NA budget debate continues, Shehbaz blasts PTI for ‘fake budgets’

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Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday heavily criticised the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insa government for its “fake budgets”, saying they had resulted in job losses for five million people.

After three sessions of ruckus within the NA due to the budget, Shehbaz was finally able to deliver his speech.

Many taxes were imposed by the PTI government in the last three years because of which the “poor man’s meals have been halved,” Shehbaz said.

Hunger and hopelessness had been created in the country because of previous budgets, he added, further stating that budget 2021-2022 would further increase inflation and the poor would suffer more.

“Twenty million people have fallen below the poverty line in these three years. Income has been reduced by 20 per cent. People are asking where are the 10.5m jobs [promised by the PTI]. As a result of these fake budgets, 5m people have lost their jobs.”

Shehbaz claimed that posh housing projects had also been included in government housing schemes aimed at poor people. “What is bigger fudging and deception than this?” he questioned.

He said 15pc unemployment had been combined with 16pc inflation, asking whether “anyone had imagined that a man would sleep hungry in Riasat-e-Madinah”.

“They say we will create Naya Pakistan. It is obvious that the old Pakistan was better when the country was somehow made to progress,” he quipped.

Shehbaz listed several demands from the government, vowing that the opposition would “stand like a wall and we will not let this budget pass” if the “storm of inflation” worsened.

During his speech, Shehbaz demanded new taxes on the prices of essentials should be eliminated; the duty on milk powder for children should be reversed; there should be a 20 percent increase in salaries of government employees; minimum wage for labourers should be set at Rs25,000; taxes on LNG and RLNG should be removed and electricity tariffs reduced to rates set during the PML-N’s tenure.

Moreover, he demanded that DAP fertiliser, urea prices and tariff on tube wells should be reduced to the level in 2018; sales tax on machinery should be ended immediately.
Work on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects should be restarted immediately.

The PML-N leader pointed out that there was a “lack of trust” among provinces and between the provinces and the federal government, claiming that “such differences have never been seen before.”

“If only Punjab progresses and the rest of Pakistan does not, then it is not progress,” he emphasised.

Shehbaz said that instead of solving issues such as food inflation, the PTI government had spent the time “taking revenge from the opposition”. He said nobody was saying that accountability should not happen but “fairness should be the benchmark” for it.

Shehbaz also criticised the PTI government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying “the entire opposition termed Covid as a ‘national emergency’ which [they and the government] would tackle together after setting aside our differences.”

He recalled that National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had then called a conference which was also attended by Prime Minister Imran Khan. “We were all [united] on this but the prime minister left after his speech. Was there something more important than Covid?”

The Rs1.2 trillion package to deal with the coronavirus that was announced by the government also “fell victim to incompetence and negligence”, Shehbaz said.

“China and other countries gave us vaccines as gifts but did we have to start (the vaccination campaign) with just gifts? What did you (the government) do in the space you got between the waves of the virus?” he questioned.

The PML-N leader said the per capita debt in Pakistan had risen to 0.14m, adding that “every last hair of our coming generations is mortgaged.”

“Can any nation remain alive like this — with an atomic bomb on the one hand and a begging bowl on the other?” he asked.

Shhebaz stressed that the country would have to generate resources, saying “if we want to end dictation, then we will have to break the begging bowl.”

He questioned what the government had done to increase exports in the last three years. “The rupee has fallen 35pc against the dollar. When the value dropped, imports became expensive. Our exports could not increase since 2018. They (PTI government) could not increase exports in three years.”

He claimed that the government had increased the fiscal deficit by Rs10tr in the last years. “What did they do in three years? Did they build any hospital or university or technical institute or LNG storage?”

He added that people would “laugh” if he gave them examples of how the PTI government had “set up [signboards] and [ended] projects started in the PML-N’s tenure”.

Shehbaz said that while the government should help in setting up langars (soup kitchens), but its “real work” was policymaking and making sure that those who had to go to the soup kitchens were able to stand on their feet.

“The aim is not to raise an army of beggars but an army of doers and nation builders. If agriculture and industry are destroyed and poverty and unemployment are taken forward, then nations do not progress,” he said. This was the reason that after the latest budget, people were “screaming that their pockets are empty and [asking] how to feed their children”, he added.

