Govt bringing ‘tsunami of taxes’ through mini-budget, says Bilawal in NA speech

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ISLAMABAD, JAN 12: PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari lashed out at the PTI government in the National Assembly on Wednesday, saying it was bringing a “tsunami of taxes” through the mini-budget.

The government is seeking the approval of the finance supplementary bill, generally known as the mini-budget, while the opposition has vowed to resist it.

The approval of the finance supplementary bill seeking to amend certain laws related to taxes and duties and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021 is necessary to ensure that Pakistan’s sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board to take a decision on the disbursement of about $1bn tranche.

Speaking on the floor of the NA, Bilawal said that the burden of the PTI government’s agreement with the IMF would fall on the common man, warning that it would lead to “economic slaughter” across the country.

He also criticised the government over the SBP bill, which was approved by a National Assembly panel on Monday, saying that the IMF had demanded the central bank’s autonomy during the eras of PPP and PML-N as well but neither party had agreed.

He said Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif had talked about a national dialogue on the country’s economy but the government refused because of its “stubbornness”.

“The people of Pakistan can see what happens as a result of your decisions,” the PPP leader said.

Bilawal said the government could have used the opposition’s rigidity on the matter to inform the IMF of its inability to accept its demands. “But because of your stubbornness and ego, you took decisions that are a robbery of the common man’s pockets,” he lambasted.

He said the government was presenting a new budget with a new finance minister — referring to Shaukat Tarin who was reappointed last month — at a time when Pakistan was seeing “bad economic indicators never seen previously”.

“You’ve broken all records of negative growth, inflation, increase in poverty and unemployment rates. When we say this isn’t tabdeeli (change) but destruction, we’re telling the truth. You cannot be entitled to your own facts.”

Bilawal noted that at the time of presenting the budget for FY22 in July, the government had promised that the country’s economic progress would start henceforth, there would be financial prosperity and no new taxes or mini-budget would be introduced.

“Now, we are in January and they (government) are bringing a tsunami of taxes through the mini-budget. You don’t need to be an economic expert to understand that if taxes of Rs350 billion are imposed, inflation will increase,” he added.

Questioning why national representatives were not part of the government’s decisions, he commented: “Those who form the government because of others have to look to them, they don’t care about the worries of the people.”

The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had shown the PTI a “small trailer”, he said referring to the ruling party’s dismal show in recently held local bodies elections.

Criticism of proposed taxes

Bilawal also spoke at length about the proposed taxes in the mini-budget. “The people who talked about being leaders of youth and making Pakistan a modern state and taking us toward e-governance […] now the youth will have to bear the burden of the tax being levied by [Prime Minister] Imran Khan on our computer, internet, mobiles and phone calls.”

Former chief minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif had distributed laptops free of cost while the PTI government was imposing taxes, he said, asking where the youth should go when taxes were being imposed not only on imported devices but those made locally as well.

The government had also attacked the backbone of Pakistan’s economy — agriculture — through the mini-budget, Bilawal added.

He said the government was also proposing the imposition of taxes on charities, goods imported for the United Nations relief efforts as well as items sent in the aftermath of calamities and disasters.

“This tax [is applicable] on Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust too. What justice is this? The federal government is missing in every national disaster and is late in providing relief to people. Now, it is saying that it will also tax those who manage to send [money and goods] from abroad for charity.”

He also questioned why the government had imposed taxes on solar energy systems when climate change was the most pressing issue that Pakistan was facing.

Criticising proposed taxes on contraceptives, the PPP chairperson said the government was unable to control the population explosion or arrange basic facilities and unemployment but was ready to impose taxes on birth control mechanisms.

“Everything has been taxed, baby food and milk too. [Imposing taxes on] both these things is an attack on the weakest segment of society. You (the government) is snatching a morsel from the child’s mouth, and harming women empowerment and choice.”

Inflation

The PPP chairperson also criticised the government over its handling of inflation, saying people were told that PM Imran takes notice of it every month. However, whatever ‘practical’ steps the government was taking to reduce inflation were actually increasing it, he added.

He also challenged the government’s claim that inflation in Pakistan was the lowest in the region, saying the situation was the opposite instead.

“We were told that there was inflation because of Sindh’s [policies]. When we started raising objections, newspapers reported that the prime minister instructed ministers to tell people there was no inflation.

“How many lies will they sell? The people of Pakistan know there is historic inflation and the one responsible is Imran Khan Niazi.”