Govt unable to provide relief to middle class: Fawad admits

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News Desk

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry regretted on Friday that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is unable to provide relief to its “middle class” voters who buoyed the party into power, saying the government has its hands tied due to economic problems inherited from former governments.

Chaudhry, who was addressing an event in Islamabad, said: “When we came into power, we found out that Pakistan’s total income was Rs5,647 billion,” he said. “Out of this Rs2,000bn we are paying as interest on loans — loans taken in the past 10 years. The foundations of our economy have been shaken in these 10 years by the PML-N and PPP.

“We want to rectify the foundations of our economy. How is that done: when your income is greater than expenses. Our total income is approximately Rs5.5 trillion, of which Rs2 trillion goes to debt servicing, Rs1.7 trillion towards our defence budget, and then for the every 10 rupees, six go to the provinces. So, when the federal government starts budgeting [for the year], it is already Rs632bn in the red.

“This is the economy we have inherited. Our biggest regret is that we cannot provide immediate relief to the middle class that voted for us. Taxes are levied on the salaried class, and gas and electricity rates have increased for them. We have protected the poor, but the middle class is [still] in pain. And they [middle class voters] are in this state because we do not have money for them.”

Earlier in his speech, the information minister described Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ascension to the top office as “a miracle” and defended the PTI’s 126-day sit-in in 2014.

“The emergence of a third party against a two-party system is a big challenge. Only Imran Khan has managed to attain this miracle, that not only did a third party appear, it became the biggest party in the country.

“Only a political infant would say that [our 126-day] sit-in had a negative influence on Pakistan’s politics. Someone who knows even a little bit about [political] movements’ history will know that that sit-in gave Pakistan’s middle class and youth an alternative message. That sit-in laid the foundation of Naya Pakistan.”

The information minister also continued his criticism of opposition parties, saying: “The ML-1 double track [highway] that was to be built from Peshawar to Karachi was estimated to cost $6bn but they [the PML-N] [instead] spent $3bn on a 27km train [the Orange Line] in Lahore.

“Then there is the [fake accounts] case against Asif Zardari. Of the Rs2,000 bn spent on development in Sindh, Rs,700bn ended up in fake accounts [allegedly controlled by] Zardari and Omni groups.

Similarly, Punjab was supposed to induct 61,000 teachers, but the budget [for that] was instead directed to the Orange Line train. [Likewise] the Saaf Pani project’s budget was also diverted to the Orange Line train.”

“They get upset when I say this, but the way they spend money is exactly how thieves splash their cash following a successful heist,” the minister added.

Chaudhry also discussed the ongoing crisis in the media industry, questioning where the money made in the past three years had been spent.

“Our journalists are being laid off despite our media earning between Rs38 to Rs 40bn in three years,” he said. “And when we ask them ‘where have you spent this money’ no one knows where it went. All the workers, be it public or private, haven’t been paid their medical allowances. Their problems haven’t been resolved. This is because all the money has been usurped by the upper class.”

The minister cited a chicken thief and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif’s examples to point out how the system treats the rich and the poor differently.

“We have initiated an accountability process but the chasm between the rich and the poor still remains,” he said. “Just look at Shahbaz Sharif’s protocol of six cars. I recently came across a news that a chicken thief who stole 15 hens is in jail but a thief who stole Rs1,500bn is the PAC chairman.

“The chicken thief, because he is poor, can’t get bail but the father daughter duo who sent Rs300bn out of Pakistan, they got their bails in four months. This is our justice system. It’s the failure of our system.”

However, Chaudhry assured his audience that the federal government, under the prime minister’s leadership, would eventually bridge this gap.

“Forming the government is one phase while changing the system is another,” he said. “Systems don’t change the next day a new governments take charge. For this a consistent effort is needed. In Imran Khan we have such a towering figure [who would resolve this] and change the system.”