As Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar began his speech in the National Assembly on Friday in response to the opposition's severe criticism of the budget, Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif began making his way out of the assembly, prompting the minister to challenge him to stay and hear him out.
Azhar was speaking after Bilawal delivered a stinging speech on the floor of the House, saying that the government’s four per cent growth number was a “lie” and that it had abandoned the common man by bringing about unprecedented levels of inflation.
“If you are not cowards then remain in your seats and listen to what I have to say. If you have the strength to hear the truth, then listen to what I have to say,” Azhar said, but the PML-N president did not react and exited the house.
A few minutes later, Bilawal followed suit.
Yesterday, Shehbaz had also delivered his budget speech, during which he slammed the government for inducing poverty and presenting “fake budgets” over the course of three years. Shehbaz was finally able to complete his address yesterday, following four days of mayhem during which he was unable to address the Lower House as lawmakers from treasury and opposition benches came face to face, hurling copies of the budget and profanities at each other.
Azhar began his speech today by hitting back at Bilawal, saying that “those who have never worked a day in their life or taken any responsibility are telling us how to run the economy and the country.”
He said the stains left behind by corruption “could not be erased by speaking in English”.
“They said to us that this is a government of ‘puppets’. Do they want a government of convicts? Do they want a government in which people are known not by their names but by the dirtiest scandals in the history of this country?”
He said that the PTI had come into power after being elected, adding that it had not “threatened or bribed its way into government”.
Responding to Bilawal’s arguments on inflation and economic growth, Azhar said:
“I looked at the data to see why he [Bilawal] was so hurt talking about 4pc economic growth. Turns out that in their [PPP’s] five years of governance, there was not a single year where they achieved 4pc growth.”
He said that Bilawal had talked about the BISP – the PPP's flagship income support programme – when the chairperson of the said programme had recently been declared a proclaimed offender.
“Some people were only getting stipends [from BISP] due to their affiliation with the PPP,” Azhar said.
The minister said Bilawal had contradicted his own claims. “He said that poverty and unemployment has increased, but didn't give any figures. Then he cited an institution and said that according to them, poverty rates have fallen in three provinces.”
"[Bilawal] said that the price of petrol has been increased. In my opinion, such statements are made by those who have achieved nothing in their life [...] right now Pakistan has the world's lowest oil prices," according to the minister.
Azhar then turned his attention towards Sindh, where the PPP has been ruling since 2008.
"Bilawal asked us how we are able to visit our constituencies. But we are not the ones with rising dog bite cases or an HIV/AIDS outbreak," the minister said, in an apparent reference to the situation in Larkana, which is reeling from an HIV outbreak, and from where Bilawal has been elected to the NA.
Azhar said some people in the opposition say that despite corruption, there is also progressive work being done. "If corruption had anything to do with development, Sindh would have progressed beyond California."
If someone wants to see the destruction that corruption brings, then go and look at the state of Sindh, the minister said. "You will see how corrupt rulers ruin the lives and the futures of people. Sindh is a living example of this."
Recounting his government's achievements, Azhar said the first two years of the PTI government were spent on stabilising the economy, while the focus now was on growth. The minister said foreign exchange reserves were the highest they had been in six years while the current account deficit was in surplus.
He added that the country had also witnessed bumper crops of wheat, sugarcane and maize, the direct benefit of which was going to the farmers.
He concluded by saying that the PTI was laying the foundation for "Riyasat-i-Madina" under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Bilawal lambasts govt over economic policy
Earlier, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari lambasted the government "abandoning" the people of Pakistan during "challenging times", saying that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) could never realise the predicament of the common man.
Addressing the National Assembly (NA) a day after Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif delivered his budget speech, the PPP chief slammed the government for presenting a budget that was a "pack of lies".
Referring to the preceding days of chaos in the NA, he claimed the melee in the house was actually an attempt by treasury members to bar the opposition from "exposing the PTIMF budget".
"They thought they could present their lie of four per cent economic growth as the truth using such antics [...] that opposition would not get a chance to speak and people would not realise that the entire budget is based on lies," he said.
"But they [the government] must realise that the people don't need the opposition's speech [for this realisation]. They are already drowning in the tsunami of inflation that the government has brought on."
