ISLAMABAD: Members of parliament from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz hold a protest against price hike outside the Parliament House on Tuesday.—Mohammad Asim / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Members of parliament from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz hold a protest against price hike outside the Parliament House on Tuesday.—Mohammad Asim / White Star

ISLAMABAD: The legislators belonging to the treasury and the opposition on Tuesday discussed the most serious issue of price hike in a non-serious atmosphere in the National Assembly as speaker after speaker kept on delivering political speeches, making personal attacks on each other’s leadership and holding each other responsible for the present miserable state of the country’s economy.

The lawmakers were seen bursting into laughter on a number of occasions during proceedings spread over three hours when the members passed some funny remarks while targeting each other’s leadership.

PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel, who got the floor soon after a fiery speech by Minister for Communications Murad Saeed, literally turned the house into a theatre when he utilised to the maximum his ability of provoking the opponents with double meaning words and made some below-the-belt remarks, forcing Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri to expunge them.

Earlier, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had an exchange of argument with Speaker Asad Qaiser when the latter expunged the term “small man” used by the former for Prime Minister Imran Khan. The speaker had also expunged Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s remarks that Imran Khan’s “entire career can be credited to an ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] chief”.

“He is the prime minister of the country. You cannot speak [about him] in this manner,” the speaker intervened and directed that the remarks be expunged.

NA witnesses ruckus as members indulge in vitriolic exchanges

The PPP chairman then turned his guns towards Mr Qaiser, saying it was not the speaker’s job to defend the prime minister.

The opposition members in their speeches mostly targeted the prime minister while recalling his number of statements which he had made while in the opposition and after assuming the office of the country’s chief executive.

The opposition members also lashed out at the government over the absence of key ministers from the house, saying the empty front treasury rows showed “seriousness” of the ruling party towards the most important public issue.

Initiating the debate at a time when the federal cabinet was also in session to discuss possible measures to provide relief to the masses in the wake of unprecedented inflation, PML-N parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif recalled that Mr Khan while in the opposition used to say that a country faced inflation and more taxes, if the rulers were corrupt. “Today, both have increased manifold,” he then said amid interruptions by some of the treasury backbenchers.

Mr Asif said that by converting the house of former finance minister Ishaq Dar into a shelter home, the politicians were insulting their own community. Without naming, he said the person who was known as the architect of the present government was the beneficiary of the present wheat and sugar crises in the country.

The PML-N leader was of the view that the present set-up would crumble because of its own weight and the opposition did not need to hatch any conspiracy against the government. “We want to see this government packing due to price hike and corruption and not as a result of any conspiracy or deal,” he said, adding that they wanted to see change in the government in a democratic manner.

The house also witnessed a ruckus when Mr Asif claimed that Imran Khan had not donated even a single rupee to the funds for the flood victims in 2014 whereas he was known for charity work.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks during the session on Tuesday.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks during the session on Tuesday.

Taking part in the debate, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the “government had inherited a floundering economy and turned it into a sinking economy”. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, he said, inflation during the past 18 months surpassed the figure recorded during the past 10 years.

“I don’t understand how a majority of members of this house face their constituents,” he said, adding: “When you have a government that has been selected, then there is no regard for the people’s sufferings. They bow down before the IMF and make deals at the expenses of the people’s economic rights.”

The PPP chairman recalled that the prime minister used to say that he would not take a loan, and would rather commit suicide, but in the past 15 months, the government had taken loans worth Rs11,000 billion.

“We do not want Imran to commit suicide, but we demand that he accept that he is selected, incompetent and incapable. 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,” he said amid slogans “shame, shame”.

Responding to Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s speech, Murad Saeed wondered how could a person, who was in politics because of his mother’s will, call the prime minister “selected”. He alleged that the PPP was giving aid to the government officials through the Benazir Income Support Programme, and did nothing for the poor people of the country.

“They are taking us to task about the 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.

Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar said the country had embarked on a journey to progress and development after the government stabilised the economy due to its prudent strategy. He said the current account deficit had come down by 84 per cent, adding that the PTI government had inherited the economy in a bad condition as the PML-N government had wasted about $20 billion to artificially stabilise the rate of the dollar.

The minister said the government was all set to enter the higher growth trajectory in the next fiscal year. He said the price of wheat had been stabilised in three provinces while efforts were being made to reduce its price in Sindh. He said the rate of electricity had increased due to expensive tariff agreement signed by the PML-N government. He said the gas companies which were in profit had been pushed into Rs160bn deficit by the past government.

Mr Azhar admitted that inflation had increased and said the government took tough decisions to steer the country out of bad economic conditions and avoid the looming default. He said the government was still paying interest on Rs400 billion loans taken by the PML-N government to pay circular debt. He reiterated that the government was determined to bring to zero the circular debt by December.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2020