, saying that "polling stations are threatened from the outside".