In wide-ranging press conference, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari accuses center of deliberately reducing COVID-19 tests
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Monday alleged that the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government was the “most corrupt” in the country’s history, and urged the media to expose its malfeasance.
“This report is about Imran Khan’s ATM [the Abraaj group],” he told a press conference in Karachi while presenting a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report that he claimed had proven links between the PTI and the Abraaj Group. “It’s being deliberately ignored by everyone. It exposes how the KE [K-Electric] and the Abraaj Group [are] gouging Karachiites. Abraaj is Imran Khan’s front and ATM. Everyone knows this fact. This is a mega corruption scandal. But I challenge media to hold any show on this issue,” he added.
The wide-ranging press conference, which appeared to be a response to recent allegations from PTI lawmakers of alleged corruption within the PPP, took special aim at the prime minister and his supporters. Terming the incumbent government the “most corrupt” in the country’s history, Bhutto-Zardari claimed Transparency International had verified this. He also hit out the National Accountability Bureau, questioning why it failed to act against sitting ministers while repeatedly harassing the opposition.
“Do you know that Punjab [government] is being run on magic and corruption? Who’s making every key appointment? Who’s awarding major contracts? And who’s making money? But you will never ask. From billion tree scandal to Akbar S. Babar’s foreign funding case and from flour, sugar and petrol crisis to corruption in BRT Peshawar project … NAB is silent and so [is] the media. Because we [PPP] are the most corrupt people and they [PTI] are saints,” he said.
The PPP chairman questioned ongoing cases against Punjab minister Aleem Khan, Imran Khan’s sister Aleema Khan, and also alleged that maritime affairs minister Ali Zaidi was profiting off the BRT project through a front-man.
“This is the double standard of accountability,” he said, demanding that the BRT scandal be properly investigated and alleged corruption within it exposed.
“You can’t spell corruption without the words PTI,” said the PPP chairman, adding, “Their own auditor general’s report mentions there that there have been irregularities worth Rs. 270 billion.”
“Imran Khan is the first and the last prime minister who has failed to unite the nation on the Kashmir cause,” claimed Bhutto-Zardari, adding that it was astonishing that the prime minister was claiming his government’s foreign policy had been its greatest success.
“I was the first politician from either opposition or treasury benches to oppose [India P.M. Narendra] Modi,” he said. “He [Imran Khan] is the prime minister who ran Modi’s election campaign claiming that if Modi wins, the Kashmir issue would be resolved,” he said, adding this appeasement policy cannot continue.
Responding to the federal government’s criticism of Sindh’s coronavirus response, the PPP chairman said the province currently had the highest testing capacity per capita, free treatment for all patients, and free tests for anyone who desired them—unlike the other provinces.
“Our Intensive Care Units and High Dependency Units are more than any province. The [center] celebrated 100 days of battling coronavirus at the National Command and Control Center, while Sindh inaugurated a 50-bedded hospital,” he said, as he alleged that the PTI-led government was deliberating decreasing testing numbers.
“They are pushing Pakistanis towards danger,” he warned. “Sindh is committed and we will increase our testing even if others decrease it. By lowering the testing capacity they are putting our frontline workers in danger as the nurses and paramedics won’t know who is infected and who isn’t,” he said, adding that the graph might go down with the drop in testing, but that didn’t mean the virus wasn’t continue to spread.
“This incompetent government is compromising on a fundamental concept that the whole world has been telling us—testing,” he said. “We have to tackle a global pandemic, a dangerous attack of locusts after 70 years, global economic recession—which has been further worsened due to selected—and with all this, we have to face political engineering. We are ready to fight these battles on every forum,” he said.
Bhutto-Zardari claimed Sindh had increased its tax revenues every year—including during the pandemic—while the center was complaining that it’s tax collection had fallen because of COVID-19. He urged the government to give relief to frontline workers, laborers, farmers, and patients of coronavirus.
“Due to the federal government’s incompetency, we [Sindh] are facing a shortfall of Rs. 229 billion during a global pandemic, Punjab is receiving Rs. 470-80 billion less, and other provinces are facing the same treatment at a time when the center should have supported us,” he said. “For the first time since the creation of Pakistan, the country has seen negative growth,” he added.
He said the Sindh government’s budget was designed to help the people, adding subsidies of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides would be given to farmers with land smaller than 25 acres. In areas where water is scarce, the agricultural department is providing subsidy in drip irrigation and tube wells, he added.
For urban centers, said the PPP chairman, loans have been arranged for businesses. The provincial government is also devising a package for families whose bread earners have succumbed to coronavirus.
Bhutto-Zardari warned that the PPP, along with other opposition parties, would launch street protests against the PTI despite the threat of coronavirus if its “incompetence” continued. “Imran Khan has put the health of the people in danger. For how long we will tolerate this inefficient prime minister?” he asked. “We can never be part of any unconstitutional campaign. Coronavirus or not, we will take to the streets.”