ISLAMABAD: The opposition challenged in the National Assembly on Friday the government’s claim regarding improvement in economic indicators and achieving a 5.37 per cent growth rate, besides seeking an investigation into the ongoing campaign in support of the presidential system.
The lower house of parliament witnessed ruckus on a couple of occasions when the opposition tried to interrupt speeches by ministers.
Ahsan Iqbal of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar, during heated exchange of arguments, passed some personal and taunting remarks against each other, raising the temperature.
Speaking on a point of order, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi first lashed out at the PML-N for allegedly influencing the judiciary through the affidavit of ex-chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim and video and audio leaks of the judges and then started recounting the economic “achievements” of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, claiming that through tough decisions, the government had succeeded in stabilising the economy.
“We took very difficult decisions in two years and swallowed a bitter pill. We made painful decisions …. the people suffered and we received criticism, but in the third year, the economy is now heading towards recovery [phase] after attaining stability,” said Mr Qureshi, amid desk-thumping by the treasury members and sloganeering from the opposition benches.
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The fourth year under the PTI government, he said, would be the year of “prosperous Pakistan” as all economic indicators were moving in the right direction. He said the international financial institutions were saying that Pakistan’s GDP growth was touching 5.37 per cent. He said the national economy had registered sustainable growth and the country’s exports, remittances and foreign exchange reserves had witnessed an upward trend at a time when the economy was contracting in other countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The minister admitted that the farmers were getting urea fertiliser at higher rates from the black market, but claimed that the price was still lower than the international price. He also admitted that price hike was a challenge for the government, but then said it was a worldwide phenomenon.
He claimed that the per capita income in Pakistan was at around $1,457 which has now jumped to $1,666, indicating that the purchasing power of people has also increased considerably.
He also agreed that the rupee had depreciated against the dollar, but again gave the examples of Turkey, Argentina, Columbia, Japan and the European Union which were also facing the same problem.
Taking the floor, PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal ridiculed Mr Qureshi’s speech and taunted him for changing his loyalties, stating that the opposition did not take him serious as he used to deliver similar speeches when he was with them in the PML-N and then in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). He said Mr Qureshi was in fact trying to present himself as “replacement” for Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Mr Iqbal challenged the minister to have a live debate on TV with him over the economic policies of the previous and present governments. He said the minister was claiming that there was price hike all over the world, but he did not mention India and Bangladesh where inflation was still in single digit.
Mr Iqbal then drew the attention of the house to the ongoing media campaign in favour of imposition of the presidential system, stating that the country had already suffered under this system during the eras of dictators like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. He said Pakistan could no more afford experimentation. He asked the speaker to hold a debate on the issue “to finish the matter once for all”, stating that the Quaid-i-Azam had himself laid the foundation of the federal parliamentary system in Pakistan.
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Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar said he was ready to accept Ahsan Iqbal’s challenge and said parliament was the best forum to give answers to the opposition’s “misleading” speeches on the national economy. He alleged that the PML-N had maintained the growth rate at 5pc artificially after utilising foreign exchange and borrowing loans.
Mr Azhar also taunted the PML-N leader for naming Gen Zia as dictator, stating that it was his party which should be made answerable for the actions taken by Gen Zia.
PPP’s Agha Rafiullah called for investigation to find out the elements behind the media campaign for the presidential system. In fact, he said, these elements were creating distrust in the public on parliament and democracy.
Earlier, responding to a calling attention notice of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the energy minister blamed the Sindh High Court and the provincial government for the gas crisis in Karachi. He said that when the government started disconnecting gas supply to some 1,900 industries in Karachi to shift its supply to domestic users, the owners got a stay order from the court in September last year and till that time they had been trying to get this stay vacated.
He said the industry owners wanted to prolong the stay till February after which the situation would start improving due to change in the weather. He expressed the hope that they would soon succeed in getting this stay vacated.
Mr Azhar also alleged that the Sindh government was not cooperating with the Centre in preventing gas theft and recovery of dues. He said that gas reserves in the country were depleting at the rate of nine per cent per annum and this rate was much higher in Sindh which would become a “gas importer” over the next few years.
The NA was later prorogued after approving resolutions extending the period of two ordinances.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2022