ISLAMABAD: Winding up debate in the National Assembly on the federal budget for 2016-17 on Friday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar rejected criticism of the budget by the opposition and said the economy was in a better shape now than it was under previous governments.
Senator Dar accused the government of retired General Pervez Musharraf and the coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples Party of bringing the economy to what he called “the brink of disaster”.
“It was the military dictatorship of Gen Musharraf followed by the PPP government which ruined the national economy by taking massive loans and not spending them on development projects,” he said.
If this was not enough, the minister reminded the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Shah, of how the present government had brought down fiscal deficit to 4.3 per cent of the GDP from 8.2pc under the PPP-led government, and inflation from 12pc to 3pc.
He claimed that the GDP growth rate of 4.71pc, registered this year, was the best such figure recorded in the last eight years.
He also described how various taxes on petroleum products had either been decreased or maintained at the rates at which they were in 2013.
Senator Dar, however, did admit that the PML-N government has had to breach the constitutionally binding ceiling on overall loans to the GDP. Under the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, the total loans should not cross 60pc of the GDP, but they currently stand at about 63pc.
“We have brought it down to 63.3pc from the earlier 63.8pc, and the new finance bill carries proposals for legislation whereby new measures will be taken to bring the ratio further down,” Mr Dar said.
He said the money the present government had borrowed was mostly being spent on development projects.
Turning to what he called “the tight fiscal space” being faced by the government, he said the Zarb-i-Azb military operation and the resettlement of temporarily displaced persons had put additional burden on the national kitty.
Responding to the opposition’s queries regarding postponement of the National Finance Commission award, he said that under the Constitution the government could continue with the old arrangement until a new award was announced.
Answering lawmakers’ questions about delay in the holding of census, the minister said the exercise had to be deferred because of unavailability of armed forces personnel.
At the top of the positive developments, which Senator Dar hoped would bring prosperity to the country, was the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He said the CPEC would prove to be a game-changer not only for Pakistan but for the entire region.
With the restructuring of loss-making public sector organisations, which had already been kicked off at PIA, the government was set to save billions, the minister said.
He announced that the salary of government employees would be increased from 10 to 13pc, by adding up various ad hoc allowances.
Accepting a good suggestion from across the aisle, he said, the government had decided to bring into effect new subsidies for the agriculture sector the moment president signed the finance bill on June 22. Generally, the bill comes into force on July 1.
Senator Dar also informed the house that proposed explanation in tax laws, according to which the government intended to become a member of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development and which were aimed to enable tax officials to get details about Pakistanis’ investments abroad, had been withdrawn.
“Certain misperceptions were created regarding this initiative; therefore, we have withdrawn the explanation,” he said.
He also promised to discuss the issue of lawmakers’ salaries with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his return from London, agreeing that they needed an upward revision in emoluments.
Meanwhile, an interesting situation developed in the house when many PML-N backbenchers left the hall when Senator Dar began his speech, prompting Malik Amir Dogar of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf to point out the quorum. Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif was also seen rushing to the gallery.
Timely action on part of the ministers managed to avert an embarrassing situation, however.
Talking to Dawn after the session, Najaf Abbas Sial, an MNA from Jhang, said 60 to 70 of his colleagues in the ruling party were protesting against what called “mistreatment at the hands of their own government”. “For the past three years, we haven’t received any development funds. And apart from a few of them, the ministers are not willing to meet us.”
Courtesy : Dawn News