Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday heavily criticised the PTI government for its "fake budgets", saying they had resulted in job losses for five million people.
He was finally able to deliver his budget speech after three previous sessions of the House were adjourned due to chaotic behaviour by both treasury as well as opposition members.
He said that in the last three years, many taxes were imposed by the PTI government because of which the "poor man's meals have been halved." Hunger and hopelessness had been created in the country because of previous budgets, he said, adding that Budget 2021-2022 would further increase inflation and the poor would suffer more.
"Twenty million people have fallen below the poverty line in these three years. Income has been reduced by 20 per cent. People are asking where are the 10.5m jobs [promised by the PTI]. As a result of these fake budgets, 5m people have lost their jobs."
Shehbaz claimed that posh housing projects had also been included in government housing schemes aimed at poor people. "What is bigger fudging and deception than this?" he questioned.
He said 15pc unemployment had been combined with 16pc inflation, asking whether "anyone had imagined that a man would sleep hungry in Riasat-e-Madinah".
"They say we will create Naya Pakistan. It is obvious that the old Pakistan was better when the country was somehow made to progress," he quipped.
Shehbaz listed several demands from the government, vowing that the opposition would "stand like a wall and we will not let this budget pass" if the "storm of inflation" worsened.
- New taxes on prices of essentials should be eliminated.
- Duty on milk powder for children should be reversed.
- There should be a 20pc increase in salaries of government employees; minimum wage for labourers should be set at Rs25,000.
- Taxes on LNG and RLNG should be removed and electricity tariffs reduced to rates set during the PML-N's tenure.
- DAP fertiliser, urea prices and tariff on tubewells should be reduced to the level in 2018.
- Sales tax on machinery should be ended immediately.
- Work on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects should be restarted immediately.
The PML-N leader pointed out that there was a "lack of trust" among provinces and between the provinces and the federal government, claiming that "such differences have never been seen before."
"If only Punjab progresses and the rest of Pakistan does not, then it is not progress," he emphasised.
Shehbaz said that instead of solving issues such as food inflation, the PTI government had spent the time "taking revenge from the opposition". He said nobody was saying that accountability should not happen but "fairness should be the benchmark" for it.
Shehbaz also criticised the PTI government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying "the entire opposition termed Covid as a 'national emergency' which [they and the government] would tackle together after setting aside our differences."
He recalled that National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had then called a conference which was also attended by Prime Minister Imran Khan. "We were all [united] on this but the prime minister left after his speech. Was there something more important than Covid?"
The Rs1.2 trillion package to deal with the coronavirus that was announced by the government also "fell victim to incompetence and negligence", Shehbaz said.
"China and other countries gave us vaccines as gifts but did we have to start (the vaccination campaign) with just gifts? What did you (the government) do in the space you got between the waves of the virus?" he questioned.
'Break begging bowl to end dictation'
The PML-N leader said the per capita debt in Pakistan had risen to 0.14m, adding that "every last hair of our coming generations is mortgaged."
"Can any nation remain alive like this — with an atomic bomb on the one hand and a begging bowl on the other?" he asked.
Shhebaz stressed that the country would have to generate resources, saying "if we want to end dictation, then we will have to break the begging bowl."
He questioned what the government had done to increase exports in the last three years. "The rupee has fallen 35pc against the dollar. When the value dropped, imports became expensive. Our exports could not increase since 2018. They (PTI government) could not increase exports in three years."
He claimed that the government had increased the fiscal deficit by Rs10tr in the last years. "What did they do in three years? Did they build any hospital or university or technical institute or LNG storage?"
He added that people would "laugh" if he gave them examples of how the PTI government had "set up [signboards] and [ended] projects started in the PML-N's tenure".
Shehbaz said that while the government should help in setting up langars (soup kitchens), but its "real work" was policymaking and making sure that those who had to go to the soup kitchens were able to stand on their feet.
"The aim is not to raise an army of beggars but an army of doers and nation builders. If agriculture and industry are destroyed and poverty and unemployment are taken forward, then nations do not progress," he said. This was the reason that after the latest budget, people were "screaming that their pockets are empty and [asking] how to feed their children", he added.
Talking about Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin's speech in the NA last week, Shehbaz recalled that "the minister said Pakistan was a very successful crop-producing country but in the very next breath he said that Pakistan had become a food importer."
He questioned why people were queuing in long lines to purchase sugar at subsidised rates and save just Rs20 in Ramazan if there had been "record produce".
"Have you ever seen this scenario before? If there was a bumper crop, why did the prices of sugar and flour increase?" he asked, saying the PTI government would have to answer to the nation.
Imran Khan saved the “sinking Titanic”: Asad Umar
When it was his turn to speak, Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar began his budget speech by saying that the leader of the opposition spoke at length on different issues, “and each of his statements can be disputed by laying before the House correct figures".
He said Shehbaz Sharif stressed upon the PTI’s top brass to care for the poor and think of the country’s downtrodden segment. “I must underline here that I take pride in showing my affiliation to the party whose leader, even before joining the politics, served the nation with building Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, Numl University, etc.”
