• Govt blames past set-ups for electricity crisis
• PML-N leader calls for reopening of trade with India
• Ex-PM Ashraf says people unhappy over inflation
• Production of Khursheed Shah sought for Senate polls
ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the National Assembly on Friday raised the issues of price hike and inflated power bills, criticised the government move to reappoint National Accountability Bureau’s prosecutor general and to change mode of polling for Senate elections through ordinances and demanded that both ordinances be tabled in the assembly for debate.
As the government defended the rising power tariff while blaming the previous governments for electricity crisis and heavy liabilities in the power sector, the opposition staged a protest and surrounded NA Speaker Asad Qaiser’s dais, compelling him to adjourn the proceedings till Monday evening.
“According to the Constitution, those ordinances, which are promulgated in the absence of the House, should be tabled on the first day of the next session for debate,” said former prime minister and leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, adding that the government was violating laws. He added that the ordinances were not on the agenda of the National Assembly for Friday.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said he agreed that the ordinances should have been presented before the House on the first day.
At this, the Speaker directed the treasury benches to bring the ordinance in the House on Monday.
“Bring these ordinances on the agenda of the House,” he ordered.
Debate on inflation
The House opened debate on inflation when PML-N lawmaker Qaisar Ahmed Sheikh said the petroleum levy had increased to Rs275 billion from Rs135 billion during the last six months.
“The impact of increase in petroleum levy affects the poor, not the rich. When we left government, US dollar was equivalent to Rs116 but now the rupee has declined to Rs157 against one dollar,” he added.
Mr Sheikh said prices of all imported pulses and edible oils went up when the Pakistani rupee declined against the dollar, adding that sugar was presently being sold at over Rs100 against Rs53 in the last government.
He called for reopening of trade with India and said: “Although it is our enemy, there is no foe or friend in business. Taiwan is part of China, but China does trade with it.” The government severed trade ties with India without any consideration, as a result prices of consumer items went sky high, he said.
Speaking on the occasion, former prime minister and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Raja Pervez Ashraf said every Pakistani was unhappy with the present government for the prevailing inflation, but Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was not present to reply to the opposition’s queries about price hike.
“Inflation is the main topic of discussion in every house,” he added.
NA Speaker Qaisar called Mr Shaikh and Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar to the National Assembly to reply to the opposition’s queries.
Ex-PM Ashraf also criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for not fulfilling the promises he had made at the time of the elections. “People of the country are compelled to think that they have been deceived,” he added.
During the PPP government, he said, price of furnace oil was $158 per barrel and the cost of a unit of electricity was Rs4.
“Now the cost of furnace oil is $60 but power tariff is Rs28 per unit,” he said, adding that increasing electricity tariff twice in a week showed that the government had pledged the country to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Imran Khan had torn the electricity bill during PTI’s sit-in in 2018 when power tariff was Rs8 per unit. Now, it is Rs28; should I pay my bill,” Mr Ashraf asked.
Speaker Qaisar rejected Mr Ashraf’s arguments and said every citizen was legally bound to pay their dues.
When the Speaker gave the floor to Minister for Power Omar Ayub, the opposition lodged a protest and demanded that first all main opposition leaders be given a chance to speak on inflation and then the minister should reply.
When Mr Qaiser paid no heed to their demand, some opposition members, including Mr Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal, surrounded the Speaker’s dais and said the session was requisitioned by the opposition for debate on inflation therefore it should be given an opportunity to discuss the issue. At this, the Speaker asked the protesters not to “dictate him” and let him run the House.
Meanwhile, Minister Ayub continued his speech and said the present government was clearing liabilities incurred by the previous governments in the power sector. He said the annual capacity payment to the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) was Rs185 billion in 2013, Rs468 billion in 2018 and Rs860 billion in 2020, and it would surpass Rs1,455 billion in 2023.
Corrupt practices had been detected in every contract signed by the previous governments, he said, adding that the present government managed to eliminate corrupt practices in contracts.
The minister said there was only two weeks of foreign exchange reserve left by the end of PML-N’s tenure and two months of forex reserves when PPP completed its term.
Mr Ayub said exports had declined during the tenure of the past governments, but had started to show an upward trend due to the vibrant policies of the present government. “The government is pursuing pro-business policies which are being appreciated by the business community and manufacturing is witnessing a growth of 14.5 per cent,” he added.
The minister said the previous governments allowed setting up of expensive power plants, ignoring indigenous energy resources. “Our government is focusing on exploiting the potential of renewable energy to produce inexpensive electricity and an agreement signed with the IPPs would help save Rs800 billion,” he claimed.
Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar appreciated the NA Speaker for conducting the session amicably and said the opposition should avoid double standards.
Request for production order
Meanwhile, PPP lawmakers Raja Pervez Ashraf and Shazia Marri have written a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, seeking production of jailed PPP leader Syed Khurshid Shah in the House during the Senate elections on March 3.
They have also written to the NA Speaker demanding production of Mr Shah in the House during the polls.
The National Assembly is the electoral college of a Senate seat from Islamabad where a tough contest is expected between incumbent finance minister and former premier Yousuf Raza Gillani.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021