Islamabad, June 23, 2021: In her budget speech in the upper House, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman said, “Countries have a responsibility to history, and governments to their people when they face a crisis. There is no doubt that Pakistan is facing a foreign policy inflection point and is at the threshold of an economic emergency, yet instead of a healing, post-pandemic budget, we are given elaborate narratives, constructed to lead the failing government into election survival instead of saving the country”.
“Events in Afghanistan are outpacing statecraft. The US has war fatigue, and their forces are exiting faster than planned. No real peace deal has worked out with all Afghanistan parties as the Taliban are advancing and they may well impose a military solution. As American forces exit Afghanistan, what plans has Pakistan made to protect itself? Should there not be a joint session of Parliament to discuss the possible outcomes and contain collateral fallout.? Violence is escalating next door, and we are still waiting for clarity. We cannot afford to become collateral damage again,” she added.
Rehman asked, “No PM can say that there would be no need of a nuclear deterrent once the Kashmir issue is solved. We cannot believe this is our nuclear policy. SZAB put his life on stake for the nuclear weapons program despite tremendous pressure from the international community. A government is accountable to its people but here the government has no answer on why they are hesitant to call Osama bin Laden a terrorist? It is shameful that the PTI government is shying away from calling OBL a terrorist. Anyone who says otherwise is belittling the tremendous sacrifice Pakistan has made. However, we are not here to point score, we are here to serve our country and it’s people, not just hurl insults at each other. Yet this Govt is not even able to arrange a briefing to parliament, let alone an APC for building consensus on vital matters of public importance ”.
Discussing the misleading budget, she said, “Two big issues that make this budget untenable are its illusory numbers and targets, which includes a budget read out here, while there is another budget the real Pakistan is facing. The other is its visible divide, both between the rich and poor, but also between units of the federation, between civil society, the free press and neo-fascists, but also democracy and dictatorship. What we needed right now was a joint economic plan, and a charter of economy but what we got was a budget which seems like it belongs to another country”.
“This is an IMF budget and saying that the IMF program is being renegotiated and its terms are being reconsidered to reduce the harshness of terms is not true. This is because the numbers tell another tale: the budget is in Rs 4 trillion deficit. Without the Rs 1 trillion from the IMF in two phases, there’s no moving forward. So, let’s not pretend we are talking back to the IMF. Quite the contrary, It’s the IMF that is reconsidering us. High targets are being set to show the IMF but these will not be met, just like last time. If our current account deficit is doing as well as the government is claiming it to be, then why do we still need the IMF?” she asked.
Highlighting our galloping debt, Rehman said, “To say that we are borrowing to pay back the loans accrued in the past is not the whole truth; as we are in fact borrowing to pay interest on currently accrued debt. We are borrowing to pay back the public debt that has jumped a whopping 55 % since 2018. Rs 13 trillion have been added to public debt, and every Pakistani now owes Rs 175,000. Our public debt now stands at Rs 44 trillion, almost 90 % of GDP. We clearly have no plan and are just on a borrowing spree”.
“The indirect tax burden of Rs 265 billion will be imposed on our people as the real budget where the indirect, regressive taxes hit the poor, who have reached 50 % this year, is outside parliament and this budget process. It is alarming that a petroleum levy worth a whopping Rs 610 billion is actually missing from the Finance Bill as non tax revenue. A levy is a tax, make no mistake. It is hiding in plain sight in the budget documents, ready to be slapped on by July 1, 2021. There is also a petroleum levy on LPG of Rs 7.6 billion; and the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess of Rs 130 bill which is up from Rs 15 billion. That’s already Rs 800 billion plus in disguised taxes, because a levy is a tax by all definitions, even if the government denies,” she added.
Rehman said, “Tabahi Sarkar claims that circular debt has reduced by Rs 189 billion. On the contrary independent economic institutions see circular debt to skyrocket. A burden of Rs 1060 billion will be shifted towards power consumers in the next 27 months. That is the hidden cost of the Circular debt which is expected to skyrocket to a whopping Rs 4.6trillion by 2023”.
“Pakistan Bureau Statistics (PBS)’s SPI clearly says that inflation is around 13%, not 8% as stated by the finance minister. Food inflation has soared to a massive 20%. Unlike what’s being stated by the government, our employment has not gone up and there has been no growth. No public Infrastructure has been planned and no investment has been made. PSDP is going to MNAs and MPAs. When the IMF says that we will grow at 1.5 %, how will we grow at 4 %?” she questioned the government over rising inflation.
Discussing our growing trade deficit, Rehman said, “Our 2020-21 exports stand at $22.5 billion when in fact, Pakistan’s highest exports were at $25 billion in 2013 during PPP’s government. Our trade deficit has increased and we are importing wheat, and sugar now. How can it be a bumper wheat crop if we are still not food secure? PPP ensured that Pakistan becomes wheat sufficient and we were one of the biggest exporters”.
“In the recent Ghotki accident, at least 31 people were killed. What have they done about it? Nothing, in fact the big ticket Mainline-I rail project of CPEC has only been given a mere Rs6.2 billion for the next fiscal year,” she said while highlighting the deteriorating state of railways.
Calling attention to a missing post Covid budget, Rehman said “All other countries have taken major decisions on their economies and climate change but all we hear about is the Billion Tree Tsunami project which is clearly not enough. There has been no action plan on water and climate change when the IMF has clearly said that Pakistan will be water scarce by 2025. Big dams are being given priority while small reservoirs are being ignored. Sindh is building water reservoirs”.
The budget has exposed the government. The federal government has given dubious statistics in the budget to hide their incompetence and serial mismanagement. Why is the government lying so transparently when in fact, the only thing transparent today are its lies? Lying at this level is just plain inefficient. The government must be held accountable for lying to the people and presenting dubious figures in the budget. There’s an economic crisis going on in the country. The NFC award should be revised and all the provinces should be taken on board as we need national unity to pull through these testing times. If any economic charter needs to be forged to rescue Pakistan, it is unfortunate that this Govt is unwilling and unable to see the needs of this poor country. The PM cannot give up his ego and come to the parliament,” concluded Vice President PPPP Senator Sherry Rehman.