Former president Asif Ali Zardari, in his first appearance on the floor of the assembly after being arrested by the accountability watchdog, gave an ominous warning of civil strife if the country’s economic situation continues to deteriorate.
Zardari was arrested by NAB earlier in June hours after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) recalled the pre-arrest bail granted to him and his sister Faryal Talpur in the fake accounts case.
“We hope that a time does not come when the entire country stands up [against the current system], similar to what we have seen in other countries,” said the PPP co-chairperson in an ominous reference to Arab Spring.
“If such a time comes, then neither the politicians or the country’s institutions will be able to control the situation. The ball will not be in our court then.”
Zardari, referring to the country’s current economic situation and the tax-heavy budget, further said that the powers that be and those who brought the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) to power should also pay heed to the domestic climate.
Continuing his criticism of PTI’s first federal budget, Zardari said that all sectors of the economy are asking for relief. “Why is it then, if the budget is as good as the government claims it is, that the people and the industrial sector are crying for relief and help.”
“Salaries of government employees have increased, but at the same time taxes have been imposed on them. The disposable income of people has decreased.”
The PPP co-chair also referred to the current wave of accountability in the country and claimed that the common man is afraid of being caught in the net.
“When we came into power after a decade of military rule, we did not victimise politicians who had served under a dictator. We let them be as we wanted to concentrate on getting the country back on track.”
‘Parliamentarians have a responsibility towards the Constitution’
Rebutting the claim by the PPP co-chairperson that “arrests are a step backward for the country if they are done for political victimisation”, ousted finance minister Asad Umar said the country’s parliamentarians had a responsibility towards the Constitution to establish a system of reward and punishment.
“People should be held accountable if they do any wrong,” said Umar addressing the session.
Elaborating on the salient features of the federal budget, Umar reiterated that PTI inherited massive foreign debt and further explained that introducing the finance bill was one of the solutions to issues created by the former PML-N government.
“State Bank reserves were at a decline when PTI took over and therefore, we introduced the bill to reduce current account deficit,” said the former finance minister.
“The government is also devising policies to increase exports, which are necessary to minimise foreign debt. Despite challenges, the government presented a great budget,” Umar claimed.
Umar suggested that the government should boost the agriculture sector and also addressed the common concern of increased taxes. “Taxes on products such as cooking oil should not have been imposed,” he said.
Responding to the opposition’s criticism, Umar maintained that the ruling party has a responsibility to cater to 200 million people and not just “multi-billionaires”.
“Interest rates must be lowered to invite people to invest in the economy,” he added.
Zardari arrived at Parliament House earlier after his production orders were issued by the National Assembly speaker a day earlier.
Speaker Asad Qaiser has also issued production orders for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Saad Rafique.
NAB had no ulterior motive in Zardari arrest: IHC
Both the leaders were arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in separate corruption cases.
Prior to the issuance of the orders, the opposition flagged the matter in the lower house of Parliament, paralysing an already contentious budget session.
On Tuesday, the speaker had called leaders from both the treasury and the opposition to his chamber, in an effort to restore sanity to house business.