Rs28bn package for poor to fend off fuel price heat

Following the decision to increase the prices of petroleum products by Rs30 a day ago in a bid to revive the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) programme for Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday said that the government will include a Rs28 billion package in the upcoming budget to provide relief to the masses.

Addressing the nation, the prime minister said that aside from the relief package, the government would immediately provide Rs2,000 for around 85 million people to help them fight the effects of inflation. “This is aside from the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) monetary assistance that they are already getting. This relief package will be included in the next fiscal budget,” the premier said.

The premier added that he has directed the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) to provide 10kg of wheat to people for Rs400. At the beginning of his address, the prime minister said that taking up the challenge of coming into power was not easy as the country’s situation was gloomy, and the nation was plagued with hatred during the previous government’s tenure.

Criticising the PTI-led government and ex-prime minister Imran Khan, PM Shehbaz said that “it was the demand of the people of Pakistan to rid them of the previous incompetent and corrupt government.” PM Shehbaz said a diplomatic cable was used for political means and the nation was fed with lies despite the National Security Committee (NSC) and the ambassador to the United States both rubbishing the “foreign conspiracy” claims touted by ex-premier Imran Khan.

PM Shehbaz said if Khan thinks his “ego” is bigger than the state, then it is his misconception as Pakistan will function in line with the Constitution and not upon following the direction of one person. “This person, when Pakistan was progressing under prime minister Nawaz Sharif, staged dharnas. At that time, Chinese President Xi Jinping had to come to Pakistan, but due to [Khan’s] arrogance, the agreement that was scheduled to take place was delayed.”

The premier stressed that the incumbent government was responsible for the nation’s safety and security and would not compromise in this regard at any cost. Reminding the PTI of its performance during its tenure, PM Shehbaz said it was Khan that struck a deal with the IMF, not the current government.

“We did not agree to the strict conditions laid forth by the IMF; you burdened the masses with heavy inflation, not us; you buried the country under heavy debts, not us; international institutions said that corruption increased during your tenure, not ours; electricity load shedding was brought back during your tenure and you are responsible for the economy’s suffering,” he said.

He said that over the last 3.5 years, Pakistan incurred more than Rs20,000 billion worth of debt, which was more than 80% of the total loans taken during the history of the country. The prime minister said the incumbent government was ready to take tough decisions for moving the country towards progress in a bid to end the politics of “incompetency and corruption”.

He added that when the new government came into power, inflation was skyrocketing, industries were shutting down, and the US dollar – which was at Rs115 – had reached Rs189. The premier added that in contrast, the PML-N government took fewer loans and provided 10,400MW of electricity, constructed roads, introduced a state-of-the-art public transport system, and initiated several development projects.

He said due to the previous government’s policies, power plants that generated 7,500MW of electricity were shut down, and as a result, people were forced to buy expensive power.

Providing details of why the government hiked prices of petroleum products, the prime minister said the rates of petrol and diesel were skyrocketing across the world. “From oil-producing countries to developed countries, everyone was gripped with economic turmoil. But for political gains, the previous government announced a petrol subsidy for which there was no room in the national exchequer,” the premier said.

But keeping aside our political interests, we took the decision to hike petrol prices and save Pakistan from default. “The decision is the first step towards developing Pakistan.”

Blaming the PTI chairman, the PM said that his government created “difficulties on the foreign front” and angered friendly countries. He added that to undo the damage, the coalition government has started restoring bilateral ties. “To create peace in South Asia, it is India’s duty to end the August 5 unilateral step it took in the Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK),” he added. The prime minister said that the coalition government had also initiated the formation of the National Action Plan in collaboration with the provinces.

The premier further said that freedom of expression was snatched away from the masses during the last 3.5 years, adding that political opponents were subjected to harsh punishments. “The former prime minister was considered a dictator for journalism in Pakistan,” said the premier. “But now, the government has put an end to Pakistan Media Development Authority.”