PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari lashed out at the PTI government in the National Assembly on Wednesday, saying it was bringing a "tsunami of taxes" through the mini-budget.
The government is seeking the approval of the finance supplementary bill, generally known as the mini-budget, while the opposition has vowed to resist it.
The approval of the finance supplementary bill seeking to amend certain laws related to taxes and duties and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021 is necessary to ensure that Pakistan's sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) executive board to take a decision on the disbursement of about $1bn tranche.
Speaking on the floor of the NA, Bilawal said that the burden of the PTI government's agreement with the IMF would fall on the common man, warning that it would lead to "economic slaughter" across the country.
He also criticised the government over the SBP bill, which was approved by a National Assembly panel on Monday, saying that the IMF had demanded the central bank's autonomy during the eras of PPP and PML-N as well but neither party had agreed.
He said Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif had talked about a national dialogue on the country's economy but the government refused because of its "stubbornness".
"The people of Pakistan can see what happens as a result of your decisions," the PPP leader said.
Bilawal said the government could have used the opposition's rigidity on the matter to inform the IMF of its inability to accept its demands. "But because of your stubbornness and ego, you took decisions that are a robbery of the common man's pockets," he lambasted.
He said the government was presenting a new budget with a new finance minister — referring to Shaukat Tarin who was reappointed last month — at a time when Pakistan was seeing "bad economic indicators never seen previously".
"You've broken all records of negative growth, inflation, increase in poverty and unemployment rates. When we say this isn't tabdeeli (change) but destruction, we're telling the truth. You cannot be entitled to your own facts."
Bilawal noted that at the time of presenting the budget for FY22 in July, the government had promised that the country's economic progress would start henceforth, there would be financial prosperity and no new taxes or mini-budget would be introduced.
"Now, we are in January and they (government) are bringing a tsunami of taxes through the mini-budget. You don't need to be an economic expert to understand that if taxes of Rs350 billion are imposed, inflation will increase," he added.
Questioning why national representatives were not part of the government's decisions, he commented: "Those who form the government because of others have to look to them, they don't care about the worries of the people."
The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had shown the PTI a "small trailer", he said referring to the ruling party's dismal show in recently held local bodies elections.
Criticism of proposed taxes
Bilawal also spoke at length about the proposed taxes in the mini-budget. "The people who talked about being leaders of youth and making Pakistan a modern state and taking us toward e-governance [...] now the youth will have to bear the burden of the tax being levied by [Prime Minister] Imran Khan on our computer, internet, mobiles and phone calls."
Former chief minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif had distributed laptops free of cost while the PTI government was imposing taxes, he said, asking where the youth should go when taxes were being imposed not only on imported devices but those made locally as well.
The government had also attacked the backbone of Pakistan's economy — agriculture — through the mini-budget, Bilawal added.
He said the government was also proposing the imposition of taxes on charities, goods imported for the United Nations relief efforts as well as items sent in the aftermath of calamities and disasters.
"This tax [is applicable] on Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust too. What justice is this? The federal government is missing in every national disaster and is late in providing relief to people. Now, it is saying that it will also tax those who manage to send [money and goods] from abroad for charity."
He also questioned why the government had imposed taxes on solar energy systems when climate change was the most pressing issue that Pakistan was facing.
Criticising proposed taxes on contraceptives, the PPP chairperson said the government was unable to control the population explosion or arrange basic facilities and unemployment but was ready to impose taxes on birth control mechanisms.
"Everything has been taxed, baby food and milk too. [Imposing taxes on] both these things is an attack on the weakest segment of society. You (the government) is snatching a morsel from the child's mouth, and harming women empowerment and choice."
The PPP chairperson also criticised the government over its handling of inflation, saying people were told that PM Imran takes notice of it every month. However, whatever 'practical' steps the government was taking to reduce inflation were actually increasing it, he added.
He also challenged the government's claim that inflation in Pakistan was the lowest in the region, saying the situation was the opposite instead.
"We were told that there was inflation because of Sindh's [policies]. When we started raising objections, newspapers reported that the prime minister instructed ministers to tell people there was no inflation.
"How many lies will they sell? The people of Pakistan know there is historic inflation and the one responsible is Imran Khan Niazi."
