ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday formally began a general debate on the controversial Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021, known as mini-budget, which saw the coalition partners in the ruling alliance under the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) joining their voices with the opposition over possible implications of the new taxation measures which, according to them, would bring more economic miseries for the people of the country.
Taking part in the debate which was formally opened by Opposition Leader and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shehbaz Sharif, the members belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), the allies of the ruling PTI, complained that they were not consulted before introducing the mini-budget and asked the government to withdraw taxes on daily use items.
The MQM’s Iqbal Mohammad Ali Khan expressed annoyance over the proposed taxes in the mini-budget: “Yes, we are allies of the prime minister. But we do not come here only to vote and merely to go through motions,” he said while criticising the government for imposing taxes on food items, cottage industry, solar panels, hospital machinery, cars with low-powered engines, mobile phones and livestock.
Mr Khan said on one hand, the people did not have gas and electricity and, on the other, the government was now going to impose tax on solar panels which the people had been using as an alternative source of energy.
MQM, GDA ask govt to reconsider taxes on food, daily use items; PTI warned against strong public backlash
Another MQM legislator, Kishwar Zehra said they were allies of the government but first they were the representatives of the masses.
“Public revenge is very horrible. If we are your allies and friends, then we will definitely advise you how to save yourself from it. This mini-budget is heavier than the previous budget (presented last year),” she said.
She said the people would not accept the mini-budget: “We want to give you time to reconsider it. If you need us and the (support of) people, then reconsider the budget,” she said.
Ms Zehra said her party had objections to 11 clauses of the bill and they had submitted amendments. She asked the government to reduce its expenses, instead of burdening masses with taxes and surrendering before International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Another government ally, Ghous Bux Mahar of the GDA, expressed concern over rising prices of agriculture inputs. He said the imposition of new taxes would cause more increase in prices of food items.
Earlier, opening up the debate, Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif lashed out at the government’s economic policies and alleged that the government was ready to surrender the country’s economic sovereignty to get only $1 billion from the IMF.
Mr Sharif recalled that at the time of presentation of the federal budget last year, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin had assured the house that there would be no mini-budget. Now, he said, they were presenting it only after seven months which showed that the PTI only excelled in making U-turns.
He was of the view that it should not be difficult for the government to arrange $1bn from its own resources, instead of bowing before the IMF. He asked the government to withdraw the controversial finance bill.
He, however, warned the government that the joint opposition would lodge a strong protest inside the parliament and “on the roads”, if the government tried to bulldoze the bill.
“The day is not far when the people, frustrated due to poverty, unemployment and inflation, will descend and sweep away the country’s most inefficient and corrupt government,” he said.
Criticising the government for imposing Rs350bn new taxes on the people through the mini-budget, Mr Sharif said the PTI government in its three-year rule had already imposed about Rs1.7bn taxes on the masses. He regretted that the government was today borrowing money for paying back the loans and meeting defence expenditures.
“The country has never seen such a lethargic, incompetent and accursed government,” said Mr Sharif, amid noisy protest by the treasury members.
The opposition leader said Shaukat Tarin had helped the PML-N government in the setting up of cheaper power plants in the country. “I am thankful to him. I don’t know what has happened to him now and how he has become a big fan of the IMF,” he said, while pointing towards the finance minister, expressing the hope that Mr Tarin would resign soon.
Mr Sharif also compared the performance of the PTI government with his party’s previous government and presented a number of figures and data, which was later challenged by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar while responding to his speech.
The PML-N leader said it was after 1952 that the country had witnessed negative growth under the present government. He also took the government to task for imposing taxes on import of machinery for charity hospitals. In an apparent reference to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, he said, they imported machinery for the hospital without paying tax and now they were bringing it into tax net.
Mr Sharif said the PTI had recently faced a humiliating defeat in local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to the price hike and predicted that the PTI would be nowhere after the next general elections as “the people will teach them a lesson.”
Responding to Mr Sharif’s rhetoric speech, Asad Umar also came up with a rhetoric reply, alleging that the previous rulers had ruined the country’s economy through their corruption. He said Mr Sharif was today asking them to sign a charter of economy but “can he tell as to how many charters of economy the PML-N had signed with the opposition when it was in power for three times.”
“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 does Pakistan’s prime minister invite disrepute from across the world after Panama Papers?” he said, amid the opposition’s protest.
Mr Sharif left the assembly hall when the minister was still on his legs.
Mr Umar expressed the hope that the GDP growth by the end of current fiscal year would surpass the 4.8 per cent target and would be recorded at higher than 5pc.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2022