Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday finally completed his budget speech as calm returned to the lower house of parliament after the previous three proceedings of the house were adjourned because of unruly behaviour of lawmakers from both sides of the isle.
With the completion of the PML-N president’s speech, the formal budget debate started and several lawmakers, including Planning & Development Minister Asad Umar, delivered their budget speeches without facing any shouting and sloganeering from the other side.
The opposition parties also withdrew their no-confidence motion against Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri after NA Speaker Asad Qaiser accepted their request to form a committee, comprising members from the government and opposition, to review the legislative business conducted in haste a few days ago.
Initiating the debate on the budget, Shehbaz said the people placed their confidence in the MNAs for legislation and what happened in the House in the last few days was “very worrying”.
“A wrong message was sent not just to the nation but to the whole world,” he lamented.
He added that the legislation passed in recent days was not in accordance with the Constitution as there were many flaws in it.
The former Punjab chief minister blamed the PTI government for inflation, poverty, unemployment and increasing power outages.
“The unemployment rate has reached its highest level. If the pockets of the people are empty, then the budget is ‘fake’,” he said.
“Twenty million people have fallen below the poverty line in these three years. Income has been reduced by 20%. People are asking where are the 10.5 million jobs [promised by the PTI]. As a result of these ‘fake’ budgets, five million people have lost their jobs."
On government’s COVID-19 response, he reminded the speaker that all the opposition parties had attended a conference that was called to mull over a joint response against the deadly disease.
“It was unfortunate that the premier addressed the meeting and went offline,” he said, recalling that the speaker had told the participants that the prime minister had to attend some other pressing business causing the opposition parties to boycott the conference.
In addition, he alleged that Rs1.20 trillion relief package was marred by the government’s incompetence.
In his speech, he credited PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with initiating atomic program and his brother, Nawaz Sharif, for executing it.
Shehbaz said that the lack of trust between the federal and provincial governments was at peak during the PTI’s tenure.
“I swear if only Punjab progresses and the rest of Pakistan does not, then it is not progress," he added.
On accountability, Shehbaz said the PTI government focused more political victimisation instead of solving issues such as food inflation. He added that the opposition was not against accountability, but fairness should be the benchmark for it.
He severely criticised the government’s performance on economy, saying “beggars could not be choosers”.
He called for reviewing the budget proposals about taxes and duties to ensure maximum relief to the people.
Shehbaz said abolishing taxes on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other energy sources would help generate cheap electricity to ensure direct relief to the people and providing substantial support to the industry.
Highlighting the issues of the farming community, he said there was a need to provide fertilisers and pesticides at subsidised rates.
“Waiving off sales tax on machinery would help provide opportunities for affiliated sectors to modernise their tools and import new machinery.”
He demanded that the proposal to impose new taxes should be reviewed.
The leader of the opposition complained that sugar, wheat and flour prices had not decreased despite bumper crops.
Shehbaz also called for expediting the pace of work on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), besides reviving construction on its Western route, and initiating railways related projects.
He also demanded a 20% increase in the salaries and pensions of government employees to provide relief to them.
Shehbaz said it was the right time to keep political differences aside and work jointly for the welfare of the people for being public representatives in the House.
He said the parliamentary sessions cost millions of rupees daily, and “we were here to address the issues of farmers, traders and students” among others.
Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar in his speech said the government had provided relief to low-income people and underdeveloped regions for achieving inclusive economic development in budget 2021-22.
The minister said the PTI government had granted four major development packages worth Rs1.73 trillion for different regions of the country, including Sindh, southern Balochistan and Gilgit-Balochistan for development and prosperity.
He added that the government had also allocated a sum of Rs54 billion for the marginalised districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa against Rs24 billion reserved in the previous budget.
About the current economic growth figure, he said during the last 11 months of the current fiscal year, the country's exports grew by 14% and remittances increased by 29.4%
Umar added that revenue of Rs4.16 trillion -- a growth of 18%growth – had been generated in the last 11 months of the current fiscal year that was expected to reach Rs4.8 trillion by July 30.
(With input from APP)