Pakistan has become ‘net importer of food’, NA told

Published June 22, 2021
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin speaks in the National Assembly on Monday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin speaks in the National Assembly on Monday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter

• Tarin admits PTI govt increased tariffs, devalued currency on IMF suggestion • Lawmakers laugh at Khattak’s claim that ‘there are no poor people in KP’

ISLAMABAD: Losing patience and without waiting for his scheduled winding-up speech on June 24, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin on Monday took the floor of the National Assembly during the middle of the general discussion on the federal budget 2021-22 and castigated the opposition members for constantly calling the document “fake and a pack of lies”.

“Shaukat Tarin, the son of Jamshed Ahmed Tarin, never tells a lie.……. They (the opposition members) say this budget is a lie. This is my budget. I have made it. So keep this thing aside,” declared a visibly vexed finance minister while forcefully defending the budget which he had presented before the house on June 11.

Like other ministers belonging to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Mr Tarin — the fourth finance minister during the three-year PTI rule — then started lamenting the previous governments for allegedly ruining the country’s economy and praised Prime Minister Imran Khan for his efforts to revive it despite facing the Covid-19 pandemic.

The finance minister told the house that there was 11 per cent price-hike and 13pc food inflation in the country, and not 25pc as claimed by the opposition.

“The food inflation is because you have now become a net importer of food. You don’t have wheat. You don’t have sugar. I was surprised when during a meeting of the Price Control Committee I came to know that we are importing 70pc pulses, which is a staple food,” said the minister, adding that the international food prices were presently at the highest level in the last 10 years.

“What the previous government did for the agriculture sector in the last eight to 10 years?” asked Mr Tarin, who had previously served at the same position during the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government.

Mr Tarin admitted that the PTI government had to increase discount rate and tariffs and devalue the currency on the suggestion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but said it was due to bad policies of previous governments that they had to approach the IMF. He said they had to approach the IMF because the country was required to pay back $28 billion to $30bn that had been accumulated due to the $20bn current account deficit and short-term loans that had been taken by the previous PML-N government.

Mr Tarin said they had presented a “constructive budget” in which for the first time the focus was on the uplift of the poor people.

He praised the prime minister for focusing on housing and construction industry. He said for the first time the present government had improved foreclosure laws. He said without the mortgage policy, no country could make progress and he gave the examples of India, Thailand and Malaysia in this regard. He asked the opposition to at least give some credit to Prime Minister Imran Khan for his pro-poor policies. He said besides focusing on agriculture, the government would now also focus on industry, power and housing sectors.

Propaganda campaign

Besides Mr Tarin’s outburst, the self-praising speech by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak was the other highlight of nearly 12-hour long proceedings of the day in which he mostly talked about his “achievements” as chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during 2013-18.

The whole house, including Speaker Asad Qaiser, burst into a laughter when he claimed that there was “not a single poor or unemployed person” in the KP province and termed the talks about increase in poverty and unemployment a part of “propaganda campaign and a drama” by the opposition parties.

Mr Khattak also presented a strange logic, stating that a country where there was no inflation would eventually stop progressing.

“Take a look at Europe or the US and analyse if there had been any price cuts in basic commodities. Countries where there is no inflation will eventually stop [progressing],” he insisted.

He also denied opposition’s allegations regarding increase in unemployment, saying he was also in the construction business for years and had to “struggle to find people in this work”.

Interestingly, when Mr Khattak made the claim that there was no poor in KP, a member from the treasury benches Shahid Ahmed interrupted and said there was poverty in Karak district, causing a huge laughter in the house and desk-thumping by the opposition members.

“Our MNA from Karak is saying his district has poverty. I accept it will be the case,” Mr Khattak responded.

The defence minister was of the view that if the standard of life of the people was getting better and they had money to meet their expenses, it was an indication that the country was going forward.

The minister said it was due to the PTI government’s performance that the people of the province reposed confidence in the PTI leadership and elected them again with a thumping majority “which is a big slap on the face of the opposition”.

Earlier, taking part in the debate, federal Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan said the Cabinet Committee on Energy during the PML-N government time abolished renewable energy projects which could produce 4,000MW electricity as they wanted to bring LNG to the country. The PTI government, he said, had revived all these projects.

He said in 2013 the capacity payment was Rs85bn which increased to Rs468bn in 2018. He said by renegotiating with power companies, the country would save Rs4,000bn in the next 15 years. He said during the PML-N government a number of officials of the Ministry of Power resigned or they were sacked when they objected to the projects. He said the government had also renegotiated with Qatar which would save $3.5bn.

The minister, who is known for changing political loyalties and was in the PML-N during the party’s previous government, said the previous rulers had planted landmines for the next government by deteriorating all institutions and collapsing the national economy.

PPP’s Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said if economic indicators had improved then why there was price-hike and food inflation in the country. He said the government resorted to use abusive language and creating rumpus in the house when they had nothing to deliver. He said three years of Pakistani nation had been wasted.

Prime Minister Imran Khan used to say that the people would voluntarily pay the taxes as they had trust in him and considered him an honest person then why the FBR being given the powers to arrest the people. Please take back this clause from the budget. The present government, he said, was doing everything under dictation from IMF and FATF.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2021

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