Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday berated the government for imposing “hefty taxes” on the people in the proposed Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021 – also known as the mini-budget – and risking the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021.
“This [PTI-led] government has broken the record of presenting mini-budget and annual budgets. This is a sign of a confused government,” he said in his long speech at the National Assembly session.
He alleged the government went to the International Monetary Fund in haste and in such desperation, it made a “weak deal” with the global lender. Such decisions had a huge impact on the weak segment of society, he said, adding that the government could have incorporated the opposition’s suggestions while going to the IMF.
“But, because of your [Prime Minister Imran Khan] ego you didn’t hear the opposition’s suggestions,” he said, adding that the country's economic growth has decreased in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's tenure.
Bilawal said: “Naya Pakistan means inflation, unemployment, and poverty and we are saying this on the basis of facts. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but you can’t be entitled to your own facts. This government has made it a habit not to talk facts.”
The PPP chairman was of the view that people do not need economic expertise to understand that Rs350 billion worth of taxes would be imposed this time. He expressed fear that inflation would increase if funds worth Rs250 billion cut from the development budget.
Addressing the NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri, who was presiding over the session in absence of NA Speaker Asad Qaiser, Bilawal talked about the government's economic policies and said: "Even you [Qasim Suri] cannot answer people of Balochistan who were facing economic hardships [due to the government's policies]. I don’t know how allies will face their people.”
He added that the PTI’s defeat in the first phase of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s local government elections was just a “trailer” for the government.
Taking note of levies in the mini-budget, he said the government had decided to impose heavy taxes on the people by bringing a “tsunami of taxes.”
He was of the view that a further increase in taxes on the phone and internet would “strangle” the information technology sector, which has been showing good signs for the economy.
“The youth will have to bear the burden of this tax and it will impact our digital quality of life. Pakistan fell by 14 points in the digital quality of life, we rank 97 out of 110,” he said and expressed hope that the government would pay attention to the sector.
He further said the IT sectors exports in one year increased from $1.4 billion to $2.12 billion exports, adding that it was a success story for the country. “You [PTI-led government] have encouraged the IT sector and contributed [to its development]. But you thought of imposing more taxes on the sector.”
The tech sector has shown that the tech-savvy youth could generate millions of dollars, Bilawal said, adding that taxes on internet, mobile, and phone would “strangle the sector.”
He reminded the government that Leader of Opposition in NA Shehbaz Sharif during his tenure as Punjab chief minister distributed free laptops among youth and the government was imposing further taxes on laptops and notebooks. He added levies were also imposed on locally made electronic devices.
Taking a jibe at PM Imran, he said: “Youth leader was strangling the economy.” He claimed that the government would impose a tax on as many as 1,700 items.
Bilawal said the tax on donations would also be applicable on the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre – the PM owned cancer infirmary. He lamented that such levies on UN goods and medicines would make life of people more difficult.
He lambasted the government for not controlling inflation and further price hike on basic utilities and commodities.
“You [the PTI-led government] are not just preparing people for more inflation, but attacking provinces domain,” he said, adding “54% increase is witnessed in food inflation since 2018 up till now.”
On the government’s accusations of urea smuggling from Sindh, he said: “If urea is smuggled then you [the government] are responsible for this.” He added that such accusations were a “lie”.
The PPP chairperson added the total budget for Sindh’s three hospitals – including NICVD, SIUT, and Khairpur hospital – was greater than the whole health card budget for KP.
SBP autonomy bill
On the proposed SBP legislation, he said the government has extended the SBP governor tenure from three years to five years and suggested a salary of Rs10.5 million.
“Moreover, you [the government] are trying to have NRO for former and current office bearers of the SBP and they will not be answerable to the country's accountability watchdog,” Bilawal said.
The PPP chairperson expressed fear that such efforts would give space to the "international plot" to harm in the country’s foreign policy and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. He added that such decisions would harm the country’s relations with neighbouring countries.
“If we allow SBP to be accountable to international bodies rather than the parliament, we will empower India, US and other countries [owing to the fact that many of them head international bodies] to influence our policies,” he said, adding that this bill would also create problems for the nuclear programme and the defence budget.
He questioned the need for having a single account for the defence budget, adding that it would be a risk for national security.
Bilawal also questioned the increase in the amount of taxes paid by PM Imran since he assumed office till now.
Moreover, Leader of Opposition in NA Shehbaz Sharif lamented the empty chairs of the treasury benches during the house session on economic bills. “This is the state of government’s interest [on such matters].”