Shehbaz, Bilawal walk out of NA session during energy minister’s budget response

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Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on Friday walked out of the assembly during Energy Minister Hammad Azhar’s response to the opposition’s severe criticism of the budget, to which the federal minister challenged him to stay and hear him out.

“If you are not cowards then remain in your seats and listen to what I have to say. If you have the strength to hear the truth, then listen to what I have to say,” Azhar said, but the PML-N president did not react and exited the house.

A few minutes later, Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari – who had already delivered a stinging speech wherein he stated that the government’s four percent growth number was a “lie” – followed suit.

Azhar began his speech today by hitting back at Bilawal, saying that “those who have never worked a day in their life or taken any responsibility are telling us how to run the economy and the country.”

He said the stains left behind by corruption “could not be erased by speaking in English”.

“They said to us that this is a government of ‘puppets’. Do they want a government of convicts? Do they want a government in which people are known not by their names but by the dirtiest scandals in the history of this country?”

According to a report by Dawn, Azhar said that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had come into power after being elected, adding that it had not “threatened or bribed its way into government”.

Responding to Bilawal’s arguments on inflation and economic growth, Azhar said: “I looked at the data to see why he [Bilawal] was so hurt talking about 4pc economic growth. Turns out that in their [PPP’s] five years of governance, there was not a single year where they achieved 4 percent growth.”

“Some people were only getting stipends [from BISP] due to their affiliation with the PPP,” Azhar said, adding that the chairperson of the said programme had recently been declared a proclaimed offender.

The minister said Bilawal had contradicted his own claims. “He said that poverty and unemployment has increased, but didn’t give any figures. Then he cited an institution and said that according to them, poverty rates have fallen in three provinces.”

“[Bilawal] said that the price of petrol has been increased. In my opinion, such statements are made by those who have achieved nothing in their life […] right now Pakistan has the world’s lowest oil prices,” according to the minister.

Azhar then turned his attention towards Sindh, where the PPP has been ruling since 2008.

“Bilawal asked us how we are able to visit our constituencies. But we are not the ones with rising dog bite cases or an HIV/AIDS outbreak,” the minister said, in an apparent reference to the situation in Larkana, which is reeling from an HIV outbreak, and from where Bilawal has been elected to the NA.

Azhar said some people in the opposition say that despite corruption, there is also progressive work being done. “If corruption had anything to do with development, Sindh would have progressed beyond California.”

If someone wants to see the destruction that corruption brings, then go and look at the state of Sindh, the minister said. “You will see how corrupt rulers ruin the lives and the futures of people. Sindh is a living example of this.”

Recounting his government’s achievements, Azhar said the first two years of the PTI government were spent on stabilising the economy, while the focus now was on growth. The minister said foreign exchange reserves were the highest they had been in six years while the current account deficit was in surplus.

He added that the country had also witnessed bumper crops of wheat, sugarcane and maize, the direct benefit of which was going to the farmers.

He concluded by saying that the PTI was laying the foundation for “Riyasat-i-Madina” under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Earlier during the session, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that both the budget and the budget session of the PTI-led government are “illegal.” He added that it seems the government is playing the role of the opposition instead of running the country, Geo reported.

Criticising Prime Minister Imran Khan famous rhetoric, Bilawal said that likening the country — which is being ruled by an “illegitimate government” — to the state of Madina is not appropriate.

Speaking about the budget recently presented by the PTI-led government, Bilawal said the masses are aware of the fact that “claims of 4% growth are based on lies.”

“I think both this budget and the budget session are illegal,” he said, adding that ever since the government has taken over, no new National Finance Commission (NFC) award has been given to provinces.

It should be noted that the NFC award is meant to distribute financial resources between the federal government and the provinces.

“Every budget will be unconstitutional until the NFC award is given,” said Bilawal.

Shedding light on the growing inflation in the country, Bilawal said that the PTI government has “abandoned people and left them in a destitute condition.”

He said that people will never forgive the government for further pushing them below the poverty line.

“If the budget raises petrol, gas, and electricity prices, then every Pakistani has to bear the burden of the government’s incompetence,” said Bilawal, adding that had there been economic growth, so many people would not be unemployed.

“The prime minister had promised to grant 10 million jobs to people, but on the contrary, even those who were previously employed have now been rendered jobless,” the PPP chairman said.

Bilawal said that if the country has seen economic growth, as claimed by the PTI-led government, then why does it have to “beg before the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?”

“If the economy has significantly improved, then the government should immediately opt out of the IMF’s deal,” he said.

Taking a jibe at the government once again, Bilawal said that as per the economic survey, if nothing else, the population of donkeys has increased in the country, for which Prime Minister Imran Khan’s policies must be lauded.

Bilawal further said that the PTI government did not even spare Azad Jammu and Kashmir and burdened the people there with the imposition of taxes.

He said that only Rs12 billion had been earmarked for the agricultural sector, which is the backbone of the economy.

“The government has abandoned the farmer community. They have not even been provided with fertiliser subsidy,” said Bilawal.

Separately, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Vice President Maryam Nawaz has said that the speech of party president Shehbaz Sharif in the National Assembly represented the pain every Pakistani feels while watching the abysmal condition of the country’s economy.

In a post on the social-networking website Twitter, the PML-N leader posted, “His [Shehbaz Sharif] concerns about inflation and continued destruction of the economy because of International Monetary Fund dictation are shared by every Pakistani.”

She further termed the dignity and patience with which Shehbaz Sharif faced the shameful hooliganism and street vandalism as truly remarkable.

The reaction came after PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif said that 220 million people have elected MNAs of both sides of the aisle for their representation but what happened in last few days in National Assembly, sent a very bad image of Pakistan internationally.

During his address, Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif said that the economic situation of the public has deteriorated after massive taxes by the government in the last three years. The proposed budget will further increase poverty and inflation in the country, he added.

He further said that when PML-N left government in 2018, GDP was at 5.8 percent but when PTI came into power, GDP fell to 2.1 percent in 2019 and the economy performed worst in the next year after 1952.

Government policies have forced the labourers to choose between food and paying school fees for their children or buy clothes. Salaries of government employees also decreased in real terms and many of them are now even below the poverty line, he added.

During the session on Thursday Shehbaz Sharif heavily criticised the PTI government for its “fake budgets”, saying they had resulted in job losses for five million people.

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 had 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 15 percent unemployment had been combined with 16 percent 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.

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.