Govt all set to bulldoze mini-budget through NA

The ruling party flexes muscles to counter Opp's hardball tactics against the bill


Rizwan Ghilzai/Saqib Virk January 13, 2022
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin. SCREENGRAB

ISLAMABAD:

The government is all set to bulldoze its Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 through National Assembly on Thursday (today) to ensure its sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF) gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board, paving the way for the disbursement of about $1bn tranche.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has called a meeting of the parliamentary groups of parties included in the ruling alliance led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) ahead of the crucial session to supercharge the efforts to counter the opposition’s resistance and steer the bill into law. The meeting of the parliamentary group of the ruling alliance will be held at 2pm in the Parliament House. Prime Minister Khan will be in the chair.

Sources privy to the matter said the senior leadership of the PTI has also approached the leaders of the coalition parties to muster enough support to put the legislation on the floor for approval. In addition, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan have also arrived in the federal capital and hosted separate dinners for the lawmakers of their respective provinces.

The government lawmakers finalised the strategy to score a tactical victory against the opposition seeking to beat back the bill during the NA session.

Opp flexing its muscle

Meanwhile, the opposition has also formulated a protest strategy, rolling up the sleeves to mount pressure on the government inside as well as outside the National Assembly to block the government’s bill. According to sources, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and other opposition leaders will address the protest rally.

READ Mini-budget to dent investor confidence

The opposition has directed the workers to gather in front of the parliament in order to ramp up the heat to fiercely oppose the mini-budget. Bilawal comes out swinging against govt over mini-budget.

Meanwhile, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari censured the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government on Wednesday over the mini-budget that proposed ending tax exemptions on various goods to generate over Rs350 billion in taxes.

Delivering a fierce speech during a session of the National Assembly, the PPP leader said the mini-budget was proof that the government was handicapped by confusion to handle the economic affairs of the country. “We had forewarned from the very first day that economic confusion was akin to the death of economy,” he said.

Bilawal went on to blame the Imran Khan-led government for pressing on the contentious bill due to an “egotistical” attitude which, he said, would come at the cost of the common man’s well-being. "But because of your stubbornness and ego, you took decisions that are a robbery of the common man's pockets.”

The PTI government created hardships for people by initially saying that it wouldn’t go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bilawal said, adding that when they were forced to seek IMF’s help they struck a poor deal. “We said it then that the ‘PTI-IMF’ budget would create difficulties for the poor segments of the society,” he added.

The PPP chief recalled that PML-N President and National Assembly Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif had proposed a ‘charter for economy’ in 2019 and a similar proposal was floated by former president Asif Ali Zardari as well, but the government didn’t listen. “You ignored these suggestions and made unilateral decisions and now the nation can see the results,” the PPP chairperson added.

“Had you listened to Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari this would have benefitted you as you’d be representing Pakistan, not just a government or a political party,” Bilawal added. “But you chose to sacrifice common people at the altar of your ego,” he added.

‘Historic attack on economic sovereignty’

The PPP chairperson termed the SBP bill, which was approved by a National Assembly panel on Monday, the "biggest historic attack on economic independence and sovereignty". He cautioned it would compromise national security. He asked as to what permits the incumbent government to hand over the reins of the national bank to the international and commercial banks by “tying their own hands and the hands of the future governments”.

READ Bilawal blasts govt over mini-budget, says it is 'confused' over economy

Bilawal recalled that the IMF had demanded the central bank's autonomy during the eras of PPP and PML-N as well but neither party had agreed. "The people of Pakistan can see what happens as a result of your decisions," the PPP leader said.

‘Historic Inflation’

Bilawal said that never in the history of Pakistan had there been so many negative economic indicators. “When we were fighting a war, when the country split into two, or when it was facing sanctions, the economic growth never hit a negative 0.4,” he said. "The PTI has broken all records," Bilawal remarked. “Naya Pakistan means unemployment, poverty, and inflation,” he said, adding that this was not “tabdeeli" (change) but “tabahi” (destruction).

He said the government had promised people economic development and no taxes, but it is proposing a “tsunami of taxes in January”. This budget will further result in unemployment and inflation, he said, adding that slashing the development budget by Rs250 billion will have an impact on every level.

He said, “A government voted into power by the public takes them into consideration before making such decisions, but those who come to power with others’ help do not listen to people, but the IMF.”

According to Bilawal, the PTI will not be able to ask for votes amid such a poor show. “The people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have given you the first glimpse,” he said, referring to PTI’s defeat in the K-P local body polls. The increase in petroleum prices as a result of the mini-budget will increase inflation, the PPP chief said, adding that taxes on 1,000cc vehicles were being increased by 100pc. “Vehicles, petrol, and cycles – everything has been made expensive,” he said, adding that the government is also proposing taxes on laptops and mobile internet.

“Shehbaz Sharif [as Punjab CM] used to distribute laptops among students, but instead of doing that you have imposed taxes on them,” he added. Bilawal said the government imposed further taxes on electronics being made in Pakistan. He said the government was committing “economic murder” of farmers; along with the mini-budget, the price of fertilisers has also increased.

Pakistan was an agricultural economy but the government ruined the national economy through its successive budgets, he added. “We had heard of enmity towards people and the poor, but this government has stooped down to enmity towards the country,” he added.

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