Budget to lay down parameters for austerity: PM’s aide

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VIASyed Irfan Raza
SOURCEDawn News
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ISLAMABAD: The government plans to present an austerity-oriented budget providing a ‘slight’ relief to middle and low grade government employees, including military personnel, with no increase in the salaries of army officials of higher ranks.

This was said by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan at a joint news conference with SAPM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar here on Sunday.

In an apparent reference to the opposition’s plan to launch anti-government protests and disrupt the budget proceedings in parliament, Dr Awan warned that “the agitators will be dealt with an iron hand if they violate the law”.

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She claimed that the opposition would not get any support from the masses and their proposed agitation campaign would turn out to be a mere “tall claim”.

Talking about the coming federal budget for fiscal year 2019-20, which is being announced on Tuesday (tomorrow), Dr Awan said the military authorities had decided that senior army officials from the rank of colonel to the chief of army staff (COAS) would not get any raise in their salaries and the defence budget would not be enhanced this year.

Also Read: Businesspeople meet PM ahead of FY20 budget

“COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has conveyed to us that senior army officials from the rank of colonel and above, including himself, will not get any raise in their salaries keeping in view the prevailing economic crisis,” she said.

Imran to address nation today; Firdous warns opposition against taking law into its own hands during protests

However, the SAPM said, the government officials from grade 1 to 16 and army officials below the ranks of colonel would get increase in their salaries, adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan was holding meetings on the budget to consider further relief to the low-salaried employees.

“It will be an austerity-oriented budget which will reflect manifesto of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) as expenditures of all federal ministries/divisions and institutions will be slashed,” she added.

Dr Awan rejected media reports that all economic indicators were showing negative trend and that the government had missed all economic targets.

“The prime minister has set his government’s priorities in the budget aimed at economic stability and relief to the poor and low-salaried class while well-off people will have to share the burden of severe economic crunch with the government,” she said.

Dr Awan said Prime Minister Khan had directed the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to spend the amount of the defence budget ceded by the military authorities on the people of tribal districts.

She said uplift of downtrodden segments of society was a top priority of the PTI government in its first federal budget. She said it would be the incumbent government’s first budget that had been prepared by engaging an economic team and keeping in view national requirements, adding that the country needed a sustainable economy that would take care of everybody.

The SAPM on Accountability, Shahzad Akbar, said the current tax amnesty scheme would be the last one and no extension would be made after expiry of its June 30 deadline.

“No public office holder will get benefit from the scheme,” he added.

Talking about performance of Assets Recovery Unit functioning under him, the SAPM on accountability said the unit had so far traced 150,000 offshore bank accounts of Pakistani nationals and over 12,000 properties owned by Pakistanis abroad through information received from 26 countries.

“We have so far traced foreign assets of Pakistanis worth $12 billion,” Mr Akbar added.

He said Pakistan and the United Kingdom had recently signed an agreement under which the two sides would exchange banking information of each other’s nationals.

He said an extradition treaty would also be signed by the two countries with the condition that Pakistan would not award capital punishment to those who would be extradited from the UK.

Mr Akbar said a separate memorandum of understanding had been signed with the UK authorities specifically for extradition of former finance minister Ishaq Dar.

Answering queries regarding alleged offshore assets of federal ministers Faisal Vawda and Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, Mr Akbar said cases of both the ministers were at compliant verification stage in the National Accountability Bureau.

“As far as I know, Faisal Vawda had already declared his offshore assets”, the SAPM on accountability added.

Asked about leaking of information shared by a foreign country regarding alleged foreign assets of Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who is currently facing a reference in Supreme Judicial Council, Mr Akbar said the action against the judge had been taken on a compliant and not on any information received from a foreign country.

Later, the PM Office issued a handout saying that the prime minister had chaired a meeting to review the budgetary proposals.

The meeting was attended by Adviser on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser on Commerce Razzak Dawood, Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar, State Bank of Pakistan Governor Dr Reza Baqir, Chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue Shabbar Zaidi and senior officials of the finance ministry.

Opposition criticised

Responding to the opposition’s plan to hold a multi-party conference (MPC), Dr Awan said the opposition leaders could not launch any campaign against the government as people of the country would not take to streets on their call.

“The people know how opposition leaders have looted the country during the last 10 years and that is why except a few paid employees of the PML-N, no one went to the airport to receive Shahbaz Sharif,” she added.

“If the opposition will misguide the people of Pakistan and make them fool to meet their designs, the state is also aware of its responsibilities,” she said, adding that the opposition leaders wanted to hide their corruption behind the proposed MPC.

Replying to a question regarding the arrest of two members of National Assembly from tribal areas, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, Dr Awan said they both were involved in anti-state activities. Under the National Action Plan signed by all political parties in 2015, she said, they (all parties) had made commitment that anyone involved in anti-state activities would not be spared.

“I also appeal to the opposition to show unity with the government on national security issues,” she added.

Dr Awan said she had served a defamation notice on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Rana Sanaullah and a private TV channel seeking an apology from both and damages of Rs2 billion within 14 days for, what she said, passing derogatory remarks against her in a talk show.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2019

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