ISLAMABAD: With around 40 per cent increase in Pakistan’s public debt and liabilities in 15 months, the government on Thursday disclosed that it intended to borrow another Rs1.9 trillion for financing of its fiscal deficit from January to July 2020.
The information was provided by the Ministry of Finance in a written reply to a question by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Afzal Khokhar in the National Assembly, which later witnessed another verbal clash between the treasury and opposition members on the issue of price hike.
The information came almost a week after the government conceded major violations of the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act for massively exceeding debt acquisition limits.
In its debt policy statement laid before parliament last week, the finance ministry had noted that total debt and liabilities, which stood at Rs29.879tr at the end of fiscal year 2018, crossed Rs41.489tr at the end of September 2019, showing an increase of Rs11.6tr, or 39pc. At the end of the fiscal year 2019, the total debt and liabilities were reported to have increased by about 35pc, or Rs10.344tr, to touch Rs40.223tr.
Treasury, opposition members trade allegations over price hike
Responding to the second part of Mr Khokhar’s question whether it is a fact that this government is relying excessively on borrowing, the finance ministry stated that the government borrowing requirement is dictated by the gap between revenue and expenditure. “The government borrowing is also required for resource intensive infrastructure projects which facilitate economic growth and allow achieving social development goals,” it said.
Giving a break-down of Rs1.9tr loans which the government intends to borrow, the ministry informed the house that it will borrow Rs1.1tr from external sources and Rs0.8tr from domestic sources.
In response to another question by Mr Khokhar, the National Assembly was informed that the government intended to pay back Rs12,261bn domestic and $28.2bn external debt by the expiry of its term in 2023.
In response to a question by Rubina Irfan of the Balochistan Awami Party, the finance ministry said the government had not mortgaged any public property to any lending agency, national or international, to acquire loans, but three national assets had been utilised for undertaking Ijara Sukuk (Shariah compliant borrowing instruments) transactions.
The members were informed that the government had taken loans worth Rs71bn against Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway and $2bn against two portions of the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway.
During the question hour, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser announced that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is arriving in Pakistan on a two-day visit on Feb 13, would address the joint sitting of parliament on Feb 14. He said that he would soon hold a meeting with all parliamentary leaders to discuss the plan for the day.
The house witnessed another exchange of heated arguments between the treasury and opposition members after PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif accused the government of protecting those “mafias” who were involved in the recent wheat and sugar crises in the country.
Speaking on a point of order, Mr Asif drew the attention of the house to a Dawn report about continuing export of wheat to Afghanistan despite a government ban last year, resulting in escalation of prices.
The firebrand PML-N leader from Sialkot said that on the one hand, people were struggling to get flour and sugar and, on the other, export was still continuing. He alleged that truckloads of flour and sugar were transported from Punjab to Peshawar and then onward to the Afghan city of Jalalabad.
Mr Asif said Prime Minister Imran Khan had many a time stated that he was surrounded by mafias. “Why he is not telling the names of these people?” he asked and claimed that more than 50pc flour and sugar mills are owned by those sitting in the government. He said the mills owned by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and ex-president Asif Ali Zardari were lying shut.
“The government should tell the nation the names of those who have made billions while sitting under the government’s umbrella,” he said, asking Speaker Asad Qaiser to constitute a parliamentary committee to hold investigations into the wheat scam.
The PML-N leader, while naming the party members already in jail, said the prime minister believed that thieves and robbers were only in the ranks of the opposition. He predicted that the people belonging to mafias and sitting in the ranks of the ruling party would cause decline of this present Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.
Mr Asif also asked the speaker to allocate a few days for a debate on the issue of price hike. Why the circular debt was increasing when the government had already increased power tariff, he asked and alleged that the circular debt increased in one year was more than that left by the previous government after its five-year rule.
The PML-N leader also criticised the government for not evacuating the Pakistani students stranded in China due to the outbreak if coronavirus.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also lashed out at the government over its economic policies. He said if the government did not want to expose the names of those responsible for the wheat crisis, the house should form a committee and “we will drag these people and present them before the nation”.
The speaker later directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide complete data and list of the Pakistanis living in China and a schedule to bring them back. He also said the house would hold a debate on price hike next week.
Responding to the speeches of the opposition members, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said the government was ready to face investigations into the wheat scam as it did not want to see any person damaging the party’s movement against corruption. He said the prime minister always talked about the presence of mafias and cartels in the country, but these mafias had not been created in 16 months. He alleged that the previous government had protected and patronised these mafias and cartels. He said the previous rulers should tell the nation as to how they were able to set up factories and industries.
The National Assembly saw passage of two bills and introduction of three private member’s bills.
The speaker also gave a ruling to forward 50 private member’s bills of similar nature seeking parliamentary review of the rules of different departments to the Legislative Council after a strong protest by the opposition. These bills had been introduced by three ruling party members — Fakhar Imam, Riaz Fatiyana and Amjid Ali Khan.
Agha Rafiullah of the PPP pointed out lack of quorum in protest when he was not given the floor. After the head count, the speaker found that the house was not in order and he then adjourned the sitting till Friday morning.
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2020