He said the government had initiated the Ehsaas Programme to serve the poor. The minister also highlighted that his government had curtailed the expenses of the Prime Minister House and the Prime Minister Secretariat by Rs1.1 billion and now the same amount was being redirected to welfare schemes.
He said the Pakistan government’s response in combating the Covid-19 pandemic had been hailed by the World Economic Forum, World Health Organisation and many other similar institutions, and “that happened because of our proactive policies.” He said every citizen should be proud of this recognition by world bodies.
He also took exception to Shehbaz's remarks accusing the incumbent rulers of putting Pakistan under debt with their own lifestyle growing lavish, saying when an ex-premier was questioned about his assets, “the inquiry was termed an attack on the democracy.”
Umar said the Supreme Court had summoned Imran Khan seeking the source of funds for the apartment he had purchased in London in the early 80s. “But instead of making it an ego issue, the prime minister produced all documents of his property and in turn, the apex court hailed Imran Khan as "Sadiq aur Ameen" (honest and righteous)."
He also lamented that ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif couldn’t even build a single hospital in the country where he could get himself treated.
Responding to Shehbaz’s objection of the premier's “constant absence” from assembly sessions, Asad Umar said “the prime minister does attend the assembly proceedings, but not too often". He added, however, that "the man [Nawaz Sharif] who has been the PM of the country thrice is not even willing to come here. I think Shehbaz Sharif should also ask him to make it here,” added the minister.
He also said that the PTI was re-elected in the 2018 general elections with a heavy majority in KP due to its “great performance.” He said the PML-N had also been in power in the province, claiming people of the KP rejected them for their “below-par performance”.
The minister told the House that his party witnessed in KP that their workers were displeased, but the voters were happy, “and we respect them who voted us to power.”
He said Pakistan's foreign reserves stood at $10.2 billion and net reserves at $3.5bn when the PTI government took charge, while fiscal deficit was at $2bn average per month. “We reduced the deficit by half in our first eight months,” he added.
Referring to Pakistan economy as the “sinking Titanic” in the year 2018, Umar said Prime Minister Imran Khan saved the sinking ship because “he is a leader, and not a politician” and his decisions yielded results.
He boasted that this was the first year when a record-high Rs4,164 billion had been collected in taxes so far and the figure may reachRs4,800bn by year end.
Govt, opposition reach consensus
Earlier today, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said the government and the opposition had come to an agreement to ensure the smooth running of National Assembly sessions.
Speaking to the media in Islamabad alongside Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Khattak said a "consensus" was reached in a meeting with the opposition and a proposal was devised which would be elaborated upon by Qaiser later today.
"The decision has been taken to run assemblies smoothly and respect each other. The members have to use appropriate language, cursing should be refrained from, efforts should be made to avoid a ruckus and no one should rise from their seats so there is no fighting or discord."
Khattak said during the meeting, it was recommended that a committee be formed to discuss granting more powers to the NA speaker to ensure that he is able to effectively control any disruptive environment in the future.
"I am hopeful that we had a very good meeting and the effort will be that the assembly runs smoothly today, the leader of the opposition speaks and people from our side speak as well so the message is sent that we parliamentarians work for the country's betterment and condemn whatever happened," the defence minister said.
Chaudhry, meanwhile, added that under the defence minister's leadership, PTI lawmakers Asad Umar, Ali Muhammad Khan, Amir Dogar and himself were part of the government's team. From the opposition, PML-N lawmakers Rana Sanaullah, Ayaz Sadiq and Rana Tanveer and PPP MNAs Raja Pervez Ashraf and Shazia Murree were present during the meeting.
He said there was a discussion on "all matters" and it was agreed that rowdiness in NA sessions had debased the parliament and caused embarrassment for parliamentarians.
Tumult in NA
The NA was subject to disruption this week amid repeated confrontations between the treasury and opposition benches during the budget sessions. Treasury members on Wednesday (yesterday) interrupted the budget speech of Shehbaz through sloganeering for a third consecutive day.
Qaiser had to suspend the proceedings when an unidentified opposition member from the backbenches threw a sanitiser bottle at the treasury benches that hit PTI MNA from Karachi, Akram Cheema.
Earlier that day, the speaker had barred seven MNAs, including three from the PTI, from entering the House after budget books and expletives were hurled during Tuesday's session.
Ali Gohar Khan (PML-N), Chaudhary Hamid Hameed (PML-N), Sheikh Rohale Asghar (PML-N), Faheem Khan (PTI), Abdul Majeed Khan (PTI), Ali Nawaz Awan (PTI) and Syed Agha Rafiullah (PPP) were told to not enter the precinct of the Parliament House till further orders.
The decision came after the NA turned into a battleground on Tuesday as the opposition and treasury members scuffled with each other and threw budget documents and books when the latter continued their noisy protest to disrupt Shehbaz's budget speech for a second consecutive day.
Qaiser suspended the proceedings of the House three times when the treasury members, led by some of the senior ministers who had come directly to the House after attending the weekly cabinet meeting, refused to pay heed to his directives to stay calm and kept on sloganeering, whistling and desk-thumping. Meanwhile, Shehbaz, who was surrounded by his party members to avoid any physical contact with the treasury MNAs, also continued his speech.