–Former president says if people took to streets against incumbent system, no one will able to stop them
–Former finance minister Asad Umar criticises budget, says unfair to tax sugar and ghee
–Umar says recent arrests will hamper progress if there’s ulterior motives to them
ISLAMABAD: In his first appearance on the floor of the National Assembly (NA) after being arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the fake accounts case, former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari warned of catastrophe if country’s economic situation continues to deteriorate.
After over a week of protests by opposition parties, Zardari’s and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Saad Rafique’s production orders were issued by NA Speaker Asad Qaiser. Zardari, who had been denied bail by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), was thus able to attend the budget session.
In reference to the Arab Spring, the PPP co-chairman said that he hopes that the country does not see a similar turn of events where the entire country takes to the streets. “If such a time comes, then neither the politicians nor the country’s institutions will be able to control the situation. The ball will not be in our court then,” he warned.
Talking about the economic situation and the tax-heavy budget, the former president said that those who brought the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to power should pay attention to the current scenario of the country. “The government claims to have presented a good budget but why is it then that people from different sectors are crying for relief and help?” he asked.
He said that the disposable income of the people has decreased. “Salaries of government employees have increased, but at the same time, taxes have been imposed on them,” he said, adding that even businessmen are not willing to invest in anything.
The former president said that because of the current wave of accountability, the common man is afraid of being caught in the net. “People are afraid that if Zardari sahab can be arrested then anyone in the country can be arrested,” he added, adding that his arrest does not make a difference as it has strengthened his party.
“The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) summons you for an explanation if you have more than Rs500,000 in your cheque book,” he said, adding that if this continues, the country will lag behind.
He added that when his party came into power following a decade of military rule, they did not victimise politicians who had served under the dictator. “We let them be as our focus was on getting the country back on its feet,” he added.
Zardari also suggested that the government and opposition should sit together and devise an economic policy to move forward. He also thanked the Baloch political leaders and members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) who helped him through “tough times”.
Earlier, upon his arrival in the House, the former president was accompanied by Bilawal, Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari, and Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari. Zardari also met his legal team in Parliament House, former Senate chairman Nayyar Bukhari, Senator Farhatullah Babar, and Farooq H Naek, who is tasked to deal with NAB affairs pertaining to corruption references involving the former president. The meeting took place during the budget session.
ASAD UMAR WANTS CONCESSIONS ON SUGAR, GHEE:
Addressing the assembly session, the PTI stalwart and National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance Chairman Asad Umar expressed reservations on the first federal budget presented by his party.
He said that tax on sugar has been raised despite the fact that the price of sugar had already risen at an alarming rate, adding that it is unfair to further burden the common man. The former finance minister called for an investigation into the price hike of sugar and said that the government should withdraw the tax on sugar.
Questioning why essential items were taxed, he urged Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh to reverse the taxes on edible oil and ghee, adding that the total receivables after an increase in the taxes on sugar, oil and ghee are minimal.
Responding to Zardari’s statement about arrests taking the country backwards, he said that if the arrests are for political victimisation then are undoubtedly wrong but if the arrests are made for holding the corrupt accountable then there is nothing wrong with that because it is the responsibility of the parliamentarians to establish a system of reward and punishment in line with the Constitution.
“People should be held accountable if they do any wrong,” he said.
Explaining the federal budget, the former finance minister said that the incumbent government inherited massive foreign debt courtesy of the previous governments. He added that the introduction of the finance bill was one of the solutions to the issues the country is facing.
“When PTI came to power, our foreign reserves were nearly empty, therefore, we introduced the bill to reduce the current account deficit,” he said, adding that the government is devising policies to increase exports to reduce the foreign debt.
He said that the current account deficit of $2.035 billion was reduced by 70 per cent in the last three months before he was removed as the finance minister.
Defending the budget, he said that despite the challenges, the government presented a great budget. He also said that the government is responsible for the maintenance of 200 million people and not just a few multi-billionaires.
He suggested that interest rates must be revised and lowered to invite people to invest in the economy.
Noting that the turnover tax has been increased in the federal budget, he suggested that the government should exclude new investments from the minimum tax in the first five years. He added that balancing, modernisation, rehabilitation and expansion (BMRE) tax credit should be restored.
He also said that the government should revise the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) pensions to 15 per cent.
The former finance minister suggested that the agriculture sector should be boosted by the government. He further said that federal excise duty (FED) on import of small cars should be reviewed because the middle class is currently going through a tough phase.
Talking about the government’s deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he said that electricity prices, gas prices, tax rates, policy rates of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and rupee valuation were discussed with the international lender for an agreement. He said that IMF wanted electricity prices to go up by 50 per cent but the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) decided a hike of 11 per cent which may go up to 15 per cent.
The former finance minister further said that the international lender wanted the debt accumulated during the tenures of the previous governments to be recovered as well.