Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif Tuesday said the government was pawning the country’s economy to the IMF for just $1 billion, which could be arranged mutually. Speaking in the National Assembly, he said if the government decided to stand against the IMF conditions in the public interest, then the opposition will support it. “Let’s talk about this issue here in this House. The opposition parties are ready to support the government if it rejects the IMF conditions. Pakistan is currently one of the most expensive countries in the world. Taxes are being reduced in other countries, while the PTI government is imposing additional taxes,” he continued. Shehbaz regretted that even General Sales Tax was being imposed on the children’s milk. He said during the budget 2021-22 debate in the House, the PML-N leadership had suggested developing a consensus on a Charter of Economy (CoE) to improve financial health of the country. “Strict conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can only be avoided through a CoE,” he added. He said the PML-N government in 2018 left behind circular debt of Rs 1,100 billion, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate at 5.8 per cent and inflation at 2.5 percent. “I had said earlier that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Today, the government has proved me right. Rome is burning and Nero is playing the fiddle.” Shehbaz said the opposition cooperated with the government for the country’s removal from the FATF grey list but ‘we were called thieves,’ he said. He said it wasn’t former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif or Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who stood on the container and said if the power tariff is increased, then the prime minister of that time is a thief. “This was said by the current Prime Minister Imran Khan,” he said. Shehbaz said the government had proposed taxes on export of machinery for charitable hospitals along with increasing taxes on exports of equipment used for treatment of TB and cancer patients. He said in the supplementary finance bill, the government had also proposed an increase in taxes on export of raw material required for production of medicines, which will eventually increase the price of medicines. Shehbaz said Pakistan was self-sufficient in agricultural produce a few years back, however, because of the incumbent government, the country now had to import wheat and sugar. “How will we promote agriculture if they are imposing additional taxes on import of agricultural implements and machinery?” he questioned. Recalling the time when the PML-N was in power, he said during their tenure, the price of urea was Rs1,200 and today its price was around Rs3,700. Meanwhile, the price of DAP during PML-N’s tenure was Rs2,400, while currently its price was around Rs9,500, that too in the black market. “Agriculture, industry, businesses and the common man all are in a terrible state,” Shehbaz said. He said the government promised to construct five million houses but they snatched jobs from six million people. “The government did not even lay a single brick for construction of these long-promised houses,” he said, adding that the opposition now “fears taking the name of Riyasat-e-Madinah”. Shehbaz recalled that things were most affordable during our tenure, as inflation was around 2.3 percent during their rule. Shehbaz asked how it was possible for the country to be an atomic power on the one hand and be holding a begging bowl in the other. “The finance minister had said that Imran Khan would stand up to the IMF. He had said that a mini-budget would not be introduced and that there would be a tax-free budget. But seven months later, what has happened?” He said the PTI government only excelled in making U-turns adding that taxes worth Rs350 billion were being imposed on the people who were already facing inflation and unemployment. Shehbaz opposed the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Amendment Bill 2021, which promises complete autonomy for the central bank and is one of the requirements Pakistan has to meet under the programme agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July 2019. If passed, the legislation will pave the way for disbursement of a $1bn tranche. Shehbaz warned that the opposition would protest in the House and “on the roads” if the government tried to bulldoze such a bill. “They are selling out Pakistan’s economy and freedom for $1 billion.” He said a nation habitual of begging could never progress. “Handouts, aid and dole outs will never be able to strengthen a society and make it stand on its own two feet … for that you have to work hard.” He said the PTI used to claim that it couldn’t see any poverty in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, their recent defeat in the local government elections must have opened their eyes, he said. Shehbaz said the people did not have money to pay their children’s school fees, but the ruling party was oblivious to the issues being faced by the middle-class. “The day is not far where a horde of people, frustrated due to poverty, unemployment and inflation, will descend and sweep away the country’s most inefficient and corrupt government.” He accused the government of ignoring the opposition’s input due to “ego”. “They consider themselves Einstein.” Responding to Shehbaz’s criticism, Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said the leader of the opposition began his tirade by saying that the nation was being enslaved to the IMF. “Probably the news hasn’t reached him yet that his government sealed deals with the IMF four times,” he said. The minister said Shehbaz should also recall the situation at the end of the PML-N’s tenure. “I was standing in the same hall. Those were the early days of 2018,” he said, adding that PML-N’s Miftah Ismail was the finance minister at the time. “In this hall, I had said that the economy was drowning, that the Titanic was about to hit an iceberg. And Miftah Ismail had agreed,” Umar said. “These were the streams of milk and honey that they left behind,” he said. Moreover, the minister said, the opposition had advised that work be initiated on a charter of economy and “it be signed by all”. But when PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, the government never signed a charter of economy with the opposition, he said. “Still, we may sit and talk with them,” he continued. “But what will we learn from them? How to launder money through TTs (telegraphic transfers)? How to recover billions of rupees from the accounts of employees whose salaries are Rs15,000 to Rs20,000 per month? Or how Pakistan’s prime minister invites disrepute from across the world after Panama Papers [leaks]?” Umar further said the opposition leader had criticised the government over “choice of words”. “(Shehbaz) said that PM Imran calling political leaders robbers had destroyed politics in Pakistan,” he said, recalling that PML-N leaders, including Nawaz, had used inappropriate words for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the past. He also mentioned a leaked audio clip of PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz and PML-N leader Pervaiz Rasheed wherein inappropriate language was used for journalists. Umar added that Shehbaz had claimed that his party was ready to support the government on bills pertaining to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). “Just to remind him and the nation, the FATF had placed Pakistan in the grey list during the PML-N’s tenure,” he said. “And, I challenge them on this floor … they had opposed the bills.” He concluded his speech by comparing economic data from the PML-N’s tenure with that of the PTI government, saying that the country’s economic growth year this year would surpass the estimated target.