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ISLAMABAD: Former pri­me minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Saturday questioned the inclusion of intelligence officials in the 11-member Commission of Inquiry constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday to probe the utilisation of foreign debts obtained by two previous governments from 2008 to 2018.

“Those who don’t even know the ABC of economy will now review the decisions taken by the prime ministers, parliament and the cabinets,” wondered Mr Abbasi while taking part in the general debate on the federal budget in the National Assembly. The house continued its sitting on the weekend to compensate for the one-week time wasted due to noisy protests by the treasury members which they held to prevent Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif from delivering his speech to avenge a similar protest by the opposition parties at the time of the announcement of budget on June 11.

“What do the officers of the ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence), IB (Intelligence Bureau) and NAB (National Accountability Bureau) know (about the economy)?” he asked, adding, “now questions will be asked from the parliament that it had made wrong budgets and imposed wrong taxes”.

Alleging that the budget has been prepared by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Mr Abbasi claimed that even the baboos (bureaucrats) in the finance ministry were perturbed.

He said the PML-N government was paying Rs1,400 billion interest on foreign loans whereas this government had allocated Rs2,900bn to be paid as interest.

Lashing out at the government’s economic policies, he regretted that due to the “incompetency” of rulers, growth had narrowed by 50 per cent and inflation had increased by 100pc.

“If this is the state of the economy in 10 months, what will happen in five years?” he wondered. “Because of the incompetency of the government, we have to reduce our defence budget,” he said, accusing the rulers of putting national security at stake.

Mr Abbasi urged the speaker to issue the production orders for the two arrested MNAs from tribal areas — Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar — as well, saying it was the responsibility of the speaker to ensure the right of speech of each and every member. He said the speaker had discretionary powers but those powers could be used in line with the collective will of the house.

Referring to the prime minister’s recent addresses to the nation, Mr Abbasi said there had been no response to his call for declaring the assets under the amnesty scheme because people had no confidence in the government.

“You cannot collect taxes without restoring the confidence of people even if you deliver one hundred speeches to the nation,” he said.

Criticising the ongoing accountability process by NAB, the ex-premier claimed that the government officers were not ready to sign files and work because of NAB’s fear.

Former speaker and another PML-N leader Ayaz Sadiq said that the inquiry commission should also investigate the massive loans obtained by the present government during the last 10 months.

He said the proposal by the opposition parties for signing a `charter of economy’ should not be construed as their weakness.

“If you are not interested in it, then we will not become a part of it,” he declared.

Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Zardari, whose production order was issued by the speaker on Thursday, also attended the sitting for a brief period and kept feeding words to Mr Sadiq.

“Why there has been no response to the amnesty scheme?” Mr Sadiq asked and then recalled that Mr Khan in the past had stated that he would hold investigations against those who had availed of amnesty schemes and that the ruling elite introduced amnesty schemes to whiten their money and to promote corruption.

“Will now you, Mr Niazi, investigate those who had benefited from the previous amnesty schemes?” he asked.

Balochistan’s rights

Balochistan Awami Party MNA Rubina Irfan, whose party sits on the treasury benches, 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 Federally Administered tribal Areas (Fata).

“The people of Balochistan want equal rights and respect,” she said, demanding that a committee comprising all 20 MNAs from Balochistan be formed to discuss with the government the budget and the issues being faced by the people of her province.

Ruling party MNA from Faisalabad Farrukh Habib said when Imran Khan was busy building Shaukat Khanum Trust Hospital, these opposition leaders were busy in money laundering and building flats in foreign countries.

Defending the PTI’s economic policies, he said when they assumed power, there were foreign reserves for only two months.

PTI’s Farooq Azam made a forceful demand for the creation of Bahawalpur province.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2019