Shehbaz assails govt's economic performance in NA, says country being pawned away for mere $1bn

Published January 11, 2022
Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif addresses the National Assembly on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif addresses the National Assembly on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (NA) Shehbaz Sharif and Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar traded barbs on Tuesday, with the former claiming that the country's economy was being pawned away for $1 billion and the latter slamming the PML-N for leaving the economy in dire straits.

The exchange took place on the floor of the NA as the House began a debate on the controversial Finance (Supplementary) Bill, generally known as the mini-budget.

The bill is one of the requirements Pakistan has to meet under the programme agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July 2019. If passed, the legislation will pave the way for the disbursement of a $1bn tranche.

As the matter was taken up for debate in the NA, Shehbaz questioned how it was possible for the country to be an atomic power on one hand and be holding a begging bowl in the other.

"The finance minister had said that Imran Khan would stand up to the IMF [...] he had said that a mini-budget would not be introduced and that there would be a tax-free budget. But seven months later, what has happened?"

He said that the PTI government only excelled in making U-turns. He said that taxes worth Rs350 billion were being imposed on the people who were already facing inflation and unemployment.

Assailing the government, the PML-N president said that the ruling PTI had drowned the country's economy and was also endangering its security.

He called on the government to withdraw the controversial finance bill. "We have our political differences ... but bring another bill and we will support that."

Shehbaz warned that the opposition would protest in the house and "on the roads" if the government tried to bulldoze such a bill. "They are selling out Pakistan's economy and freedom for $1bn."

He said that a nation that was habitual of begging could never progress. "Handouts, aid and dole outs will never be able to strengthen a society and make it stand on its own two feet ... for that you have to work hard."

He said that the PTI used to claim that it couldn't see any poverty in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, their recent defeat in the local government elections must have opened their eyes, he said.

Shehbaz said that the country's citizens don't have money to pay their children's school fees, but the ruling party was oblivious to the issues being faced by the middle-class.

"The day is not far where a horde of people, frustrated due to poverty, unemployment and inflation, will descend and sweep away the country's most inefficient and corrupt government."

He accused the government of ignoring the opposition's input due to "ego". "They consider themselves Einstein."

Giving the example of bills related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Shehbaz said the opposition had set aside differences and supported the government on multiple occasions in the wider interest of the country.

"But in return slogans of 'robbers and dacoits' were raised [against us]," he said, adding that this "polluted the society".

Umar responds to Shehbaz's criticism

Responding to Shehbaz's criticism, Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said the leader of the opposition began his tirade by saying that the nation was being enslaved to the IMF.

"Probably the news hasn't reached him yet that his government sealed deals with the IMF four times," he said.

The minister went on to say that Shehbaz should also recall the situation at the end of the PML-N's tenure.

"I was standing in this same hall. Those were the early days of 2018," he said, adding that PML-N's Miftah Ismail was the finance minister at the time.

"In this hall, I had said that the economy was drowning, that the Titanic was about to hit an iceberg. And Miftah Ismail had agreed," Umar said.

"These were the streams of milk and honey that they left behind," he said.

Moreover, the minister said, the opposition had advised that work be initiated on a charter of economy and "it be signed by all".

But when PML-N Supremo Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, the government never signed a charter of economy with the opposition, he said.

"Still, we may sit and talk with them (the opposition)," he continued. "But what will we learn from them? How to launder money through TTs (telegraphic transfers)? How to recover billions of rupees from the accounts of employees whose salaries are Rs15,000 to Rs20,000 per month? Or how Pakistan's prime minister invites disrepute from across the world after Panama Papers [leaks]?"

Umar further said the opposition leader had criticised the government over "choice of words".

"(Shehbaz) said that PM Imran calling political leaders robbers had destroyed politics in Pakistan," he said, recalling that PML-N leaders, including Nawaz, had used inappropriate words for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the past.

He also mentioned a leaked audio clip of PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz and PML-N leader Pervaiz Rasheed wherein inappropriate language was used for journalists.

Umar added that Shehbaz had claimed that his party was ready to support the government on bills pertaining to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

"Just to remind him and the nation, the FATF had placed Pakistan on the grey list during the PML-N's tenure," he said. "And, I challenge them on this floor ... they had opposed the bills."

He concluded his speech by comparing economic data from the PML-N's tenure with that of the PTI government, saying that the country's economic growth year this year would surpass the estimated target.

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