• Bilawal warns ruling party will have to pay political price for what it did in parliament • Hammad says credit for putting economy on right track goes to PTI

ISLAMABAD: A day after their agreement to ensure smooth running of the National Assembly, treasury and opposition members again exchanged barbs in the lower house of parliament on Friday when Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari while rejecting the budget said that all the four provinces were “unhappy” with the policies of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led federal government during which “nothing improved except the population of donkeys”.

Federal Minster for Energy Hammad Azhar responded to the budget speech of Mr Bhutto-Zardari.

Many members from the treasury and opposition benches delivered their speeches during the budget debate and criticised each other.

During his speech, the PPP chairman said that without the National Finance Commission (NFC) award, the budget and the budget session were illegal. He said whenever the PPP talked about the 18th Amendment and NFC, it was criticised for using Sindh Card.

“Implementation of the 18th Amendment and NFC is not optional but a constitutional obligation. You cannot fulfil constitutional responsibilities let alone talk about fulfilling promises made to the provinces. Withholding provinces funds is not only against Sindh but also against Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan,” he added.

He also said every member of the assembly had the right to participate in the budget session but the Speaker did not issue the production orders. Syed Khursheed Shah, Ali Wazir and Khawaja Asif were deprived of their right to participate in the budget session, he said, demanding that the speaker issue their production orders to provide them an opportunity to contribute.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the government wanted the “PTIMF” budget not to be exposed by not giving a chance to the opposition to talk on the budget. He warned that the opposition would not allow the government to pass the budget in which illegal taxes were imposed on the recently merged tribal districts and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

He said the PTI government wanted to hide the facts by making false claims in the budget and by stopping the opposition from exposing it, but the masses were well aware of the historic inflation that they were facing. “A person who cannot buy medicine for his mother knows that the claim of a 4 per cent growth rate is wrong: Workers who can’t send their children to school because of Imran Khan’s policies of price hike know that the government claims of economic growth are false. Inflation in Pakistan is higher than in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India,” the PPP chairman said.

Referring to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said poverty had reduced the most in Sindh and increased the most in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI had been ruling for the past eight years.

About the rumpus in the assembly session on Tuesday, the PPP chairman said: “Imran Khan was upset, because someone had called him a donkey and then Khan sent his friends to the National Assembly to create chaos. PTI will have to pay a political price for what it did in the parliament and we will not let this day be forgotten. It is not possible to censor my speech to make it palatable for the prime minister.”

He said those who bargained over Kashmir and tried to give an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance-like relief) to the detained Indian spy, Kulbhushan Jadhav, considered it appropriate to hit the opposition leader with the budget book.

The PPP chairman said the Rs1 trillion Karachi package that the premier had announced was not mentioned in the budget documents.

“Taxes are being imposed on the former tribal areas which were merged with KP province. Kashmiris are surprised that tax was also imposed on them. People in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are demanding their share in hydel profit. They received only Rs23 billion. What was their fault for such a low amount? The KP people demand their rights,” he added.

Agriculture sector

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said for the agriculture sector — the backbone of the national economy — only Rs12 billion had been allocated in the budget. “Farmers have not even been given a subsidy in the budget and you want Punjab farmers to compete with Indian farmers. If wheat growers are happy today, the government can’t take its credit,” he said, reminding the treasury members that the PM wanted to keep the buying price of wheat at Rs1,600, Sindh fixed it at Rs2,000, and then Punjab had to set the price at Rs1,800 against the wishes of Prime Minister Imran Khan. “When we came in government (2008-13), Pakistan was importing wheat and in one year we were exporting wheat. In our government, we had increased exports to $25 billion,” he said.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari regretted that during the present PTI government, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) employees from Sindh who had been serving in the FIA for more than two decades were being sacked. “The Sindh Public Service Commission is closed, making Sindh youth deprived of jobs. Steel Mills closed because it was founded by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and thousands of its employees were laid off during a pandemic,” he added.

About Afghanistan situation, the PPP chairman said: “We have some reservations over the government policy on Afghanistan. “In the past, we have seen that dictators Zia and Musharraf took personal advantage of the Afghan war over the country’s interests. We will not allow Imran Khan to use Afghanistan for his own benefit instead of national interest particularly when the issue of Afghanistan is entering a new phase.”

The opposition party leader said he tried hard to find Imran Khan’s good deed in the budget so that he could boost the morale of the people of Pakistan with the good news. He said according to the economic survey, the number of horses had not increased but the number of donkeys had and this was the only positive of the Imran government he could find.

On right track

Speaking in the National Assembly, Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar said country’s economy was on the right track for which the entire credit went to the PTI government for ensuring transparent and corruption-free governance.

He said oil prices in Pakistan were the lowest as compared to the world and petroleum development levy had been brought down to 2 per cent. He said the sales tax on petroleum products, which was 51pc during the PML-N tenure, was 17pc at present.

Responding to the PPP chairman’s speech, the minister said figures given by him on poverty and unemployment were full of contradictions. He reminded him that the inflation rate in the PPP era was much higher than it was at present. Inflation rate was 21pc during the first year of PPP government while it was 11pc in fourth year of its tenure, he said.

The minister for energy said Bilawal had talked about Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and reminded him that its chairperson had recently been declared a proclaimed offender due to Rs1.5 billion corruption. He said the Pakistan Steel Mills was closed during the PML-N tenure in 2015 while allegations were being levelled against the PTI government.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2021

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