ISLAMABAD    -   The opposition yesterday showed willingness to work with the government to get the country out of the economic quagmire and reiterated its offer of signing a Charter of Economy, which received a positive response from the speaker of the lower house of parliament.

Initiating budget debate, Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday that a Charter of Economy (CoE) was possible with the government in supreme national interest.

He said on the very first day of the present Parliament he had offered that like Charter of Democracy, which was signed in this house, the PML-N was prepared for a CoE with PTI, but his sincere offer was ignored.

On this, Speaker Asad Qaiser promptly asked whether the CoE could still be discussed.

In reply, Shehbaz said, "it's never too late, it is for Pakistan." Any charter could be signed for Pakistan, but it needed sincerity and seriousness on part of the government, he added.

The opposition leader said members from both sides of the aisle in the Parliament should play their positive role to make the national economy stronger, saying a collective strategy was required.

The speaker assured the opposition leader of playing his role in this regard and said he would take up this matter with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Shehbaz Sharif also showed his willingness to cooperate with the government for creation of South Punjab and Hazara provinces.

Earlier, in his speech, the opposition leader rejected the federal budget and proposed PTI government to prepare a new finance bill in light of the people's aspirations.

The government side, however, was optimistic about bringing positive change in the country through the Budget 2019-20, presented on Tuesday (11th June).

“Even if this government arrested all the opposition members, we will keep opposing the budget,” Shehbaz said. "Government should immediately take back this budget and make a new draft according to the aspirations of the masses," demanded the opposition leader.

He proposed 50 percent increase in salaries of government employees from Grade (1-16) and fix minimum wage for labourers at Rs20,000.

“Rates of gas and electricity bills for domestic consumers should be brought down to the previous levels (before May 2018). More funds should be allocated for the departments of education and health,” Shehbaz said.

About foreign loans, he said this government in only 10 months had taken a hefty amount of loans. On this pace, this government in only one year would cross the total amount of loans taken by the previous government during its full five years term,” said opposition leader. He blamed government for taking credit of the projects of his  government’s era.

Shehbaz Sharif sought a response from Prime Minister Imran Khan and asked him to share the facts behind his allegation that the opposition leaders were seeking some NRO.

“Who is demanding NRO... Share with the parliament... At least whisper the name of opposition member in the ear of speaker national assembly,” he commented.

He also asked the government to form a parliamentary commission on audio and video tape of NAB chairman.

Terming federal budget 2019-20 as IMF budget, he said government should immediately take positive steps for the betterment of the country. He said the government had missed important points including measures to raise GDP and boost trade and exports.

About government’s claims, he said that PTI’s government had failed to build houses for the poor of the country. “Even a single house has not been built and even the budget carried no provision for provision of housing to the poor,” he said.

About BRT project, the opposition leader strongly criticised PTI’s government for mishandling the mega project causing loss to national assembly. He termed BRT as ‘Biggest Robbery in Transport System’.

Speaking about per capita income in Pakistan, he said it was a matter of shame that even the currency of Bangladesh and Afghanistan had surpassed Pakistan’s currency in value.

He said the PML-N government had controlled power outages issue and brought back peace after the strong wave of terrorism. He also claimed of achieving 5.8 percent growth rate and bringing inflation down to a record 3 percent during their government. About trade with India, the opposition leader said they used to enjoyed healthy competition with India but under the present government the country has lagged far behind in different sectors. “We want peace with dignity and honour with India,” he said.

Minister's response

Responding to Shehbaz Sharif's speech, Minister for Power Omer Ayub strongly criticised the opposition for wrongly taking credit for different mega projects. “Thanks God, the previous government has not taken credit of Pakistan Ideology,” he said mockingly.

The minister showed government's resolve to achieve the revenue targets and alleged that Pakistan had been entangled in quagmire of foreign debt due to the wrong policies of previous governments [of PPP and PML-N].

“This government has to pay Rs3,000 billion in the head of interest only on loans taken by the previous governments,” he said, mentioning that the country had faced economic and other issues due to dearth of leadership.

Omer Ayub said the incumbent government would make all out efforts to ensure economic prosperity in the country through sincerity and hard work. “The past governments had implemented cosmetic measures to stabilise the economy,” he said.

The civilian government and the armed forces, he said, have cut their expenditures in the budget to deal with the economic challenges. “Federal cabinet has also agreed to cut its monthly income,” he said.

The minister took credit for improvement in the electricity transmission system. “Because of these measures, we ensured smooth supply of power during Sehr and Iftar timings in Ramazan,” he said. The government would bring the circular debt to zero by the end of next year, he vowed.

Omer shared with the house that the previous government had installed coal power plants at wrong sites [in Faisalabad and Sahiwal], which consequently is affecting the agriculture sector. He said that Rs 184 billion have been earmarked in the budget for the development of tribal districts.