by Jamil Bhatti
Budget is currently the top buzzword in Pakistan amid hot debates around the clock as the first-time government led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has presented its first national budget to the parliament last week.
The stringent measures cautiously introduced by the PTI government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan are poised to provide a solid base to streamline the country's economy in the coming years, local analysts told Xinhua recently, but the proposals are also facing criticism from the opposition parties that have been downed by the government in several anti-grift cases.
The some seven trillion rupees (44.78 billion U.S. dollars) budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2019-20 starting on July 1 aimed to decrease current account deficit, withdraw bigoted concessions and exemptions, revise tax rates, increase cost of non-compliance, bring tariff reforms and simplify business processes so as to enhance the country's tax-to-GDP ratio, attracts more foreign investment and enlarge the revenue for the pocket tight government.
The government also looked confident to meet its expenditures and balance of payments in the upcoming years as it is likely to get six billion U.S. dollars loan from the International Monetary Fund, 918 million U.S. dollars from the World Bank and fuel of worth three billion U.S. dollars on deferred payments from Saudi Arabia.
The budget came after the newly released Pakistan's Economic Survey 2018-19, highlighting the skyrocketed inflation rate and a dropping gross domestic product (GDP) growth from 5.4 percent to 3.3 percent in the outgoing fiscal year.
On the budget, Imran Khan addressed the nation last week and said that the government has been making untiring efforts during the last nine months and finally formed a strategy to bring the country's economy on the right track.
Although several sectors raised concerns over the stringent measures, senior economists defended the efforts, calling them an urgent need for the economy.
Pakistan's former Finance Secretary and renowned economist Waqar Masood told Xinhua that the government has addressed some of the bigger challenges by introducing laudable actions, including allocation of more funds for development projects especially under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, no additions to the circular debt, no increase in the defense budget and a cut in government expenditures.
Masood noted that the new efforts showed the government's maturity and will deal with the emerging challenges, saying, "the budget is a good statement of the economic policy to steer the economy away from the stormy situation."
The government has presented the budget before the National Assembly, or the parliament's lower house, for debate and vote. However, opposition parties, including Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), termed the budget as harsh and vowed to sink it in the lower house.
The leadership of the two parties, including opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif who belongs to the PML-N, announced to form an alliance against the budget.
Despite of all posturing of the budget as tough by the opposition, senior political analysts took the whole situation in a different perspective. They believed that the PPP and the PML-N, the former ruling and rival parties, have opted to join hands against the government because it has started several cases against their top leaders under the prime minister's anti-corruption drive.
The country's anti-graft body -- the National Accountability Bureau has arrested four political leaders, including former President Asif Zardari from PPP and opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif's son Hamza Shahbaz Sharif in corruption and money laundering cases.
The opposition has reacted strongly but it could not stop Imran Khan from further accelerating the no corruption campaign.
Imran Khan has announced a high-level commission to investigate corruption by previous governments, a move that has further intensified the anti-corruption movement.
Aslam Khan, a columnist of Urdu Daily Nawa-i-Waqt, told Xinhua that the anti-graft campaign would continue, as it is Imran Khan's main slogan that has helped him win the elections and is now winning public favors for him.
"All the surveys show that he (Imran) is still the most popular and trusted leader as a majority of the Pakistani population believes that corruption is the mother of all problems and he is the right person to purge the system," said the columnist.
According to a survey report released by Gallup & Gilani Pakistan on Tuesday, 75 percent of the Pakistani population think corruption is extremely problematic for Pakistan.
The strict prime minister also took down two provincial ministers from the ruling party in Punjab province over corruption charges, a move which has further elevated public trust in the anti-corruption drive.
Referring to the ongoing efforts by the opposition to form a big alliance against the budget, analysts here feared that the anti-graft campaign would unite all the opposition parties and the government might face a tough challenge in the parliament.
However, the prime minister rejected all such claims and assured the public and the business community of having a simple majority of the total votes in the lower house, which is required to pass the budget.