Opposition parties reject budget plan as anti-people, IMF-dictated

Shehbaz Sharif, second from left, the PML-N president and brother of Nawaz Sharif, speaks during a news conference as Fazal ur Rehm Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam party leader looks on after an All Parties Conference in Islamabad on July 27, 2018. (Reuters/File)
Updated 12 June 2019

Opposition parties reject budget plan as anti-people, IMF-dictated

  • Pakistan Peoples Party’s chair says will work with other opposition parties to ensure budget isn’t approved by parliament
  • Opposition politicians hold up placards saying “IMF budget not accepted” as revenue minister delivers budget speech

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s opposition parties on Tuesday termed the federal budget for fiscal year to June 2020 “anti-people” and dictated by the terms of an International Monetary Fund loan, adding that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had no roadmap or policy to provide relief to common Pakistanis facing the brunt of a ballooning economic crisis.
Pakistan has announced a Rs8.2 trillion budget with the next year, with a tax revenue target of Rs5.5 trillion, a 25 percent increase from the Rs4.4 trillion target set in last year’s budget.
As Revenue Minister Hammad Azhar unveiled the budget, members of the opposition parties chanted slogans against the government and held up placards that read: “IMF budget not accepted.”
Opposition politicians rejected the government’s claim that the budgetary proposals were focused on economic stability and sustainable growth and said the government’s vision would increase inflation and unemployment.
“This budget will bring a tsunami of new taxes and storm of inflation. We along with other opposition parties will try our best that this anti-people budget is not passed by the National Assembly,” Pakistan Peoples Party’s chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said while talking to reporters after the budget session.
Pervaiz Malik, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said the government had abolished a zero-rated tax regime on the export-oriented industry which would result in the reduction of the exports.
“The government has withdrawn the zero-rated tax facility on the pressure of the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and this will not only reduce the exports but also increase unemployment in the industrial sector,” he told Arab News, referring to a $6 billion bailout package that Pakistan is hoping the Fund will give final approval to.
Malik said the government had increased taxes on items of daily use including sugar, beverages and milk, and revised down the income tax limit for government employees from annual Rs1.2 million to Rs0.6 million.
“The PTI government has failed to keep its election promises of providing relief to the common man, and it stands fully exposed with this budget,” he said.
Moulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, a lawmaker from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal religious alliance, said the government had increased taxes on everything, but failed to increase budgetary allocations for education and health.
“There is nothing in this budget," he told Arab News. "In short, this is the IMF’s budget and we totally reject it.”


Critics cry foul as Pakistan looks to curb coronavirus 'fake news' on social media

Updated 09 July 2020

Critics cry foul as Pakistan looks to curb coronavirus 'fake news' on social media

  • Government sets up committee to prepare new “legal framework” to tackle coronavirus-related misinformation
  • Rights activists fear the new laws will be used to choke freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister said on Thursday the government planned to introduce new laws to curb coronavirus misinformation on social media platforms in a move that has stoked fears authorities will use the additional powers to choke freedom of speech and chill dissent.
On Wednesday, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), a top federal body set up to oversee the government’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, set up a committee under the chairmanship of the interior minister to prepare a legal framework to help the government deal with coronavirus-related “fake news” on social media platforms.
Islamabad has previously struggled to regulate online content mostly by blocking or asking social media companies to remove blasphemous material and other posts that violate the country’s religious and cultural norms and laws or hurt national security interests.
In February, the government approved, and then rolled back, new rules to regulate cyberspace after opponents said they could be used to stifle dissent. Social media companies have also largely shunned obliging to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful.
“Is the government a fool?” the interior minister said to Arab News on Thursday when asked if the NCOC had set up the new committee on the pretext of curtailing free speech or criticism of the government’s coronavirus mitigation policies. “If somebody asks me to suppress social media, I’ll straightaway say that I can’t do it.”
However, he said, the government was resolved to find ways to prevent the flow of false information regarding the pandemic.
These efforts, rights activists say, would allow the government to use the pandemic as an “excuse” to suppress freedom of speech.
“Social media companies have themselves been taking down disinformation and propaganda regarding COVID-19 since such posts go against their community standards,” Usama Khilji, director of Pakistani digital rights group Bolo Bhi, told Arab News, urging the government to improve coordination with social media giants like Twitter and Facebook in order to have inaccurate information removed instead of enacting new “draconian rules.”
Last month, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued an advisory to local media houses instructing them not to air coronavirus-related content that was “not based on ground realities” and was likely to create “unnecessary panic.” 
The advisory was seen as a warning to critics of the government’s efforts to fight growing rates of infection.
“If the government wants to counter online disinformation, it can do it by releasing authentic information instead of coercing journalists and media houses,” Iqbal Khattak, who represents Reporters Without Borders in Pakistan, told Arab News. “It must immediately drop its plan to enact new social media rules since we already know its objective is to undermine freedom of expression.”