Moving on to the SBP Amendment bill, Bilawal termed it the "biggest historic attack on economic independence and sovereignty", saying it would compromise national security.
"How can they tie their own hands and the hands of future governments that we will not be able to go to our own bank and will have to go to international and commercial banks?
As a result of the bill, SBP officials would not be answerable to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), he said. "It has been decided in this bill that the entire defence expenditure will [be desposited] in one account in SBP which IMF and other international institutions will be able to see.
"We are exposing our defence and nuclear spending because of this decision. Why do we have one account when the rest of the world does not?" he questioned, demanding that the government explain its decision.
Later in the session, PML-N's Rana Sanaullah pointed out the lack of quorum as the opposition walked out in protest over the absence of Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin. The session was subsequently suspended for a short while.
Azhar defends mini-budget, says new taxes won't impact masses
When the opposition returned, Federal Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar defended the government's economic performance and blamed its predecessors for the country's financial problems.
"We took measures to improve the economy," he said. "When they (PML-N) left, the country was bankrupted and we had to take strong measures to save the economy from downfall.
"If we had taken the advice of the opposition, we would have had [even] more inflation now. But we took a data-driven and scientific method to handle Covid. Even Economist (magazine) recognised our efforts. Our economy grew more than four per cent as a result of those measures."
In response to Bilawal's criticism, Azhar said that "the PPP should not even talk about inflation because there was 25pc inflation in their tenure while in our term it's at 11-12pc."
"From 2008 till 2018, Pakistan went through de-industrialisation. During PPP tenure, there was extreme economic mismanagement and PML-N largely focused on imports. We are now heading towards re-industrialisation in the PTI tenure."
The energy minister rejected the opposition's stance that the new taxes in mini-budget would create renewed inflationary pressures for the masses, saying: "These taxes are adjustable and majority of them will not impact masses. It will mainly help in documentation of economy."
Khawaja Asif castigates govt
Senior PML-N leader and former foreign minister Khawaja Asif said that for the past several months, NA sessions were being adjourned and prorogued due to a lack of quorum.
"Sessions start two hours late. Quorum is a disease that has affected the treasury benches and is a major sign that their own members are dissatisfied."
They do not want to perform their parliamentary duties under the current government, he said. "Today, the opposition has proven that when they point out quorum, ours will be complete," he said as opposition lawmakers thumped their benches.
He said that it had also been settled which side truly cared about the sanctity of the House and wanted to represent the country's 220 million-strong population.
Asif said that stopping the "destructive" mini-budget and the bill aimed at "selling" the autonomy of the central bank was the opposition's responsibility. "We are taking responsibility for the people of the country, not them."
During his speech, the PML-N leader also spoke about Balochistan, stating that the people of the province had a "right of preemption" over major development projects and resources.
"How is it fair that there is no gas in Dera Bugti but there is gas at my house in Sialkot?" he asked, adding that now was not the time for "fighting".
"Everyone has a right to the country's resources. If the entire country is grieving over the tragedy in Murree, then the federal government should have the same response over what is happening in Balochistan."
He said that until the people of the country were treated equally, the fault lines in Pakistani society would continue to expand.
The PML-N leader termed the mini-budget a "mehnga-budget" and said that the common man would have to bear the burden of additional taxes.
"Investors are spending Rs2 billion on their weddings while there are billions of households that can't afford two meals per day or pay for medicines."
He said that increasing taxes was not the solution, rather putting an end to corruption was. He again pointed to the lack of treasury lawmakers during today's session, stating that it was "deserted".
He added that the current government's incompetence had trigged the crises the country was facing. "They themselves said that their agenda of accountability has failed. It failed because it was not based on the principles of justice. It targeted one or two parties."
There was no one to go after those who had been convicted or were caught red-handed because they were the government's financiers, he said. "Countries are not run in this manner."
He said that the government had never been in possession of the requisite votes needed in Parliament and always had to rely on "phone calls made during the dead of the night".
He also lashed out at the government's claim of the military and civilian leadership being on the same page, stating that this was a "constitutional requirement".
Commenting on the report by the election commission's scrutiny committee in the PTI foreign funding case, he said that the ruling party was committing "daylight robbery".
Circling back to the SBP bill, he said that the word "state" should be removed from the central bank's name as it had become a branch of the IMF. "The SBP governor has become more powerful than the country's premier," he said.