• Opposition, treasury members question finance minister’s ‘capabilities’
• Finance supplementary bill likely to be passed next week
ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers sitting on the opposition as well as treasury benches in the National Assembly on Friday blasted Finance Minister Ishaq Dar over his “failure” in resolving the prevailing economic crisis in the country as the lower house of parliament continued debate on the crucial IMF-dictated Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2023, generally known as the mini-budget.
Members also took the finance minister to task over his continuous absence from the house, terming his attitude “non-serious” and even questioned his capabilities in resolving the crisis in the light of his earlier statements in which he had made huge claims about stabilisation of the country’s economy and strengthening of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar.
Soon after laying the bill in both houses of parliament on Feb 15, the finance minister during an informal chat with some reporters had stated that the National Assembly would pass the bill on Monday or Tuesday.
The IMF has given the deadline of March 1 for implementation of all these measures.
In their speeches, the treasury members, however, held the previous Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government responsible for bringing the country on the verge of economic collapse by first agreeing to the tough conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and then violating the agreement, thus forcing the present regime to take some “difficult decisions”.
PTI dissident Afzal Dhandla while criticising the government’s economic policies, said they should let the country go default.
“I would say that we should let the country go default. (When this will happen) the poor will snatch their rights from us,” said Mr Dhandla, while regretting that so far only the rich had taken benefit from the packages they had been receiving from the IMF.
Mr Dhandla disagreed with the government’s notion that the new tax measures would not impact the poor, stating that the increased prices of petroleum products, electricity and gas had already made life of the common man more miserable. He asked the government to focus on agriculture if it wanted to get rid of the IMF.
“Had the finance minister ever entered barefooted in any field?” asked Mr Dhandla, while criticising the government for ignoring the agriculture.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker Salahuddin said the finance minister came to the house only to announce taxes on the people and then again disappeared.
The MQM MNA from Karachi said before assuming charge of the finance minister, Mr Dar used to claim that he would bring down inflation and the dollar price, “but it didn’t happen”.
The MQM lawmaker then tried to justify his party’s act of being part of the PTI government and then joining the present ruling coalition, stating that they did it on both the occasions “because the country was in crisis”.
Mr Salahuddin also assailed President Arif Alvi for refusing to sign the ordinance which the government wanted to promulgate in line with the IMF conditions.
On the one hand, the MQM lawmaker expressed his concern over the increase in oil prices, and on the other, he said the country was facing the present economic crisis because of former prime minister Imran Khan’s decision to reduce oil prices, instead of increasing it despite giving assurance to the IMF.
Mr Salahuddin then turned his guns towards Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif over his visit to the quake-hit Turkiye. He recalled that the Turkish president and his wife had visited Pakistan after the floods some 10 years ago and they even donated a precious necklace.
“What our billionaire prime minister will give to the people of Turkiye,” he said sarcastically.
The MQM MNA opposed the government’s move to impose tax on marriage halls, stating that this would create more miseries for the people.
Saira Bano of the opposition Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) in her hard-hitting speech lashed out at the government for overburdening the people by imposing additional taxes while taking no austerity measures.
She challenged the finance minister to prepare the budget for the family earning Rs50,000 a month. She also came hard on the government for increasing tax on sugary drinks, and suggested that the government should legalise the “bitter drink” – in apparent reference to wine — and then impose tax on it.
Ms Bano also assailed the finance minister for skipping the assembly proceedings.
“Ishaq Dar came, dropped the bomb and then went away,” she said while lamenting the government’s act of imposing Rs170bn additional taxes to fulfill IMF conditions.
Qadir Khan Mandokhail of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) called for imposing tax on those who owned properties and bungalows in posh localities like Defence Housing Authority (DHA).
Surprisingly, he suggested imposition of tax on WhatsApp and Twitter, stating that rich people used these apps whereas the poor people had to pay taxes while recharging their mobile cards.
The National Assembly also unanimously passed a bill for the establishment of Pir Roshaan Institute of Progressive Sciences and Technologies in Miramshah area of North Waziristan district before laying of the recommendations of the Senate on the finance (supplementary) bill.
Later, Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf adjourned the sitting till Monday evening (Feb 20).
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2023