Bar on media to use word ‘selected’
Islamabad: The National Assembly on Thursday witnessed uproar when Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif called Imran Khan a ‘selected’ prime minister a few minutes after the Leader of the House took his seat. Shahbaz was speaking on the issue of hike in the power tariff when Imran Khan entered the House.
The treasury benches’ members rose in their seats, raising the slogan of ‘Gail Gali mein shor hey, Shahbaz Sharif Chor hey’. In response, the opposition members also stood to respond to the sloganeering against their leaders.
Speaker Asad Qaisar immediately remarked that use of word ‘selected’ in the House had been banned and he was expunging it. However, the opposition members’ sloganeering continued unhindered.
The House also echoed with the slogan of ‘shame, shame’ from the opposition benches when Shahbaz Sharif said Pakistan’s debt burden had increased by Rs700 billion with the devaluation of Pak rupee. As the opposition leader continued his speech amid uproar, he again used the word ‘selected’.
PTI chief whip Aamir Dogar approached the opposition benches to silence Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha and Maryam Aurengzeb of PML-N, who were also raising slogans. The otherwise peaceful House turned noisy in presence of both leader of the house and leader of the opposition.
Later, in his ruling, Speaker Asad Qaisar said the word ‘selected’ once expunged in the House could not be used by the electronic and print media. “If the media used the word, it would be considered a breach of privilege of the House,” he added.
In his brief speech, Shahbaz said the PML-N government had not started expensive LNG-based electricity projects. He pointed out that in the last 24 hours the rupee had devalued by Rs7 and as such debt burden on the country had increased by Rs700 billion.
The opposition leader said defence budget had also been reduced from $9.7 billion to $7.6 billion mainly due to devaluation of rupee. He said the PTI government had given the manifesto of poverty alleviation but now they were planning to kill the poor.
The situation further deteriorated in the House in presence of the prime minister when Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar said in the last one year of PML-N government, the foreign exchange reserves had come down from $19 billion to $9 billion, while the current deficit also increased from $2.5 billion to $20 billion in five years.
As the prime minister kept smiling during his speech, the minister asked as to where $10 billion worth of foreign exchange reserves had gone. “Whether this money went to benami accounts, the accounts of Faluda wallah or the accounts of Mushtaq Cheeni?” he asked.
Hammad said the government had borrowed Rs2,400 billion contrary to the opposition’s allegation of Rs7,000 billion during the first 10 months of its tenure. “We have borrowed Rs2,400 internally and externally this year, but the opposition says we have taken loans of Rs7,000 billion,” he said while speaking on demands for grants for different ministries and departments.
He said the opposition was true in saying that there should be no politics when it came to talking about economy. The House approved 53 demands for grants relating to defence, power and Petroleum Division and interior and defence and rejected all the cut motions by majority vote.
Hammad also asked the opposition to give correct facts and figures, otherwise it would be waste of time of the House. “I ask the opposition whether reducing the current deficit is a disaster, whether reducing the trade deficit to $4 billion is a disaster. The foreign exchange reserves, which went down to a half are now in a strong position,” he added.
“As the PPP government took over, the growth rate was 5% which came down to 0.9% in the first year, while the rupee devalued by Rs25,” he added. He said the government had taken back many powers of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). In this connection, he said the powers of attaching accounts of businessmen and raiding houses for recovery of dollars and gold were also being withdrawn.
“We have also withdrawn powers of FBR officers to enter shops without permission of any senior officer or the chairman,” he said. Hammad said tax on sugar had been increased from 11% to 17% which would have an impact of Rs3.5 per kilogram on its price.
He also rejected an impression about increase in tax on the salaried class giving an example that an employee receiving Rs100,000 salary would have to pay Rs2500 per month as tax while it was Rs5,000 per month during tenures of the PPP and PML-N except the last year when it was reduced to Rs200 per month.
On an objection from the opposition about allowing non-filers to make purchases above Rs5 million, he said they were following the practice, which was also pursued in other parts of the country.
On broadening of the Federal Board of Revenue, the minister said the FBR in the last 10 months had integrated data of 55 million people and this task could not be accomplished by the last government.
He said benami account laws put in the cold storage were also implemented. Minister for Water Omar Ayub said increase in power tariffs and the issue of circular debt was a gift of the last PML-N government adding that agreements with the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) would not be extended and instead project generation projects would be installed by the government itself on competitive basis.
The minister said they had improved the system of transmission lines with honesty and resolved the issue of power loadshedding. “Our achievement rate on all the 8879 feeders remained over 99 percent during the month of last Ramadan and there was no loadshedding,” he said.
He said when the present government took over, they came to know that the PML-N regime had recommended an increase in electricity to the Nepra. “The Nepra proposed over Rs3 per unit increase in the power tariff but we did not allow increase up to 300 units and instead announced Rs1.5 per unit raise for consumer above this slab,” he said, adding that 45 percent of gas consumers and power consumers using up to 300 units would not be affected by increase in tariffs.
PML-N leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi asked the government to avoid increasing the gas and power tariffs, which would not only hurt the consumers, but also increase inflation.
Speaking in the House on cut motions, he said the tariffs of two utilities had reached an unprecedented level. “Since gas has 50% share in the energy mix, the increase in its tariff increases inflation,” he added.
Speaking on various cut motions, the opposition members came down hard on the government for increasing the gas and power tariffs and demanded that these be brought down to the level of Year 2013. Abbasi pointed out that one of main reasons for the current poor state of economy was increase in gas tariff because it had also increased inflation.
He recalled that the PML-N government had not increased gas tariff in its five-year tenure adding that both the gas companies were running in profit besides having surplus gas. “It is improper to sell gas for Rs1,500 which you purchase at the rate of Rs750,” he added.
He said the recommendations of Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) were not binding on the government and it should take own decisions in the interest of consumers. He advised the government against increasing gas tariff, as neither the consumers nor economy would be able to absorb this shock.
He said one of the serious issues facing the power sector was circular debt, which had increased by two-and-a-half times during the present government’s tenure. “You will have to give a serious consideration to this issue, as the power sector problems have no easy solutions,” he added.
He claimed the PML-N government had left behind surplus power and gas but the issue at present was to manage the two sectors adding that the ministry concerned under the present leadership lacked the capacity to perform the task.
Chaudhry Birjees Tahir of PML-N asked the government to bring down gas and power tariffs to the level of 2013 instead of implementing further increase in tariff.
He recalled that when the incumbent government increased gas tariffs for the first time up to 143 percent, the consumers received inflated bills and one of ministers had to say that a dacoity had been committed in the Ministry of Petroleum.
He said the then minister for petroleum was removed but no inquiry was ordered to probe the dacoity in the ministry. “An inquiry was ordered into increase in the prices of medicines, while the minister was also removed but investigation into gas billing scam is yet to begin,” he said.
Birjees said the PML-N government generated 11,000MW power from 2013 to 2018, but the present government had not contributed even a single megawatt to the national grid. PPP leader Syed Naveed Qamar said by increasing power and gas tariffs, the government had left no option for the poor masses to live honourably.
“Adding insult to the injury, the government has also increased taxes, he said and asked where the government was taking the country to. Nawab Muhammad Yousuf Talpur said distribution companies should be directed not to punish majority of consumers in shape of loadshedding due to some defaulters.
He also demanded that the decades-old poles and transmission lines should be replaced with new ones in Sindh, particularly in his constituency. Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) thanked the government for releasing Rs150 million for resolving issues of power in his constituency. However, he demanded release of the entire amount of Rs2911 million to address the power shortage issue in his area.