'Covid-19 has revealed PM's ineptitude': Opposition criticises govt's handling of crisis

Updated 12 May 2020

Email

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. — DawnNewsTV
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. — DawnNewsTV

The opposition on Monday, during a National Assembly session convened after a gap of nearly two months, criticised the federal government for its handling of the country's coronavirus crisis, calling its Covid-19 strategy "confused".

Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri presided over the session as Speaker Asad Qaiser has quarantined himself after he tested positive for coronavirus on April 30. Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif was not in attendance as his doctors advised him not to attend due to his medical history.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also skipped the session.

Addressing the session, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari lashed out at PM Imran for "his failure to lead the country" during this global health crisis, reminding him that he was the premier of the entire country and "not just of PTI".

"He should have outlined the steps the government needed to take to fight the outbreak."

According to Bilawal, he had given a message at a press conference to the Centre that "we will fight this pandemic keeping aside political differences".

Instead, he alleged, the lawmakers and the people of Sindh were targeted and abused by members of the government.

The PPP chairman also criticised the federal government's inability to provide provinces with the help required to combat the virus.

"The federal government should've stood with us shoulder to shoulder. We're in the midst of a war, and the premier expects us to fight the war on our own?"

He added that the virus had exposed the "true faces" of world leaders. "It has revealed the true nature of US President Donald Trump, UK PM Boris Johnson and unfortunately, it has also revealed the truth about our prime minister's ineptitude."

Bilawal also claimed that funds allocated for the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) were being reallocated to the Ehsaas programme.

He said the virus has broken the backs of the Pakistani people and although he appreciated the Ehsaas programme, "I must point out that whatever money you had for BISP is now being distributed as Ehsaas. Where's your own contribution?"

"Now you are easing the lockdown. But where was the relief for the working class and middle-class families when it was still being enforced?" Bilawal said.

The PPP chairman also lambasted the Centre's handling of the outbreak at the Pakistan-Iran border at Taftan.

"We know that Taftan is underdeveloped, so why didn't the government help them? We set up quarantine facilities in Sindh for the Zaireen. When they reached Sukkur, we discovered that they hadn't even been tested, nor did they have face masks."

Federal borders are the responsibility of the federal government, he said. "You couldn't test them and you couldn't quarantine them. I'm not saying it's their [Balochistan's] fault, I'm saying it's your fault."

'Complete lockdown would have been effective': Asif

PML-N's Khawaja Asif said that a "complete lockdown" at the outset would have gotten the country through the pandemic.

"I accept the decision to ease the lockdown because factories aren't operating and daily wagers are suffering.

"But if we had imposed a serious lockdown at the very start of the outbreak, then we would have been through with this crisis by now. Now when we need the lockdown the most, they are relaxing restrictions," he said.

PML-N leader Khawaja Asif. — DawnNewsTV
PML-N leader Khawaja Asif. — DawnNewsTV

He also criticised the government's inability to increase testing capacity. "Two weeks ago we were told that our testing capacity will be increased to 50,000. But now we are being told that it is only 20,000," he said referring to comments made by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the beginning of the session.

"We have carried out approximately 0.2 million tests for a population of 220 million. The figures that are coming forth, we — and others in the country — think that the figures are being suppressed."

Comparing Sindh's response to the outbreak and that of the Centre, Asif said that the province has been taking all the necessary measures to control the outbreak.

"The Sindh government is taking all the steps possible to protect our people. This is not easy as Karachi is the biggest city and has an abundance of slums, but at least they are trying," he said.

"On the other hand, the Centre has no strategy. What is their lockdown strategy and what is a smart lockdown? Perhaps I am illiterate and am unable to understand," he added.

Asif also called attention to the fact that all the facilities that were conducting tests in Punjab "were established during the PML-N's tenure".

"If we were in Punjab for 10 years, then the PTI has been in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for seven. What do you have to show for it?" he asked.

Asif also raised the issue of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and other frontline workers battling the coronavirus outbreak.

"They are our heroes and I pay tribute to their services. They are like soldiers fighting a vicious battle. But have we provided them with adequate weapons?"

The PML-N leader also criticised the premier for confusing the nation through contradictory statements.

"We are tired of it. He's not providing leadership. He's providing confusion," he said.

PML-N miffed over speeches not being aired

PML-N's Ahsan Iqbal urged the National Assembly speaker to give a ruling on the fact that the speech by Asif during today's session hadn't been aired on television.

"Today is a very important session. This is a national challenge and it is the government's responsibility to also show the opposition's speeches," said Iqbal.

"Therefore, I urge the speaker to give a ruling regarding this. PTV is a state institution," he said.

Earlier, Asif had argued that PTV had ended the broadcast after Foreign Minister Qureshi's speech and private channels did not have access to a direct feed.

The speaker responded that the matter was being investigated. He later added that PTV Parliament was broadcasting the entire session.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman also took to Twitter to take issue with speeches not being aired on television channels.

