PTI leader Asad Umar challenged former chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Shabbar Zaidi on Friday over his claims of the previous PTI government nearing default during Umar’s term as the finance minister.
Umar was responding to an interview of Zaidi on Geo News programme ‘Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath’, in which the former FBR chairman said that he had warned former premier Imran Khan about his government nearing default in an April 2019 meeting.
Zaidi said that subsequent to his alert, Imran had called Umar to confirm if it was true to which the then-finance minister said: “Yes it’s right.”
Zaidi claimed the PTI chief had then asked Umar why he had not informed him about the possible default, to which Umar had said: “Sir, I believed you knew.”
The former FBR chairman said Umar was removed as the finance minister shortly after this exchange.
Contesting his claims before the complete show was aired but a few clips were played on television, Umar asked Zaidi from where he had concocted the story about the possible default.
“The PTI government was formed in August 2018, at the end of which the foreign exchange reserves of the State Bank were $9.8 billion.
“The month I left the finance ministry was April 2019, at the end of which the foreign exchange reserves stood at $8.7bn,” he said.
“From where did this story of default spring up? During the incumbent government’s tenure, the foreign exchange reserves went lower than $3bn and even then there was no default on debt, then how could there be a default when reserves were $8.7bn?” he questioned.
Without directly addressing Umar, Zaidi later tweeted that the response to the interview should not be made on the basis of just its clips.
“See the complete interview. I will ensure that there is no unnecessary editing. I have criticised the system not the party. I have publicly said that there was no defect in Imran Khan’s economic policy,” he said.
He said the main issue facing Pakistan was that “retailers and agriculturalists pay no tax in Pakistan! Have mafia-like control and the burden solely falls on the salaried class and the formal sector which I belong to.”
Zaidi’s allegations, PTI’s response
During the Geo News show, Zaidi made a host of other claims.
He said the country would have suffered an “economic collapse” had the PTI government remained at the helm and that then-prime minister Imran had not paid any heed to his advice of work on his government’s shortcomings.
He further alleged that then-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other MNAs, including those from the PTI, PPP and PML-N, had visited his office when he had issued a notice for tax collection to a landowner in Multan.
Zaidi said he was asked to let go of the landowner’s case.
Moreover, he claimed he faced opposition from former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaider when he tried to bring the tobacco industry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa into the tax net.
Zaidi also claimed that he had updated the FBR’s property valuation table to bring it up to par with the market valuation, adding that when he did so, “all DHA (Defence Housing Authority) offices [of property dealers] became empty, meaning the whole business [of real estate] shut down”.
He claimed former army chief Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa subsequently called him and said that he was getting complaints from people associated with the DHA real estate market about what Zaidi had done and the commercial activity coming to a halt.
“I said, ‘Sir what should I do’. So he said, ‘Bring it down’.”
Zaidi said, as a result, he brought the FBR’s property valuation down.
In response to claims pertaining to the PTI, the party said in a statement that Zaidi’s claims regarding the economy during the previous government’s tenure were a “disappointing attempt to establish distorted perceptions regarding the PTI’s economic strategy”.
“Shabar Zaidi’s contradictory and baseless claims are signs of a confused mind,” the statement read.