ISLAMABAD: Amid severe criticism by the opposition, the National Assembly on Friday passed budgetary demands and grants of over Rs4.2 trillion of the budget for financial year 2020-21 recently laid in the house for debate.
The opposition did not present cut motions on 96 demands, paving the way to their passage in the first phase of the session before interval, while on 94 other demands its cut motions were rejected.
The opposition members termed the budget “unrealistic” and said the government had tried to fool the people through the budget. They lamented the government’s fiscal and social policies vis-à-vis taxes, performance of institutions, health and education sectors, minorities, foreign loans and their utilisation, salary and pension of government employees, exports, oil pricing, sugar crisis and food security.
They said the targets set in the budget 2020-21 would never be met because ground realities were ignored by the government during its preparation.
The opposition leaders also sought details of assets of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s advisers and special assistants, besides demanding resignation of Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan for what they called his “irresponsible” statement relating to the recent crash of PIA’s aircraft in Karachi and the educational degrees of pilots of the national flag carrier.
Opposition seeks details of assets of PM’s aides, resignation of aviation minister
Dr Nafeesa Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) demanded the aviation minister’s resignation for maligning the country, PIA and its pilots and sending a wrong message to the international community.
Mohsin Ranjha of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) sought details of assets of PM’s advisers and special assistants and asked if parliamentarians could submit their assets’ details to the Election Commission of Pakistan, then why PM’s aides could not provide such details before parliament.
In his concluding speech, Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar responded to all the allegations of the opposition and described the current account deficit inherited from the last PML-N government as “mother of all economic ills”. “The current account deficit affects GDP and caused inflation in the country,” he added.
Talking about the opposition’s criticism that the government had enhanced the revenue target by Rs1tr without imposing any new tax and keeping in view the economic condition of the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, the minister said the government was going well in terms of revenue collection and could have generated Rs4,800 billion, but the target was hampered by the impact of Covid-19.
Responding to another objection raised by the opposition regarding renaming of the Benazir Income Support Programme, Mr Azhar said the data of BISP was used only for one category of the Ehsaas cash distribution programme [for coronavirus-hit poor people], while fresh data was prepared for other categories.
On the National Finance Commission Award, he assured the opposition that all grievances of the provinces would be addressed. He said the country’s exports and imports had declined due to the global economic crisis after the pandemic.
Talking about the “hot money” received from international donors, he said $4-5bn had been utilised for retiring interest on foreign loans and $4-5bn was still in the national foreign reserves.
Responding to an objection that the government had not reduced the prices of petroleum products as much as they should be, the minister said the government had passed on the maximum benefit of crash of international oil prices to the people of Pakistan than any other country in the world.
Earlier, PPP’s Naveed Qamar asked why the rampant inflation had not come down in the country despite the fact that oil prices had declined sharply. “More than one million people of the country had already fallen below poverty line due to government’s faulty economic policies even before the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.
He said the rulers had been criticising the last PML-N regime for ample circular debts, but the present government had also increased it. “The government had given good news to the nation that it will clear all circular debts in one year, but they are fast increasing,” he regretted.
Mr Qamar said the government always talked about minorities, but it had not allocated any funds for them in the budget. He said the government had agreed to increase salary of government employees but did not mention from where these funds would be generated. The PPP leader accused the government of placing bogus and unrealistic estimates and expenditures before the National Assembly by harming the sanctity of parliament.
PML-N leader Khurram Dastagir said the government had obtained Rs7,941bn foreign loans, but nobody knew where that amount was. He also demanded details of the funds the government had received from international donors as assistance for combating the coronavirus crisis and their usage.
MNA Ayesha Ghuas Buksh said the government had prepared the budget in line with the instructions and desires of the International Monetary Fund. “It is better to rent out the country to IMF.” She said the budget was unrealistic and the government could never meet its budgetary targets. “The government is destroying the sanctity of the document,” she added.
PPP leader Shahida Rehmani broke into tears while speaking on the floor of the house because of critical condition of her father and mother suffering from Covid-19. “If anything goes wrong with my parents, I will not forgive Prime Minister Imran Khan,” she said while criticising the government’s policy on the coronavirus pandemic.
Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N claimed that the government had brought Pakistan Railways to the verge of disaster due to its faulty policies. He said he had launched many initiatives in Pakistan Railways and made it a profitable entity during the last government, but now its losses had gone up to Rs40bn.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2020