ISLAMABAD: Just a day after hiking fuel prices to meet the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced a relief package worth Rs28 billion for the poorest segments of society, in a televised address to the nation on Friday.
In his first address since assuming office, he said the government was taking tough decisions in view of national interest, and accused the previous Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government of putting Pakistan’s economic and diplomatic standing on the line, simply to further their personal, political interests.
Saying that global oil prices were through the roof and that the fuel crisis was affecting everyone — from oil producing countries to the developed nations of the West, he claimed the previous government had announced a fuel and power subsidy for the sake of its own survival, the burden of which the national exchequer could not take.
“We took the decision because it was inevitable to avoid default,” he said, adding that it was an important move in the bid to lift the country out of the economic crisis it currently faced.
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During his speech, PM Sharif also touched upon the National Action Plan, which he said was being revised in consultation with the provinces to tackle the resurgence of terrorism. He also mentioned that all the parties in the coalition government would sit down to find a way to revive the crippling economy, and invited the PTI to join the talks.
About media freedom, the PM said the government had abolished the Pakistan Media Development Authority being set up by the PTI government. He then urged the nation, and his opponents, to strive for a country where difference of opinion was tolerated; hatred ceased to exist; women, minorities and labourers enjoyed their rights; and there was no inflation.
At the outset, he said that taking up the PM slot at this critical juncture was a test for him.
“When we came into power, each sector was in ruins,” the PM claimed, adding he and his allies knew that putting the country back on the path to prosperity would be a major challenge.
He said political discourse in Pakistan had been filled with anger, hatred and uncivil attitudes. Without naming Imran Khan or the PTI directly, he said one man had fabricated an international conspiracy on the basis of foreign correspondence, even though the National Security Committee and Pakistan’s ambassador to the US had repeatedly refuted such claims.
“For his personal political gain, he is harming Pakistan’s diplomatic relations. Pakistan will be governed by the constitution, not one man’s whims,” the PM asserted.
“Due to the faulty policies of the previous government, our friendly countries are upset. We will restore fraternal relations with them,” he said, adding Pakistan wanted peace in South Asia and urged India to withdraw its Aug 5, 2019 decision on Kashmir and then sit with Pakistan for dialogue to resolve all issues.
Recalling that when he took office, inflation was at its peak while businesses were suffering, he said when the PML-N left power in 2018, the dollar was at Rs115, but when they came to power this year, it stood at Rs189.
He claimed the PTI had added Rs20,000 billion to the country’s debt, which he said was 80pc of all the debt taken on by all previous governments.
PM Sharif also decried the deficit, which he said was at the highest point in the country’s history.
He also blamed the previous government’s criminal negligence which left 7,900MW power plants closed due to lack of timely fuel procurement or maintenance, bringing untold misery to the masses in the shape of loadshedding.
While the PM only provided scant details of the relief package for the poor, he said the total outlay was Rs28bn, which would also be included in the upcoming budget for FY2022-23.
He claimed that 14 million of the country’s most underprivileged households would receive Rs2,000, which amounted to around one-third of the population. This relief, he said, was being provided in addition to the grants such families were already receiving under the Benazir Income Support Programme.
He also announced that he had ordered the Utility Stores Corporation to ensure that a 10kg bag of flour (atta) was available for Rs400.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022