ISLAMABAD: Amid criticism by majority members of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue over the upcoming ‘mini-budget and inflation under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies’, PML-N Senator Saadia Abbasi on Wednesday called for a ban on the use of imported luxury vehicles by officers of the armed forces at public expense instead of banning import of luxury items which generate substantial revenue.

The meeting of the Senate standing committee — presided over by Senator Talha Mahmood — was marred by bitter exchanges between the members and strong criticism of Prime Minister’s Adviser On Finance & Revenue Shaukat Tarin for his absence while important issues relating to the IMF programme and upcoming mini budget were on the agenda.

As a consequence, the committee unanimously decided to defer agenda items like briefing on economy, inflation, rising trade deficit, depreciating exchange rate, rising debt and liabilities and uncertainty in the market, the mini budget, negotiations with the IMF and its conditions and the State Bank of Pakistan’s autonomy.

The opposition senators criticised the government policies and commitments with IMF which were resulting in ‘back-breaking inflation’ and erosion of market confidence.

Senator Talha said the committee could have contributed positively to the upcoming supplementary budget even before it was presented in the parliament and suggested the government should ban import of unnecessary luxury items like expensive vehicles, make up material and so on.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman, who had a bitter clash earlier with PTI Senator Faisal Saleem Rehman over inflation and tough economic conditions, left the meeting saying she could not tolerate sexist comments.

Senator Abbasi said the country could not be run through restrictions and bans but government policies that encourage growth, support businesses and create jobs. She said Pakistan could not afford to return to ‘restrictive regime’ while living in a global village. She said there could be difference of opinion over ‘luxury items’ as even dry fruit and imported milk also fell in that definition but when a well off person comes up with imported product also contributes to the kitty through duties and taxes.

The ban should be on the import of luxury imports at public expense and it should be debated why officers of the armed forces and other institutions had six or seven BMWs and Mercedez-Benz in their use that were not permissible to their equivalent civil officers like secretaries, Ms Abbasi said.

Secretary Finance Hamed Yaqoob Shaikh told the committee that he had joined the Ministry of Finance only a couple of days back and the supplementary budget was necessitated by the stimulus package provided by the government to negate the impact of Covid-19 pandemic and hence some policy adjustments had become unavoidable.

Senator Rehman said the government should not hide behind the Covid-19 pandemic and all these mini budget proposals were required under the IMF programme that had opened a flood gate of inflation and broken the back of common people.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2021

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