"Why is PTV not showing frontline opposition speeches from the National Assembly ? Nobody has been provocative or irresponsible," she said.

Pakistan's testing capacity ahead of other South Asian countries: Qureshi

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi speaks on parliament floor. — DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi speaks on parliament floor. — DawnNewsTV

Addressing the NA at the start of the session, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan was "ahead of other South Asian countries" in terms of handling the coronavirus crisis.

He said that despite being a developing country with an unenviable healthcare system, Pakistan had held up better than most developed countries. The foreign minister added that when comparing with other countries, it was important to consider data.

"This is an unprecedented challenge," he said, adding that there was a need for a unified strategy to tackle the crisis.

He maintained that nearly 0.3 million people in the country have been tested so far. "I admit that this number is insufficient and inadequate, but we are trying our best to increase our testing capacity day by day."

He mentioned that an increase in testing is directly correlated to an increase in the number of cases.

"Pakistan's coronavirus outbreak has yet to peak and the real challenge has yet to present itself.

"Our death and infection rate is 2.17 per cent. Across the world this percentage is 6.8pc. So we have been largely spared from the larger consequences of this pandemic," the foreign minister said.

Commenting on the influx of Zaireen flooding the country at the start of the outbreak, Qureshi said: "Iran pushed 4,000-5,000 Pakistanis into Balochistan despite Islamabad's request to wait until a quarantine facility was developed.

"But they were Pakistanis, we cannot disown them, we had to own them," he said. "I laud the Balochistan government who did their best [to provide facilities] despite scarce resources."

The foreign minister also lauded the performance of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, stating that he had no qualms about giving credit where it was due.

"But even with Shah's tireless efforts, an effective lockdown could not be imposed in Sindh. It was enforced in areas such as DHA and Clifton but not in Lyari."

Concluding his speech, he assured the opposition parties that all of their arguments regarding the country's handling of the coronavirus outbreak would be heard during today's session.

"We were advised not to hold a session, but we want to debate and we want the Parliament's input.

"The time for playing the blame game is over. It is now time to sit down together and play a part in saving the nation," he said.

Hunger as big a threat as corona: Hammad Azhar

Meanwhile, Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar said hunger is as much a threat to Pakistan as the coronavirus itself.

Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar. — DawnNewsTV
Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar. — DawnNewsTV

Defending the government's lockdown strategy, Azhar said: "All developing nations are under 'smart' lockdowns. All these countries, including us, are making decisions based on data and data alone."

"Ours is not a western developed country where people can sit at home and eat. We have to balance hunger and poverty with the virus," he said while addressing the NA.

Citing experts, he said that if the government continued with the lockdown, 20 million people would go below the poverty line "in the best-case scenario".

He added that the government was doing its best to help mitigate the economic impact of the virus. "The State Bank of Pakistan is working on various schemes to help all those that are suffering financially, while interest rates and petrol prices have been reduced."

Touching on the lack of PPE for medical professionals, the minister claimed that all equipment has been handed over to the provinces.

"We have made decisions based on data. Numbers will rise and fall but we will defeat this. The one thing that we should refrain from doing is making decisions based on fear. That will lead to more deaths," he concluded.

Opposition did not provide solution: Murad Saeed

Federal Minister for Communications Murad Saeed took the opposition to task in his speech during the NA session, saying that they [opposition] demanded the imposition of a lockdown in the country instead of providing any real solutions to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

"You didn't give us a solution, you just shouted 'lockdown! lockdown!'," he said.

Saeed said that PM Imran has been saying from day one that people's livelihoods and lives must be saved. "Why don't you cooperate with us?" he asked the opposition parties.

Murad praised the government's response on coronavirus by arguing that models had initially predicted that the country would have 50,000 cases of Covid-19 by April 25 but due to the government's efforts, that number hasn't been reached. He called this feat a "mark of success".

The minister also called out the PPP for "misappropriating" healthcare and ration funds in Sindh.

"Do I not have the right to raise questions on your misappropriation? What happened to the Rs550 billion worth of funds for rations and healthcare?" Saeed inquired, adding that there was no rabies vaccines for the 29,000 people who have been bitten by dogs in Larkana.

"If you want to protect the people in Sindh then you must feed them and solve their water crisis, otherwise they will not heed your advice on social distancing guidelines," Saeed added.

The federal minister also claimed that the US state of New York is planning to follow the concept of contact tracing and 'smart lockdown' introduced by the premier.

"The governor of New York said his state will follow the concept of 'smart lockdown' for contact tracing introduced by Pakistan," he claimed.

"The British Prime Minister said the same. The world follows [us] but they don't like it," he added, referring to the opposition. Dawn.com could not independently verify Saeed's assertions about the New York governor and the British prime minister.

Saeed concluded his speech by bashing PPP for walking out and "not having the courage to listen to our arguments".