Islamabad, June 15, 2020: Islamabad, June 10, 2020: Addressing the Senate in her budget speech, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman said, “Parliament can only act upon on what is in front of it and the budget which has been laid before us has been made on another planet and is devoid of any reality. It is a cut and paste of last year’s budget to just get the accounting exercise done to appease the IMF. It is a cruel and unusual budget as it completely ignores the crisis that is hitting the country. It was time to heal polarities and to make difficult and structural decisions as the country is adrift in a time of acute emergency without a roadmap, but we have been given the message that we are on our own.”
She said, “The country is going through a crisis, a national emergency. Yet we have not received a crisis budget. The budget appears to assume that the Covid-19 threat does not exist and lacks any roadmap for economic recovery. Other than paper-statements, both the opportunity or the challenge presented by Covid-19 has not been reflected reflected in the budget”.
“All we hear are justifications of what was inherited. The budget has been presented at a time where we are going through a pandemic but the Federal government has used Covid-19 as a mask to hide its failures. We should not underestimate the impact of Covid-19 on the country’s fragile economy but we must not lose sight of the fact that our economy was suffering before the onset of Covid-19 also,” she added.
“Look at the numbers of covid cases spiralling up, yet no lesson learnt has been reflected in the budget. Instead of worrying that the pandemic has exposed chronic weaknesses of our healthcare system, we are told now that look at India, they have more deaths than Pakistan! Like most information the government shared, this data is also misleading. India has 7 deaths per million and Pakistan has climbed up to 12 per. million. The projected numbers of things are left as they are, are unacceptable. Hospitals are overburdened and suffering grievously from chronic under-investment. Why did health only inch towards a 1.3% of the GDP which is way below the 5% recommended by WHO. Why in this case did we not look at Bangladesh which went over that number this time, showing a real commitment to human security. Until last year there were 1,279 hospitals in the country. No new hospitals were added in the year 2018-2019. There are currently 132, 227 hospitals beds in Pakistan, which mean that for 1,608 persons one bed is available. The number remains unchanged from 2018. It seems the federal government, instead of improving its own federal hospitals wants to take over Sindh’s big star performers like NICVD, because they are now world class facilities. Health did not get a jump because it is administered by the provinces? Is PTI at war even with its own governments in KP and Punjab, because they too are crying out for resources for health” said Rehman.
She questioned, “Who is in charge of Pakistan? No one knows. It seems like the Prime Minister has given up. When the Karachi plane crash happened, he went to Nathiagali. Who is making decisions? People are looking up to the government to find a way out. The responsibility to protect has been totally and completely passed on to the people, when it is the government’s job to lead or at least shere the burden. We did not look at New Zealand, Taiwan or Germany who took prompt actions to contain the virus. We are constantly given examples of the UK and USA. Tomorrow you will give us Brazil’s example. Stop giving us examples of authoritarian leaders who took terrible decisions”.
“People are being reprimanded for not following SOPs but how will people follow them when until a few days ago senior officials and the PM are going around without wearing masks? People are being confused by the government’s mixed messaging which says it is like common flu or then compares it to traffic accidents. We have wasted valuable time debating lockdowns or not, as it was supposed to bring down the cases,” added Rehman.
The Senator said, “A false debate about lives vs livelihoods has been started to muddy the waters and confuse people who were looking for clarity through a crisis. Those who are getting affected are the poor. Those who say the virus does not discriminate are wrong, it does. If the president or prime minister or minister gets infected, they will make few calls and arrangements for best care will me made. Look at pictures of the ordinary people as they suffer, hospitals are full and the situation is looking grim but we are being told that ghabrana nahi hai. Im sorry but it is time to worry, because without that how else will we come up with a plan of action or listen to what the WHO is telling us”.
“On one hand the PM is ruthlessly saying he is concerned about the daily wage-earners and on the other hand saying he can’t spare money for social protection, or ” until when will we give money to these people” and as a corollary, we have seen a cut in the BSIP’s budget when it should have been increased. BISP is the most critical element of the social protection response to the pandemic, which he pointlessly offered to India, only to told off. This so called “Ehsaas”` program has no ehsaas in it. What is the explanation behind the increase in construction and housing budget? What are we doing to protect our vulnerable medical frontline? PPEs are being exported when our own doctors are working without them. Is there any justification for this?” she questioned
Rehman said, “The Economy will only flourish if lives are saved. We are being led to a slaughterhouse because of this herd immunity which the government is going towards.
Talking about the unrealistic revenue target, she said, “Our revenue target has become a laughing stock when our growth is negative. The growth target is ridiculous as is the revenue ambition. The no-tax claim makes no sense as Rs 2.92 trillion indirect taxes have been slapped on. Then there are fuel charges and additional taxes. How will the revenue target be met when no new tax is imposed? The debts taken by this government in 18 months have not been taken by any other previous government. The PTI government had actually in 18 months incurred an unprecedented debt of 12,000 billion well before Covid-19 hit us”.
“Who is happy with this government? Not the working class for sure, even the salaries of government employees have not been increased. Only a handful businessmen are happy who are clearly being rewarded”. No wage labour is being protected. The so-call stimulus program benefitting cronies taking contracts for the construction business have yeilded no jobs, only joblessness. Quite the contrary, ten thousand Steel Mill employees have been fired and provinces have seen a cut. Is this the government’s plan? NFC award has been made controversial and Sindh has been given a Rs 234 billion cut. The provinces are the only ones who will manage the social sectors, but their budgets have been slashed because of the federal government’s acute political partisanship and disastrous centrism”
She said, “the one sector we need to secure for feeding our poor, as exports are declining is the agriculture sector, which has been hugely compromised. The budget takes no real cognizance of the crippling locust invasion which we are facing and which will cause a projected loss of Rs 600 billion to Pakistani economy. Sindh had been warning the Federal government since a year but no heed was paid to it. There is only narrative messaging but no action is being taken. At the same time, while people struggle with basic needs in the changing disease profile, needs like water conservation, which are critical to mortality have been cut water resources have been slashed. No one in this dangerously denialist government cares that Pakistan will be officially dry by 2025? Has any of that been taken into consideration? Or is the new plan really only a message to Pakistani people that we are on our own?”
PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman concluded by saying, “The government has given a brutal and savage message to the people of Pakistan, by adopting a hands-off approach to saving lives, which is the cruel policy of herd culling. Is this not a policy of the survival of the fittest? We are living in a Nazi-Niazi country with a Niazi economy. What budget are we even talking about? What does this budget have for common people? Where is the livelihood which the government keeps bringing up, has it been provided? The government has completely exposed itself in the budget and Covid-19 response due to absent leadership, lack of political will, incoherent strategy, no parliamentary engagement while allowing a dangerous virus to play havoc with its citizens. This whole budget is a historic squandered opportunity to bring change, to our human security at the heart of planning ”.