Ministers paint a gloomy economic picture

Asif expresses govt’s helplessness in increasing revenue collection

Waqas Ahmed June 15, 2023
Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif addressing National Assembly session on May 15, 2023. PHOTO: TWITTER/@NAofPakistan


Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Wednesday painted a very dismal picture of the national economy, lamenting that how could a budget be prepared in the country where tax evasion topped Rs3,500 billion.

Taking part in the budget debate in the National Assembly, the minister said 80% of the country’s population could not eke out even two square meals a day but the laws were amended for the benefit of the rich people.

“The loot and plunder market is rife but there is no one to ask. We do not have the courage to increase the national wealth by collecting more funds. Everyone is neck deep in debt, even our existence is at stake only because of the poor economy,” he said.

Asif spoke of the government's helplessness in improving the country’s economy. “In the past 75 years, no significant steps were taken to bring about fundamental changes in the budget. Every year the budget was made in the same manner,” he added.

The minister said that in the budget for the next fiscal year, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar made every possible effort to provide relief to the people and he had succeeded to some extent but the plight of the common man was the worst.

“Our economic decline has reached the point where it is difficult for the common man to breathe. We have created a class that has all the privileges. They are popularly called the 'elite' class,” he added.

He revealed that the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that the country’s interest payments on the national debt had become more than the government’s total revenue collection. “That means that the government income is not enough to pay the interest.”

Besides, the minister continued, the debt of two institutions was more than Rs1,000 billion, which should be closed down but instead, thousands of billions of rupees was spent to keep them afloat. “Isn’t it a crime against the state?”

The minister also pointed out that the institutions which were meant to eradicate poverty from the country did not succeed in their primary function but their chief executive officers (CEOs) drew salaries of up to Rs3.5 million.

Asif cited a private organisation’s report in which it had been stated that real estate did not pay taxes to the tune of Rs500 billion, adding that the tobacco sector evaded taxes worth Rs240 billion, automobiles sector Rs50 billion, auto lubricants Rs56 billion, pharmaceuticals Rs65 billion, steel sector Rs30 billion and Rs45 billion on tea imports.

“There is tax evasion of Rs2,880 billion in the retail sector. And there are these vice chancellors of the universities, who have become billionaires by embezzling the funds of the universities,” he said.

“In the country, where the revenue of thousands of billions of rupees is being stolen, how the budget can be presented. Ishaq Dar did a brave thing by giving relief to the people, but we have to find a permanent solution [to these issues],” he added.

The defence minister also criticised the role of judiciary. “The judiciary is also involved as currently there are more than 2,000 billion tax cases pending in the judiciary and there is no decisions in these cases,” he claimed.

“Unless fundamental changes are brought into the system, no surplus budget can be presented for the benefit of the 220 million population,” he said, adding that there was cure for all ills but there was no courage as the whole system was captured by one class.

The minister explained that the cure for all these diseases was “neither available with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), nor with the World Bank, nor with the Paris Club, nor with our friendly countries but it is available with us”.

“We have all the resources to increase the national wealth by increasing the revenue generation but we lack the courage. The country cannot be run like this. Fundamental changes in budget transactions are the need of the hour.”

He said that such a situation would result in the 2018 event – a reference of coming to power by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). “And then the incidents like May 9, 2023 were the consequences, when one man challenged the state with a few thousand people.

“He did not fight a political battle but challenged the writ of the state. On May 9, there was an attempted coup in the country,” Asif said, referring to the violent riots in the country after the arrest of the PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

“Your (Imran’s) ministers were involved in the attacks on Mianwali (airbase), GHQ (Army’s General Headquarters), corps commander’s house (in Lahore). All his own people were involved [in the violence],” he added.

Highlighting the plight of the common man, the minister said that the people had electricity bills in their hands but they could not pay them.

“People don't have that much resources. When such imbalances occur in a society, that society cannot function.”

On the budget, Federal Minister Javed Latif said that the events of May 9 and 10 shook the entire country. He added that there was a conspiracy in 2017 to damage Pakistan – a reference to the conviction of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

“The characters of May 9 and the characters of 2017 are the same. And now people sitting in the court are also saying that Nawaz Sharif was a victim,” he said, adding that these things should be brought forward to educate the youth about the facts.

The minister proposed a solution to rid the country of the current situation: “Apologise to Nawaz Sharif and roll out the red carpet and bring him back.”

He said that the people sitting in the institutions should admit to Nawaz that mistakes were made.

Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) member Ghaus Bakhsh Mahar criticised the government for the absence of federal ministers from the budget session. “No official is here. Where are these people? Are they serious?”

He said that the ministers spoke about the May 9 events but they should tell the house why the provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) did not try to prevent those attacks.

He said a cyclone was about to hit the country but the government was doing nothing but talking. “There is a lot of politics but the budget provided nothing to the farmers.”

Food Minister Tariq Bashir Cheema said that the agro-based economy should be focused more in the budget. “We are an agricultural country but agriculture is neglected.”

Later, the meeting was adjourned until Thursday (today).


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