By our correspondent
ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail and former finance minister Shaukat Tarin traded barbs over the poor economic condition of the country on Saturday, holding each other responsible for the disaster.
Addressing a press conference on the state-run TV, Miftah took a jibe at PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s narrative of struggle for real independence of the country, saying, “The real independence means economic self-reliance, without which the goals of freedom and self-reliance cannot be achieved”.
He said the PTI government took 79 per cent of external debt, out of the total loans secured in the country’s history. During the PTI’s tenure, Pakistan’s import bill jumped up to $80 billion, while the trade deficit reached $48 billion, which was a record in the country’s history. Miftah wondered how the PTI could talk about real independence without achieving economic self-sufficiency. He said former finance minister Shaukat Tarin’s claims made at a press conference on Saturday were against the facts.
The finance minister said that the ousted PTI government was taking the country towards default. However, the PMLN-led coalition government saved Pakistan from bankruptcy by making tough decisions. The minister said, “We have saved Pakistan from a Sri Lanka-like situation, where petrol and gas are available only in black market.” He said that the PTI signed agreements with the IMF to make increase rates of electricity and oil. After its removal, the coalition government had to honour those agreements, which caused a hike in tariffs of power and petrol. He claimed that the PTI government piled up loans by Rs19,000 billion during its tenure.
The minister criticised the PTI activities at the moment, saying that the country was at a critical juncture due to huge floods. However, the PTI was preoccupied with politics, in violation of the national interests. Miftah said Imran Khan did not fulfil any of his promises, including construction of five million houses.
The finance minister insisted that the government was distributing Rs25,000 each among all the four million flood-affected families, which would cost the exchequer Rs70 billion in total. He said that cotton, sugarcane and date crops had been destroyed completely in the Sindh province.
Miftah said that the government would import tomatoes and onions from Turkiye and Afghanistan, adding that inflation would be brought under control in the next couple of months. He said the PTI was spending $25,000 per month for lobbying, which was against the national interest in the current situation.
On the other hand, former finance minister Shaukat Tarin warned on Saturday that gas prices would witness an extraordinary hike of 53 per cent in coming months, while more taxes would also be imposed by the government. He claimed had there been the PTI government in power, the IMF programme would have been shunned in September.
Addressing a press conference in Karachi, Tarin said the hike in gas prices and taxes would be made under the IMF deal, signed by the incumbent coalition government. “They have signed a tough deal with the IMF,” he said, adding that even that had not helped the rupee gain strength, which made only a minor recovery against the US dollar for only two days.
He said the incumbent government had secured $9.4 billion loans only in their four-month tenure. “We have never bowed down before the IMF, rather fought with them to seek relief for our people,” boasted the former finance minister.
Shaukat Tarin asked the coalition government to refrain from increasing electricity and gas prices, as the nation had been devastated by flash floods. “Increase tariffs of utilities in phases, instead of doing it in a go,” he suggested. He offered a helping hand to the government and said that the entire nation needed to unite to help out the flood victims. “We are willing to work with them to deal with the flood situation,” Tarin said.
Tarin said the IMF had placed tougher structural benchmarks for Pakistan under the implementation plan for qualifying the next loan tranches, amounting to $3 billion.
According to a report, released on completion of the seventh and eighth reviews of the extended fund facility (EFF), the global lender slapped eight tougher targets on Pakistan, in addition to giving fresh deadlines to meet the actions.
For revival of the IMF programme, the Fund asked Pakistan to ensure filing of tax and asset details of bureaucrats, cabinet members and parliamentarians electronically, and make them available to the public.
The Fund asked the government to end subsidies granted during the Imran Khan-led government. The IMF asked the country to increase levy on petroleum products from Rs30 to Rs50. The electricity tariff would reach up to Rs26 per unit, as the IMF had asked for slashing subsidised rates for electricity consumers, he warned.
Separately, Shaukat Tarin claimed on Saturday that the PTI government’s economic performance was well-documented, and the incumbent government’s disastrous handling of the economy had resulted in the highest-ever inflation in the country.
In a series of tweets, Senator Tarin said, “Miftah Sahib, I was kind to you in my presser, but you stooped to a new low by getting personal and calling names. Shame on you. Our economic performance is well-documented, according to your economic survey. And your disastrous handling of the economy with the highest-ever inflation, discount rate, lowest rupee value, Rs9.7 trillion debt in four months, crippling power and gas tariffs, food prices before floods, should be a case in study in ineptitude”.
Tarin asked Finance Minister Miftah Ismail to pack up and go home, as he could see frustration on his face. The PTI ex-minister continued that “fiscal deficit was Rs2.5 trillion in the PTI’s nine months, and it reached Rs2.6 trillion in three months of the current government. “People of Pakistan will not get impressed with your bluster. I could see frustration on your face. Pack up and go home,” he told Miftah.
Expressing disappointment at being called a traitor, Tarin said it was high time all political parties, including the PTI, move past it. “Don’t waste your time on distributing certificates of traitors, as it will harm democracy. We want to work on this together,” Tarin added.
Tarin claimed that those who leaked the tapes mere hours before the IMF board meeting were the people who wanted to jeopardise the deal. “Who leaked the tapes? We did not. We did not make the tapes, so how would we leak them,” he argued.
“So were we jeopardising the programme or it were you, by leaking the audios? You could have done it on Tuesday or later on. Why did you do it just before the meeting,” he asked.
Tarin claimed that the real problem would have afflicted the country had the IMF heard the tapes.
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