Talking about Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin’s speech in the NA last week, Shehbaz recalled that “the minister said Pakistan was a very successful crop-producing country but in the very next breath he said that Pakistan had become a food importer.”

He questioned why people were queuing in long lines to purchase sugar at subsidised rates and save just Rs20 in Ramazan if there had been “record produce”.

“Have you ever seen this scenario before? If there was a bumper crop, why did the prices of sugar and flour increase?” he asked, saying the PTI government would have to answer to the nation.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak earlier on Thursday announced that the government and opposition have reached an agreement to run the National Assembly “in an orderly manner”.

Flanked by Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Khattak said during his press conference that NA Speaker Asad Qaiser had held a meeting with PTI, Pakistan People’s Party and PML-N leaders to discuss the situation.

Khattak regretted that the ruckus in the assembly was not a good omen for the Constitution and democracy and condemned the unfortunate events in the house.

“It is the responsibility of both the Opposition and the government to maintain order in the House. We must respect each other.”

Chaudhry, meanwhile noted that detailed discussions were held with Opposition leaders on the matter.

“Such an environment should not be created where institutions are made dysfunctional,” he conceded.

The minister said that the meeting had also discussed enhancing the powers of the NA Speaker.

Fawad said that the opposition’s planned no-trust motion against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri also came under the discussion and said he hoped that it will be taken back.

“We are not worried about the numbers: 186 members had reposed trust in the speaker and deputy speaker,” he said.

He said the opposition leader, as well as government members, will talk today without the other side interrupting.

Later, PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf said the government has agreed to review the legislation done in haste and in return the Opposition would consider withdrawing the no-confidence motion against Suri.

Meanwhile, PML-N’s Marriyum Aurangzeb said that it is necessary to take back the motion against the deputy speaker if we want to move one against the speaker and discussions are going on in this regard.

NA Speaker Asad Qaiser had earlier held a meeting with opposition leaders in order to end the deadlock after three days of pandemonium.

During his meeting with PML-N and JUI-F leaders, Qaiser requested both opposition and government lawmakers to cooperate in ensuring a peaceful environment in the assembly.

Rana Sanaullah, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Rana Tanveer and Maulana Asad Mehmood were present.

In this regard, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser lifted the ban on the entry of seven lawmakers in the House who displayed grossly disruptive conduct during the speech of Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif on budget two days ago.

According to the notification issued by NA Speaker Qaiser on Wednesday, entry of the following MNAs had been banned: Ali Gohar Khan (PML-N), Ch Hamid Hameed (PML-N), Sheikh Rohale Asghar (PML-N), Faheem Khan (PTI), Abdul Majeed Khan (PTI), Ali Nawaz Awan (PTI) and Syed Agha Rafiullah (PPP).

The National Assembly Secretariat on Thursday accordingly informed the above-mentioned legislators and the security staff about the lifting of the ban.

The united opposition in a letter sent to the NA Speaker on Wednesday demanded the lifting of the restrictions on the seven MNAs.

INP reported that the NA Secretariat also directed the sergeants-at-arms not to let any member of the House take a booklet or water bottle inside the assembly.

Earlier, in an informal chat with journalists in Islamabad, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser said that he had ordered action against those MNAs whom he had identified with the help of CCTV footages.

He said whatever had been happening on the floor of the House for the last few days was unfortunate, and was by no means a good omen for democracy. “It has been my endeavour to conduct the NA proceedings as per the rules and regulations,” he said and added he was trying to bring both the ruling party and opposition MNAs on the same page.

“It is my request to MNAs on both sides of the political divide to give respect to the parliament since there is no compromise on its sanctity,” the speaker said, and added, “Bringing no-confidence motion in the parliament is opposition’s right, but at the same time I should remind them that they will have to respect the parliamentary norms.”

Asad Qaiser made it clear that he had no animosity with anybody, and that he had ordered action only to restore order in the NA. “We should set a precedent that is worth emulating for the future generations,” he stressed.

The speaker said he had met the prime minister, opposition leader in the NA and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday. “I am in touch with the parliamentary leaders of political parties so that decorum could be maintained in the House,” he informed.

He vowed to keep performing his duties as per the rules and regulations.