Bilawal went on to say that people, who were suffering because of the inflation brought on by Prime Minister Imran Khan's government, were well aware that the claim of four per cent economic growth was nothing but a lie.
He added that the nation might still have forgiven the government had they not "abandoned the people so ruthlessly amid these difficult times".
Acknowledging that there was inflation during the PPP's tenure as well, Bilawal said the difference between the then government and the incumbent government was that the former had not abandoned the people.
"We introduced the revolutionary Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) but this government, on the other hand, harps on about the Ehsaas [programme], when you have no realistion [of the people's predicament]."
Bilawal maintained that the country had seen unprecedented increase in inflation, poverty and unemployment during the PTI's rule and questioned the authenticity of the government's claims of economic growth.
Pointing out that the PPP had increased salaries multiple times and raised pensions, he said the PTI had not raised salaries in the last two years even though the entire world was struggling in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and every Pakistani was facing financial troubles.
"And this year, there has been a raise of a meagre 10 per cent rise [in salaries] when food inflation has increased to around 17 per cent on average."
The PPP chairperson recalled that the PTI had reached an agreement with government workers on raising their salaries, adding that the insufficient hike in their salaries was an act of deception by the government.
He said the government had proposed many indirect taxes in the budget for the fiscal year 2021-22, which would further burden the people and add to their suffering.
Bilawal then questioned if the government’s claim of economic growth was true, then why was the country witnessing unprecedented unemployment and poverty.
He once again dubbed the budget “a pack of lies”.
“It [the budget] is built on a foundation of lies.
“And the government is so embarrassed of its performance that they removed the [actual] figures of poverty and unemployment from official papers and the economic survey,” he alleged. “They [treasury members] are liars and the budget presented by them is also a lie.”
Bilawal said the government had, in fact, given an “ NRO [amnesty]” to the construction and real estate sectors. “If this budget offers any relief, it is for the rich.”
Melee in the House
The PPP chairperson also criticised the treasury members for the ruckus witnessed in the NA during the past few days, accusing them of trying to “assault the leader of the opposition”.
“Let’s try and understand what happened. Imran Khan’s feelings were hurt. He was upset. Someone called him a donkey,” he claimed, alleging that the PM had then sent “some of his friends” to the NA to “abuse the mothers and the sisters of the members and the leaders of the opposition”.
He added, “He [the prime minister] then got the same friends to assault, with budget books, the leader of the opposition.”
“Unfortunately, these are the people who have been selected to run a nuclear-armed country,” he remarked.
Bilawal said the day the ruckus was witnessed was the worst day in the history of parliament.
Addressing NA Speaker Asad Qaiser, he said the opposition would not let him forget that he failed to play his role on the day and he would have to pay the “political price” for his inaction.
“The world saw how this government defaced this august forum and insulted the people of Pakistan,” he added. “They [the government] were already a source of embarrassment for us and now they are a source of embarrassment for those who brought them [to power] as well.”
‘Injustice to provinces’
“These are the people in charge of running the federation of Pakistan, of treating all federating units fairly and justly,” he continued, adding that they had failed at the task every time.
Bilawal said whenever the PPP raised the issue of the 18th Amendment or the National Finance Commission (NFC), it was accused of using the Sindh card.
But the 18th Amendment not being enforced and the NFC award not being given according to the Constitution would result in the loss of all provinces, he said.
He said the government had failed at fulfilling its constitutional duty and promises to the provinces.
The PPP chairperson further lamented that regions like Ghotki and Sui, where gas was produced, were deprived of their gas share.
Citizens in Sui and Ghotki must have access to gas before the commodity is supplied elsewhere, he said, adding that their deprivation was an injustice.
Bilawal also criticised the government for allocating just Rs23 billion for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the budget.
“What’s Pakthunkwa’s fault?” he questioned, noting that the province produced 50 per cent of the country’s domestic oil.
Speaking about agriculture, the PPP chief lamented the allocation of just Rs12 billion for the sector in the budget.
“You [the government] have abandoned farmers the same way you have abandoned the rest of the nation,” he said, criticising the government for not giving any subsidies to farmers.
“And then the government wanted the farmers of Pakistan to compete with those of India, even when the former were not given the same facilities and subsidies as the latter,” he added.
“You have not just burdened your farmer, you have burdened your economy as well.”
Bilawal demanded that the government review its agriculture policy and facilitate farmers.