The treasury and the opposition locked horns on Tuesday during a session of the National Assembly as the rise in inflation during the current government's tenure was put up for discussion.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) parliamentary leader in the National Assembly Khawaja Asif criticised the government and its officials for failing to take any measures to tackle inflation.
Addressing NA Speaker Asad Qaisar, the PML-N leader stated: "Not only has the cost of electricity risen, but corruption, instead of decreasing, has increased manifold."
Asif also pointed out the very obvious absence of ministers and officials, who were attending a meeting of the federal cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on the same day.
"The people of Pakistan are suffering, but look at the seriousness of government officials," he said, adding that it was those very people who "enjoy the trappings of power" who are absent.
"The country's current rulers have made the country a 'shelter' for those involved in the wheat and sugar shortage. Those benefiting the most from the current situation are within the government or are associated with them in some manner."
"Are the current prices [of any item] within the reach of citizens," he questioned, adding that the country's economy has shrunk from $230 billion to $189 billion.
Pointing out the economic decisions made by the PML-N during their tenure, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar stated that if things were going so well when the party was in power, why did they feel the need to turn towards the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
"A healthy economy which is headed towards progress does not need a bailout."
Today, the IMF is telling us we have to clear the deficit they have left behind. By December 2020, we have to bring circular debt down to zero, he explained.
"Increasing the prices of electricity and gas is not an easy decision for any government to make. Making decisions which lead to a rise in inflation or interest are difficult decisions. If we wish to have an informed discussion, these are hard decisions that are made during desperate times," he maintained.
Highlighting the government's measures to tackle a failing economy, the minister said: "We acknowledge that there has been an increase in inflation."
He maintained that after tackling the mess left behind the previous government, the PTI is looking to enter a higher growth phase in the next financial year.
"The first wave of inflation came in Dec 2019 when the prices of onions and tomatoes skyrocketed but that was resolved. In January, the prices of wheat and flour increased but that situation has also been resolved in most cities," he said.
He relented that the price of sugar is still high due to a shortfall of the crop, adding that the government is working on resolving the issue.
"When we were elected into power, we had warned that we will have to suffer through a tough two-year period. However, we can expect to move towards a higher growth trajectory in the next financial year," he said.
Bilawal lambasts govt's economic policy
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari stated that the “government inherited a floundering economy and turned it into a sinking economy”.
“Unemployment and poverty [in the country] existed before this government but they have increased since the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf took over. These are the facts,” he said.
“According to the Bureau of Statistics, inflation during the past 18 months surpassed that recorded during the past 10 years. Food inflation, from 1.5 per cent in 2019, has reached 25pc.”
Listing the increase in the prices of essential commodities, the PPP leader highlighted the discrepancy in the general inflation rate and that faced by the general rural population.
On top of all this, the government has increased gas prices by 55pc, motor fuel by 76pc, and electricity charges by 14pc, said Bilawal, adding that: "We are answerable to the people, and the people are asking whether we should feed our children or pay our electricity and gas bills."
"It is beyond me, I don't understand how a majority of members of this House face their constituents," he added.
When you have a government that has been "selected", then there is no regard for the people's suffering. They bow down in front of the IMF and make deals at the expenses of the people's economic rights, he maintained.
"The prime minister used to say they he will not take a loan, and would rather commit suicide. In the past 15 months, the government has taken loans worth Rs11,000 billion," Bilawal highlighted.
We do not want Imran to commit suicide, but we demand that he accepts that he is wrong, he said, questioning why there was currently a tax shortfall.
"The IMF deal is a bad deal for the people and for Pakistan. It is a poor deal which was negotiated poorly by those who have compromised on the rights of the people of Pakistan, and the economic sovereignty of Pakistan," Bilalwal said.
Acknowledging that Pakistan needs to document its economy, the PPP chairperson maintained that the government made a mistake by trying to document the "entire economy, all in one go, by hook or by crook".
"No other policy has strangled our economy than this one stubborn decision. Instead of taking conducive measures, [...] this government is hiking up taxes, forcing everyone to shop and trade with CNICs overnight, relying on institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to harass the working people of Pakistan," he articulated.
Bringing up the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), named after his late mother and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal termed the initiative the first social security net for the people of Pakistan.
"But how can politicians such as Imran, whose entire career can be credited to an ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] chief tolerate [such a thing]," he said, prompting a raucous in the House.
Taking issue with Bilawal's statement, the NA speaker said: "He is the prime minister of the country. You cannot speak [about him] in this manner." He directed for the remarks to be expunged, as the entire House descended into chaos, with the opposition and the treasury engaged in a verbal battle.
Murad Saeed fires back
Calling out Bilawal, Minister for Communications and Postal Services Murad Saeed said that how can someone who was handed his political career in his mother's will, call the prime minister "selected".
They [PPP] were giving aid to government officials through BISP. They did nothing for the people of the country living below the poverty line, he said.
"They are taking us to task about a shortage of wheat in the country when they have already done a plea bargain with NAB after millions of tonnes of wheat went missing from their warehouses. They have no shame," the minister added.
Clarifying the comments made regarding the government seeking to eliminate the BISP, he maintained that the programme has been brought under the Ehsaas initiative.
"Look at their politics. When the government tried to introduce Sehat Insaf Cards, why did [the provincial government] oppose it?," he stated.
"We have brought most departments out of debt and are working to make them profitable. Tourism has doubled, Pakistan's image as perceived by the world has also improved. They are raising their voices against us when agriculture growth was negative during their tenure," he pointed out.