ISLAMABAD - The government in the Senate on Tuesday staunchly defended its decision to appoint Dr Reza Baqir as Governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package.

The ruling PTI also categorically refuted the claim of opposition by saying that “landmark” 18th Amendment was not being rolled back. But giving credence to the opposition’s suspicions, it indicated that the provinces’ share in the upcoming National Finance Commission (NFC) Award might be reduced — a move that has caused quite a stir within ranks of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) besides other opposition parties.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi winding up the debate on an adjournment motion regarding delay in the announcement of new NFC Award rejected the assertions of opposition benches that the IMF has taken over the country’s economy as newly appointed Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh and Governor SBP Baqir Reza are representatives of the international financial institution. “It is wrong to say that Pakistan has been pledged with IMF,” he said.

Defends new SBP governor’s appointment in Senate: Hints at cut in provinces’ NFC award share

The government on May 4 had appointed Dr Reza Baqir, an IMF staffer, of the chief of SBP following unceremonious removal of his predecessor. “Dr Baqir is a Pakistani citizen and if he has quit his job (of IMF) to serve his country at a low pay as compared to his last one, then opposition has no power to issue a patriotism certificate,” Qureshi said and advised opposition benches not to worry on the situation.

Responding to PPP criticism, the foreign minister, who is also the vice-chairman of his party, questioned that if Sheikh was the representative of IMF, then whether PPP had appointed him as the finance minister during its tenure on the dictation of the fund.

“The new NFC Award will be announced as it was an obligation of the constitution,” Qureshi stressed but added that they would not spoil the money as “was done in the past during PPP regime while announcing the award. In the last PPP government, the provinces were given surplus revenues and the revenue base of federal government was shrunk, he said amid uproar of opposition who objected that foreign minister was delivering a political speech rather responding to their queries.

He said that the last PML-N government was responsible for the delay in the announcement of award that had expired during its tenure in 2015. Sindh, where PPP is in power, is also responsible for the delay in the constitution of commission because it used dillydally method to nominate its member despite PTI government’s repeated reminders, he said.

Clarifying other assertions of opposition, the foreign minister told the house that there was no threat to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with the economic policies of the present government. Neither there is any threat to the nuclear program of Pakistan nor we are moving towards ‘One Unit’, he said. “Neither any presidential form of government is being introduced in the country, nor the 18h Amendment is being rolled back,” he added.

Qureshi also said that governments used to approach IMF when there was macroeconomic instability in the country and reminded that all previous governments of PPP and PML-N had been getting IMF bailout package in the past.

He said that criticism in this regard on PTI was uncalled for and held responsible the last governments of these two parties for the economic woes of the country.

While quoting some economic figures, he said that PTI government inherited bad economy from the PML-N government. “IMF doesn’t invite you rather your economic conditions force you to approach it.”

Earlier, PPP Senator Sussi Palejo, the mover of the motion, taking part in the debate said that the government’s economic team had failed to deliver and after a recent reshuffle in the cabinet, efforts are under way to deprive the provinces of their due share from upcoming NFC Award on the dictation of IMF. The other opposition lawmakers criticized the government decision to appoint Dr Reza, an employee of IMF, as new SBP chief.

PPP stalwart Senator Mian Raza Rabbani taking part in the debate said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had more than once said that the 18th Amendment weakened the federation and national kitty has shrunk due to it. “The IMF lobby has surrounded the PM and it was against the 18th Amendment and the devolution from the beginning,” he said. The provinces don’t give money to federal government rather it gets money with the collection of taxes, he reminded.

Rabbani told the house that if tax collection system of federal government was weak, then provinces were not responsible for it. He said that the government in the upcoming NFC Award wanted to decrease share of the provinces from the Divisible Pool which would be violation of the constitution. He said that efforts were being made to stall the process of announcement of new award.

The PPP lawmaker opined that IMF thinks that provincial share in the award causes fiscal problems. He said that efforts were under way to ask the provinces to give their share from NFC to the federation regarding expenditures being incurred on internal security, counter terrorism and security of CPEC. “IMF has taken control of Pakistan’s economy,” he deplored.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) lawmaker Maulala Abdul Ghafoor Haideri on a point of order said that the government was threatening and victimizing his party and the party chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman for his criticism on it. He informed the house that the government had withdrawn official security from JUI-F chief. 

Haideri said that Rehman survived in more than one suicide attacks in the past more and was facing serious security threats besides other party leadership. He urged the government to provide security to his party leader. He also warned the government that JUI-F would “register a case against Prime Minister Imran khan, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah and chief minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa if any untoward incident happened with Rehman.” A number of opposition lawmakers endorsed Haideri and urged the government to reverse its decision.