Finance Minister Miftah Ismail slammed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Finance Minister Taimur Jhagra on Monday, accusing him of lying to the public by claiming a letter in which Peshawar had said it cannot commit to a surplus due to this year’s floods was only sent to the federal government and not the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Last week, the provincial finance minister sent a letter addressed to Ismail, claiming that the devastation caused by the floods had changed the financial position of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and it could no longer provide a surplus as pledged to the IMF. The letter’s release came just a day after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Chaudhry Fawad Hussain had told a local journalist the party would try to pressure the incumbent government for early elections by damaging its efforts to secure the revival of an IMF loan that is widely seen as essential to achieve macroeconomic stability.
As public criticism mounted over the alleged attempt to derail the IMF program through the letter, Jhagra had claimed it was not sent to the IMF. In a posting on Twitter, he accused the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) of leaking the letter and scuttling its own deal with the global lender.
On Monday morning, audio tapes leaked to the press allegedly featuring PTI Senator Shaukat Tarin directing both Jhagra and Punjab Finance Minister Mohsin Leghari to pen letters withdrawing their commitment to the IMF. While Leghari—who has not penned any letter—questions if this could damage the state of Pakistan, Jhagra says he had never intended to retain any surplus as earlier agreed.
One of the prior conditions of reviving the IMF program was for all provinces to maintain a surplus, which had been committed earlier this year. Referring to the letter written by Jhagra as well as the audio leaks, Ismail alleged to journalists the KP minister had sent it to the IMF even before sending it to him. “I checked with them [IMF] within an hour [of receiving the letter] and they already had it,” he claimed. “Are we children? Am I mad? If you’re clever, can we not recognize it? And then you are defending it,” he said, saying ousted prime minister Imran Khan should beg the nation for forgiveness over such plans.
“Taimur Jhagra should resign and Shaukat Tarin should quit politics. Is this why you do politics?” he said, describing the PTI’s letter as “most shameful” and reflective of the “reality” of the party’s leadership. Urging PTI supporters to question Khan over whether Jhagra’s letter had been in the state’s interest, he said it was time to accept that the PTI leader was not bigger than Pakistan.
“Bring him [Khan] to power but not at the cost of Pakistan,” he said. “When they are writing letters against Pakistan’s interest, it is your [supporter] responsibility to say no. Consider Pakistan’s interest to be sacred. If Pakistan’s interest is not sacred to a person, he is not fit to govern the country,” he said, noting that Leghari had rightly questioned whether the state would be damaged with such a letter. “Nobody else asked this. Jhagra said I know IMF’s number 2 and I will give him the information. Did you become politicians for this?” he questioned, adding PTI’s Fawad had already unveiled this plan a day earlier. “Should Imran Khan [be allowed to] change Pakistan’s name to Bani Gala? Should we hang Pakistan on Imran Khan’s directives? Has Imran Khan become bigger than Pakistan? Are they not ashamed?” he said, referring to Khan’s estate in Islamabad.
Regretting that the PTI had sought to damage the country’s economy when it most needed funds to overcome the devastation caused by floods, Ismail reiterated that several politicians had advised against forming government after ousting Khan due to the mess his setup had left behind. Slamming the PTI for leaving the country at the brink of bankruptcy; reneging on an agreement with the IMF; and leaving a deficit of over Rs. 350 billion despite claiming it would be less than Rs. 25 billion, he said the PMLN had risked its “political capital” to take tough decisions and save the country from default.
“When I raise the price of petrol, Shaukat Tarin and Asad Umar criticize and people of my party join in as well. What choice did I have? Would we bankrupt the country to save our ministries? We would not have done that even in the opposition,” he said, noting the PTI had been invited by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to work on a charter of economy, but it had refused. “I do not want to use the word treason [but] is this what you are doing?” he said.
Referring to Jhagra’s letter, which had claimed the federal government did not give money to the province for temporarily dislocated persons, Ismail said the request for funds had come without any explanation for why the money was needed. “Does the federal government give money on verbal requests or on notes and summaries?” he asked.
On the letter’s claims that the floods had changed the financial situation, Ismail said this was absolutely true and the government was aware of it. “You are telling us there are floods. Do we not know we will need more money? Will it not be mentioned in IMF’s conditions? But at least let [the EFF] be approved first,” he said, adding such discussions would occur in the weeks to come. “It’s been proven you wrote this two days prior to sabotage the IMF deal,” he added, stressing the federal government was always willing to discuss the concerns of any provincial government.
Summarizing the funding allocated for flood relief so far, he said the prime minister had announced Rs. 15 billion for Sindh; Rs. 7.5 billion for Balochistan; and had a pending demand of more than Rs. 100 billion. In this crisis, he said, PTI’s actions were especially condemnable.
To a question, the finance minister said the federal government would take concrete steps to uplift the living standards of the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa merged districts, adding all monies intended for them would be released. To another question, he said the government would consider importing vegetables and other edible items from India to help overcome the impact of the crops that had been destroyed in Pakistan due to floods.