SLAMABAD: The PML-N government came under ‘friendly fire’ in the National Assembly on Wednesday when a group of agriculturalists from the treasury benches accused it of treating farmers like the ‘enemy’.
In a sitting characterised by sound and fury, the most forceful criticism of the government came from a trio of ruling party from Punjab, who assailed the way industrialists were given preference over farmers in terms of markup rates on loans.
Through a calling attention notice, Sheikh Fayyazuddin of Rahim Yar Khan and Kasur lawmakers Rana Mohammad Hayat Khan and Rasheed Ahmed Khan launched a scathing attack on the government’s lending policies for farmers, saying that the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) was charging them over 16pc markup, as opposed to the 5.75pc given to banks by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
Treasury lawmakers from Punjab demand equal markup rates for farmers, industrialists
“When SBP lends to banks at 5.75pc, how are they able to charge farmers 14 to 16pc? Meanwhile, industrialists get [loans] at 6.5pc. This is downright unjust,” complained Mr Hayat. “These factory-owners have defaulted on loans worth billions, but the poor farmer isn’t even given a loan bigger than Rs1 million. For God’s sake, bring us at the same level as these [industrial fat cats].”
Defending the government, Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Rana Mohammad Afzal Khan contended that the decline in agricultural production was due to factors such as poor research and development.
He also blamed mismanagement at the ZTBL for the bank’s troubled lending structure, saying that only 20pc of agricultural loans were released by it. Eighty per cent of the agricultural credit, he said, still lay with commercial banks.
But he was quick to add that the government wanted to sit down with the unhappy agriculturalists to address their concerns.
Rasheed Ahmed Khan challenged the figures presented by the parliamentary secretary, saying that farmers were not given loans at a markup rate below 16.5pc. “If recovery fees are also counted, it comes to around 18pc; there can be no greater exploitation of farmers. On one hand, they say that agriculture is the backbone of our economy, on the other they treat us like this,” he lamented.
He listed various agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and power tariffs, saying that each one was priced outside the reach of the average farmer and demanded that markup on agricultural loans should be brought down to single-digit levels.
But Parliamentary Secretary Afzal Khan maintained that commercial lending for industry was closer to 9pc, and that commercial banks dealt in bulk loans worth millions, while most farmers borrowed smaller amounts whose operating costs may not be feasible for banks at such low markup rates.
This incensed Sheikh Fayyazuddin, who denounced the parliamentary secretary, saying: “You treat us not just like rivals, but enemies.”
“Your hostile agricultural policies are the only reason [that] our agricultural exports have fallen,” he said, as lawmakers from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf banged their desks approvingly.
“I ask you this, can you prevail on [National Bank and ZTBL] to not charge more than 1pc in spread? If they borrow from SBP at 5.75pc, why do they charge us 14pc? They should lend to farmers at 7pc, not more. Can we ask them this at least, or do we have to pray to God for divine intervention?”
This put Rana Mohammad Afzal even more on the back foot, and he resorted to blaming the policies of past governments for the ills facing the agricultural sector today.
“The government has been providing subsidies and packages to farmers; it can either be in the form of lowering the markup or decreasing the prices of agricultural inputs. But your point is taken, it will be done Inshallah,” he concluded.
The other side of the aisle almost saved the government from this dressing down by its own backbenchers when PTI lawmakers Shireen Mazari and Arif Alvi — along with other members of the opposition benches — tried to heckle the PML-N lawmakers and kept them from properly raising their points.
The rumpus started when the opposition was embarrassed by Law Minister Zahid Hamid over the passage of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill 2016. Opposition lawmakers had latched onto a note of dissent that was erroneously attached to the bill but had nothing to do with it.
When it was pointed out that they were making much ado about nothing, the defensive opposition tried to poke more holes into the bill, questioning the government’s legal standing to even make the law.
An exasperated law minister had to read out provisions from the Constitution and explained that the bill aimed at fulfilling Pakistan’s international obligations under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which seemed to briefly placate the opposition.
However, there was uproar again when Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi did not allow Ms Mazari to read out a resolution condemning US President Donald Trump’s visa ban on seven Muslim countries.
Ms Mazari had already committed a faux pas when she muttered into an open mic, “Chalo, phir agaya hai” (Oh no! Not him again) just as the deputy speaker walked into the house.
Although Mr Abbasi only responded with a wry smile, this affront was undoubtedly in the back of his mind throughout the session, since he did not let the PTI members read out their resolution, which he insisted had to come “through proper channels”.
courtesy : dawn news