ISLAMABAD: Pandemonium ruled again on the third day of the National Assembly session on Wednesday, leading to ruckus by the opposition and subsequent boycott of the proceedings, forcing Speaker Asad Qaiser to adjourn the sitting for Thursday (today) morning.
On Wednesday, former finance minister Asad Umar took the floor for the first time since his removal from the cabinet, hitting back at criticism of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s attacks on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government.
Umar said he never called Bilawal a traitor. He reminded the PPP that during its five-year tenure in the government, four finance ministers were appointed.
He claimed the growth rate in the first year of the PTI government was better than the rate in the first year of the PPP government.
“I never called Bilawal Bhutto Zardari a traitor,” Umar told the lower house, adding, “Bilawal said that the government is incapable and a failure so I thought I should raise the curtain and unveil the truth behind the allegations.”
“Bilawal said that the government had admitted to its failures by changing the finance minister,” the former finance minister sai, referring to the PPP chairperson’s hard-hitting speech in the National Assembly earlier this week.
He reminded Bhutto-Zardari there were four finance ministers in the PPP’s government [from 2008-2013]. “Each tried to sell their own snake oil; each would fail and go home. If we are ‘not qualified’ and ‘failures’, what, then, were you?” he asked.
The former finance minister conceded that Pakistan needed a stronger growth rate and that certain steps needed to be taken to correct the balance of payments position.
He also acknowledged that growth rate estimated by various international observers ranged from 3-3.9 per cent.
“People are worried that GDP growth has slowed down,” he noted but added the growth was even slower during PPP’s last tenure with Asif Ali Zardari as president. “Did anyone tell Bilawal that during his party’s government the growth rate was 2.8% and inflation stood at 12.3%.”
Giving further comparison of the first year in government between the PPP and the PTI, Umar said during the PPP’s tenure the growth rate was just at 0.4%.
At the end of their [the PPP’s] five years, the rate was 2.8%. “There has never been a government in Pakistan with a lower GDP growth rate.”
Umar shared lawmakers’ concerns about inflation. “Right now, the inflation rate in approximately eight months [averages] 6.8% but it could go up to 7 or 8%. However, inflation rate was 12.3% in the five years of the PPP government,” he added.
Similarly, the former finance minister said, the budget deficit was also higher during the PPP’s tenure than the level it hovers today. There’s no doubt about that, and it [deficit] may even cross 6.5% this year. But let’s take a look at the past,” he said.
“The budget deficit averaged 7% over the PPP’s five years in power,” Umar said. “There were some years when it was 8.5, 8.8%,” he added. “The difference between the FBR [Federal Board of Revenue] targets and the actual revenue collection averaged 8% over the 2008-13 period.”
Umar also defended the PTI’s policies regarding the country’s foreign debt, which he said was increasing. “There is only one government in Pakistan’s history that doubled the debt in its tenure,” he said about the PPP. “There was a 135% increase in the foreign debt [during the PPP era].”
Umar said that Bilawal Bhutto’s criticism of the PTI government had nothing to do with the economy, nor it concerned the people of the Pakistan.
“All these things are only because … the noose is now tightening around that stolen wealth,” he said.
He added that the government has no role to play in the accountability process, rather it was being done by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the courts. “Fake accounts keep surfacing … of course they [PPP] will be worried,” Umar added.
And in a counter-attack on the PPP leadership, he said: “When your Swiss accounts are in danger, when your palaces in Surrey, your towers in Dubai, your Park Lane flats are in danger [you are worried]… this is the hue and cry you are hearing today,” he continued.
He said that there must be a government that could stand up to Pakistan’s “biggest economic mafia”, adding: “The government is facing a lot of big economic mafias. If you wish to represent people, then you will have to stand up against these mafias.”
Umar repeated is earlier stance that the economic turnaround in the country needed difficult decisions to be taken. “Truth should be spoken before the nation. There is no easy solution. Difficult decisions have been taken and will need to be taken in the future as well,” he said.
“If the nation sees that everything is fixed in the future then they will accept the difficult decisions,” he added. “We will have to come out of this crisis and we will God willing,” he asserted, while concluding his speech.
Earlier, the house was informed that China has extended duty-free access to Pakistan on 313 items under the new Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), which will signed during the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Beijing.
Speaking next, PPP leader Khursheed Shah criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks during the joint news conference with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani in Tehran earlier this week.
“The prime minister admitted in Iran that Pakistani soil has been used in terrorism. Article 6 [of the Constitution, which deals with high treason] must be applied to such a prime minister,” he said.
He also made light of Prime Minister Khan’s remarks about Germany and Japan during the same press conference in Iran. “Khan Sahib was sitting on a satellite from where he could see borders of Japan and Germany were meeting.”