ISLAMABAD: Senate Opposition Leader, Senator Sherry Rehman, slammed the government for presenting what she called a ‘lame duck budget.’ “The future of Pakistan is at risk. This is a lame duck budget by a lame duck government. This is pre-poll rigging through and through,” said Rehman on the floor of the House.
Rehman reduced the budget into three Bs, “This is a borrowing, billionaire’s and barbadi (disaster) budget,” she emphasized.
“The textile industry that contributes 57% to the country’s exports has lost its global textile share by 23%. 150 mills have closed down. This is alarming considering that we are the 5th largest cotton producer in the world!” exclaimed the Senator.
Stressing the significance of the budget, Rehman mentioned the main economic danger points, “Our circular debt has reached a whopping Rs 1 trillion. We are the 7th most stressed water nation and only Rs38 billion have been allocated for water without any details”.
“We have a public debt of 22 trillion, which was 13 trillion in PPP’s time, whereas external debt is projected to soar to Rs 103 billon by next year. Pakistan’s entire budget is based on borrowing to pay back more loans. How can the government not call this a financial emergency? The next government will face a nightmare of repayments and no revenue stream,” Rehman elaborated.
“The World Bank says that Pakistan needs to raise $17 billion to cover for its debts repayments and current account deficit. How will any of this be done and achieved under this paralysed economy?” asked the Senator.
Rehman further said, “$40 billion was borrowed in the span of four years. We are taking more debt to pay back debt. The principal on the Euro bond has to be retired in July 2018. There is no revenue stream to meet these targets and expenditures. As a result, more Euro bond will be raised and more loans will be taken from China”.
“30% tax concessions have been given to billionaires but nothing for the poor. The government has provided no relief for the masses. Instead, the burden remains on the poor with the petroleum tax they are quietly introducing. Quite frankly, the government has dropped a petrol bomb on the people of Pakistan. Due to this, there will be be a 200% increase in petrol prices,” Rehman added.
“Why has the government given tax concession to imported LNG and none to Pakistani gas? The Qatar LNG deal is already marred by controversy. To this day, we don’t know what is under the black ink used to block transparency on the contract with Qatar Gas,” Rehman said.
The Senator pointed out, “The NFC award has not been given in five years. How can they determine where the federal slew of consolidated indirect taxes like the economic fund will go without the NFC award? This budget is unconstitutional”.
The Vice-President of PPPP added, “I am extremely shocked that 98 lakhs per day has been allocated for the President house. I remember in PPP’s time, it was six lakhs per day and even that, worried President Zardari enough to take on all tea expenditures on his personal account”.
The Senator reiterated, “On top of this, it is alarming that irregularities worth Rs 8 trillion have been found in the government’s accounts! This figure is almost double the amount allocated for the fiscal years’ budget”.
“If there was no emergency, what was the need to appoint an overnight minister? On what basis is this budget locking Pakistan into choices for the next year when their term is ending?” questioned the Senator.
Rehman noted, “It is shocking that there is no Minister on the floor to answer. If this is not mockery of the Parliament then what is? The government should stop mocking state institutions by not consulting them on these crucial matters. The “sanctity of vote” cannot just be involved to protect the ruling party from answering to the people!”
“The opposition is working in line with the Constitution of Pakistan. This budget is unconstitutional, politically and morally wrong. The government does not have a mandate to present a 6th budget. We do not accept this ill-advised budget. We will protest inside and outside the Parliament.”
She said the country is under heavy burden of loans which are difficult to repay.
She said relaxations have been given to big businesses in the new budget while the relief for poor has been ignored. She said increase in petroleum levy will result in high prices of petroleum products which will put additional strain on the working class. She said her party will continue struggle in the parliament to uphold the supremacy of this august institution and constitution.
Senator Sikandar Mandhro of PPP said the budget statistics do not reflect the actual situation of the economy. He said the budget shows increase in growth rate but fact is that there is no change in the lifestyle of the poor. Terming it anti-poor budget, he said additional burden has been put on poor of the country.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Revenue Senator Haroon Akhtar Khan said opposition should avoid political point scoring as it creates a bad image of the country in the comity of nations. He said biggest indicator of the economy is GDP and its growth reflects strength of economy which has improved from 3.3 percent to 5.8 percent.
Giving details, he said industry improved from 0.7 percent in 2013 to 5.0 percent in 2018, agriculture from 2.68 percent to 3.81 percent and services from 5.13 percent to 6.43 percent during this time period. Similarly, he said meat production increased from 21 percent to over 25 percent, and maize from 4.22 percent to 5.0 percent. He said Consumer Price Index in 2013 was 8 percent which is now 3.78 percent. Workers remittances that were 13 billion dollars in 2013 have now increased to more than 20 billion dollars.
The advisor said we still have 17 billion dollars in foreign exchange reserves. He said per capita income in the country has increased from 1333 dollars to 1640 dollars. He said stock market was 19916 points in 2013 and now it is 45877 points despite all the political turmoil. Its market capitalization increased from 51 billion dollars to more than 80 billion dollars.
Haroon Akhtar Khan said this robustness of the economic indicators present a healthy structure of the economy. The advisor said under China Pakistan Economic Corridor, different projects have been started to improve the energy situation and construction of infrastructure. He said over 12,000 MW of electricity has been added to the national grid and 10,000 more will be added in the coming months. The House has now been adjourned to meet again on Wednesday at 3 p.m. – NNI