ISLAMABAD: Opposition and treasury lawmakers on Thursday fought a grueling verbal duel in the National Assembly as they accused each other of incompetence turning the session into a deafening cacophony.
Taking the floor first, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari mounted a frontal attack on the government, triggering a scathing rejoinder from Communications Minister Murad Saeed.
Bilawal heaped scorn on what he called the ‘government of PTIMF’ – an abbreviation he coined to describe the virtual takeover of the country’s key financial institutions by the global lender under the PTI government.
“The IMF has taken over the Finance Ministry, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP),” he said while referring to the recent appointment of technocrats against the coveted slots.
In a major overhaul of the financial machinery, the government recently replaced MNA Asad Umar with Abdul Hafeez Sheikh as finance minister, while appointing IMF official Dr Reza Baqir as SBP governor and chartered accountant Shabbar Zaidi as FBR chairman.
“These people [PTI govt] are killing us and not letting us to cry. The government cannot tolerate criticism,” Bilawal said in his speech in the lower house of parliament. “It is proverbial old wine in new bottles,” he said in reference to the new appointees.
He scoffed at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision of a ‘Naya Pakistan’, saying it was reminiscent of the Pakistan of General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf.
“The finance minister, SBP governor and FBR chairman were abruptly sent packing. The government owes an explanation to the people over the sackings,” Bilawal said.
“Pakistanis wonder who is taking these decisions! They believe the IMF is pulling the strings at the finance ministry, FBR, and SBP.”
The government and the IMF are expected to finalise a bailout package today (Friday). “I call on the prime minister to present the IMF deal in parliament for debate,” Bilawal said and added, “If this is not done, people will not accept any deal with IMF.”
The PPP chairman also hit out at the government for the massive hike in petroleum products. “Not only have they jacked up petrol price by Rs9 a litre, but they have also increased electricity and gas tariffs and prices of daily-use commodities,” he added.
“The skyrocketing inflation reflects the incompetence of the government. And the people are paying the price for this incompetence.”
“Financial death is staring our peasants, pensioners, lower-middle class and the poor in the face, but regrettably the government has no plans to provide any relief to them,” Bilawal said
The National Assembly speaker, Asad Qaiser, expunged some of the “un-parliamentary comments” made by Bilawal – much to the dismay of the PPP chairman who lamented that those who used to badmouth people in parliament could not take criticism.
“This is typical of dictatorships of General Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf,” he said.
The PPP chairman also denounced the suicide attack on police and pilgrims outside Data Darbar in Lahore. He said the PTI government should take the issue of terrorism seriously.
“The government should immediately get rid of proscribed groups to prove its seriousness in rooting out terrorism,” he said.
Taking a jibe at the prime minister, Bilawal said the government claimed that the federation was at the verge of bankruptcy due to the 18th constitutional amendment.
“The truth, however, is that the provinces are going bankrupt due to the failure of the federal government,” he said.
The PPP chairman also lashed out at the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for what he called its highhandedness.
“The highhandedness of NAB and economic growth cannot go hand in hand,” he said and vowed to hold the anti-graft watchdog “accountable for its highhandedness”.
Bilawal’s critique of the government angered the treasury lawmakers who agitated the strong words used by the PPP chairman. Uproar ensued in the house which didn’t relent till the adjournment of Thursday’s sitting.
Federal Minister for Communications took the lead to make a scathing rejoinder to Bilawal’s invective. He said the PPP chairman has a habit of ignoring fellow lawmakers after finishing his speech.
He criticised the PPP government in Sindh which, according to him, has failed to check the unusual rise in cases of HIV/AIDs in Larkana – the hometown of the Bhutto family.
In an oblique reference to the infamous Benami accounts case, Saeed said billions of rupees have been discovered in the bank account of a Falooda seller.
He also accused the PPP of patronising SSP (retd) Rao Anwar, who has been accused of multiple extrajudicial killings.
“Everybody knows that the PPP is only asking for an NRO for its corruption,” he alleged while referring to a Musharraf-era law under which corruption and criminal charges had been dropped against several politicians.
While Saeed was delivering his rejoinder, opposition lawmakers resorted to sloganeering in an attempt to disturb his speech. Saeed; however, put on earphones to shut out the opposition’s noises.
Not content with that, the opposition MPs then gathered in front of the speaker’s rostrum and shouted slogans. Saeed, however, was unimpressed as he continued his speech.
Eventually, the speaker called a 10-minute break in the session. When the house reconvened after the recess, the speaker gave the floor to PML-N’s Khawaja Asif, but he couldn’t make his speech amid the chaos. And the speaker had to adjourn the session until 10am on Friday.