ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Asad Umar on Wednesday sternly responded to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s criticism of his removal as finance minister while recalling that four finance ministers were changed during PPP’s tenure.
“Bilawal said that the government had admitted to its failures [on the economic policy front] by changing the finance minister,” Umar recalled while addressing the National Assembly.
“Bilawal: there were four finance ministers in the PPP’s government [from 2008-2013],” the erstwhile finance minister reminded the PPP chairman. “Each tried to sell their own snake oil; each would fail and go home. If we are ‘not qualified’ and ‘failures’, what, then, were you?” he asked.
“He [Bilawal] said that day that Pakistan’s ‘economic murder’ had taken place,” Umar said, referring to the PPP leader’s earlier statement. “So I decided to examine [Pakistan’s] history to get an idea of whether [the statement was right or wrong]; whether we have seen such [an economic] situation or even worse in the past.”
“People are worried that GDP growth has slowed down,” Umar noted, acknowledging that growth rate estimates given by various observer bodies range from 3-3.9 per cent.
While he conceded that Pakistan definitely needs a stronger growth rate, “certain steps needed to be taken when there is a balance of payments deficit [to correct course], and this [the slowdown] is their natural outcome.”
He then compared the GDP growth rate in PTI’s tenure to the growth rate during the PPP government’s first year, which had averaged at just 0.4pc. He conceded that the PPP government had inherited a financial crisis, “but in their five years, what did they do [in bettering the situation]?” he asked.
“Maybe no one ever placed this data in front of Bilawal, but at the end of their [the PPP’s] five years, the GDP growth rate was 2.8pc. There has never been a government in Pakistan with a lower GDP growth rate,” Umar claimed.
The ex-minister agreed that lawmakers “should worry about inflation because there is a lot of poverty in this country ─ even the middle-class, white collar worker has a hard time.”
“Right now, the inflation rate in approximately eight months [has averaged] 6.8pc. It may even go up to 7 or 8pc. [Compared to that], the PPP government averaged an approximate inflation rate of 12.3pc in its five years in government. At that time, we never heard anyone raise their voice in concern over rising prices,” he criticised.
“But this government feels for the people, and we say that it [inflation] should be lower even than this, and are taking steps for it,” he said.
Umar next addressed criticism on the budget deficit.
“It [the deficit] is definitely quite large and at a level that it shouldn’t be. There’s no doubt about that, and it may even cross 6.5pc this year. But let’s take a look at the past,” he said.
“The budget deficit averaged 7pc over the PPP’s five years in power,” Umar reminded the Lower House. “There were some years when it was 8.5pc, 8.8pc.”
“The revenue targets that are not being met should also be a matter of concern,” Umar conceded. “It’s possible that they may fall short by 7-8pc this time. But the difference between the Federal Board of Revenue’s targets and the actual revenue collected was on average 8pc over the 2008-13 period,” he recalled.
Umar also addressed concern over foreign debt.
“Yes, it is increasing and it shouldn’t. There is only one government in Pakistan’s history that doubled debt over its tenure,” he said, pointing at the PPP. “There was a 135pc increase in debt [during the PPP era],” he recalled.
“The truth is that this [criticism] has nothing to do with the economy. Citizens are being dragged into it, but it has nothing to do with the people. All these things that we are having to hear now, it is only because […] the noose is now tightening around that stolen wealth,” he said.
“The government is not doing it, but the authorities are closing in. The National Accountability Bureau is doing it. The courts are doing it. Fake accounts keep surfacing. Under these circumstances, of course they [the PPP] will be worried, and expressing that worry is their right,” Umar added.
“When your Swiss accounts are in danger, when your palaces in Surrey, your towers in Dubai, your Park Lane flats are in danger [you are bound to worry]. Alongside all this, there must be a government that can stand up to Pakistan’s biggest economic mafia,” he said.
“This mafia is accustomed to using the money of Pakistan’s taxpayers on themselves, and when they have seen those doors closing, their teaming up together is a very powerful combination. This is the [reason for the] hue and cry you are hearing today,” Umar continued.
“We will need to stand up to the mafia and bare their conspiracies,” he asserted as he concluded his speech.