ISLAMABAD: Members of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Wednesday disrupted proceedings of the National Assembly during a debate on the most important public issue of price hike when federal Minister for Energy Omar Ayub Khan in his speech began criticising the performance of the PPP-led Sindh government and recalled the alleged malpractices of “Mr Ten Per Cent”, an apparent reference to former president Asif Zardari.
The lawmakers from the treasury and the opposition almost came to blows when PPP members, led by Syed Naveed Qamar and Agha Rafiullah in the presence of their chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, rushed to the seat of the minister were intercepted by a number of ministers, including Ali Mohammad Khan, Hammad Azhar and Fawad Chaudhry.
The PPP members besieged the minister, raised slogans and tore apart copies of the agenda ignoring calls of the helpless Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri who kept on asking the lawmakers to maintain order and go back to their seats.
Both Mr Rafiullah and Mr Omar were seen exchanging heated arguments with each other as members of both sides struggled to prevent the two from getting physical.
After failing to control the situation, the deputy speaker first suspended the proceedings for 10 minutes and later adjourned it till Thursday morning.
The incident overshadowed nearly four-hour long debate during which Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh delivered his first-ever speech in the parliament since his appointment in May last year and the opposition members criticised him for not presenting the true picture of the state of economy in the country.
It all began, when the energy minister in his speech after holding the PPP and the PML-N responsible for bringing the country on the verge of collapse, suddenly started talking about the performance of the Sindh government. He said the “corruption is imprinted in their genetic makeup and these two parties will do corruption come what may”.
And then, Mr Khan, who is known for frequently changing his political loyalties, without naming anyone said once there was “Mr Ten Per Cent” who happened to be the president of Pakistan.”
The PPP members asked the deputy speaker to stop the minister from delivering a political speech as he had been doing with them, but he ignored the calls, forcing the PPP members to lodge protest which later spoiled the proceedings.
Earlier, responding to the opposition’s criticism on the government’s economic policies, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said those who had themselves approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the past should not criticise the present government for doing the same.
“This is a national problem. Our development isn’t at the pace that we don’t go to the IMF,” he said, adding that “no one goes to the IMF happily, be it the previous governments or the current one. It is the situation which compels us to do so”.
He also took exception to remarks made by opposition members that the IMF people were negotiating with the IMF. The adviser said such remarks were hurting for him, saying that the people should be proud of (State Bank Governor) Reza Baqir, who had managed to make his position through his capabilities and knowledge.
“Those who do not have credentials even to enter the halls of the IMF were criticising the SBP governor for having worked there,” he went on saying.
Dr Shaikh said that it was after the financing of $6 billion by the IMF on “easy conditions” that the whole world was reassured that Pakistan was ready to operate with “discipline” and ready for partnerships with other parts of the world. The adviser said that the PTI government took the charge at a time when the country was about to default. He said when the government assumed power it was to pay back Rs5000bn loan in two years.
The adviser said the country was facing a “great danger” as the agriculture sector had made no progress at all and its growth rate was almost zero. He also termed the present electricity situation a major challenge for the government.
“We as a country have been unsuccessful in solving this problem and what manifests this is the circular debt,” he said. When the PTI came to power, no one was ready to give Pakistan a loan.
Mr Shaikh said that the first task before them was to save the country from defaulting.
“Why? Because it would have been very dangerous for Pakistan and its people”, he added.
The adviser admitted that there was a price hike, but held wrong policies of the previous governments responsible for it which, according to him, forced them to take some tough and difficult decisions.
“I have been in many governments. But the big decisions taken by the government had never been taken before. The budget of the Pakistan Army has been frozen. The civilian government’s budget was reduced by Rs40 billion,” he said.
The adviser claimed that improvement in exports, foreign direct investment and non-tax revenue in the first seven months of the fiscal year. The adviser said the independent international organisations like IMF, World Bank, Bloomberg and Asian Development Bank had declared that Pakistan had met all performance criteria with comfortable margin and that Pakistan’s stock market was the best in the world and Pakistan was among top 10 countries in terms of ease of doing business.
“I am not saying anything political, I am simply stating the facts,” he said while presenting figures and statistics.
PML-N leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, regretted that the adviser in his speech did not talk about the sugar and flour crisis.
“While the minister has spoken about the national government, nobody here has mentioned the role of the Punjab government and questioned why this problem [wheat] was created”, he said.
Mr Abbasi said the picture presented by Dr Shaikh was not visible to the people. He said the country was facing an economic meltdown and the economy had already been destroyed.
Mr Abbasi said that he was not doubting the patriotism of the adviser or the State Bank governor, but could they assure that they would not leave the country in the next 10 years.
Challenging the adviser’s figures, he said, if Dr Shaikh believed that what he was saying was true, then he could only sympathise with Shaikh, the government and the people of Pakistan. He warned that if the PTI government completed its five-year term, the country’s debt would be doubled.
PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar said the adviser had told them about the testimonials by the world institutions, but was there any testimonial from the people of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2020