Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday warned of tough time ahead, saying the entire nation has to bear the brunt of inflation because of corruption and wrong policies of successive governments in the past.
“Bringing back the billions of rupees of public money that have been stolen over the last few decades and laundered out of the country is the only way to stabilise the national economy and to stop relying on foreign loans,” said Imran while addressing his maiden news conference after assuming office of the prime minister.
The prime minister took great pain to highlight the economic crisis the country is in and blamed the previous government for the situation. “Pakistan is suffering huge internal and external debt … caused by corruption of the former rulers,” he said.
“The country is under a heavy debt of nearly Rs3,000 billion, including Rs2,800 billion foreign debt, Rs1,200 circular debt, Rs117 billion natural gas debt, Rs187 billion Pakistan Steel Mills losses, Rs37 billion Pakistan Railways deficit and Rs360 billion losses incurred by Pakistan International Airlines,” he added.
The prime minister said no corrupt element would go scot free. “Had the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under my control, fifty more corrupt personalities would have been landed in the jail,” he added.
The prime minister strongly rejected the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership’s allegations of victimisation and said corruption cases against former Punjab chief minister and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif had been under investigation for the last eight months. “He should have been arrested months ago.”
The prime minister maintained that NAB was an independent entity and added that it had summoned PTI leaders as well, maintaining that they (the PTI leadership) appeared before it without raising hue and cry.
Imran said that after watching Shehbaz’s failed attempt to become ‘Nelson Mandela’ on television he decided to hold this news conference. “Shehbaz Sharif is arrested by the anti-graft bureau in a corruption case that is being investigated for the past one year.”
“The PML-N leadership is trying to give an impression that I have instituted the cases against Shehbaz Sharif.”
He ruled out any possibility of striking a deal similar to the NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance] with the corrupt, and vowed to not let those involved in corruption off the hook.
“Those clamoring over Shehbaz’s arrest are doing so to avoid their arrests,” he said, adding, “No matter how much they raise a hue and cry, no NRO will be offered to them.”
Imran promised a new law that will reward whistleblowers who help nab corrupt officials and politicians.
“The law will invite countrymen to identify the corrupt and (whistleblowers will) get 20% of the ill-gotten money and assets recovered from such people,” the prime minister said.
The other 80% would be used to pay off the country‘s debts, he added.
The prime minister did not give any further details, but said a draft of the law will be presented in parliament in the coming days, and will include protections for whistleblowers.
Regarding the protest by the PML-N over the arrest of his leader, the prime minister said, “If the PML-N leadership wants to stage a sit-in, I offer them container; if they want to register their protest in parliament they are most welcome.”
Imran said both the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were trying to blackmail the government by saying that democracy was in danger “but they will badly fail in their schemes”.
“The PTI government will never allow any corrupt to live free,” he maintained.
He described coalition between the PML-N and the PPP for the upcoming by-elections as ‘corruption collation’. “Both the parties pose as if they are against each other, but in reality they are one.”
“All corrupt have been teamed up against the PTI government,” he added.
The government, he said, has set up an Assets Protection Unit in the Prime Minister Secretariat for negotiating and signing agreements with foreign countries like the United Kingdom (UK), United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Switzerland where Pakistanis have parked their looted wealth. “This unit is aimed at bring back the looted money from foreign countries.”
He indicated that the government has identified around 10,000 properties in the UK and UAE that belonged to Pakistanis. “Pakistani nationals, including some bigwigs, have acquired over Rs900 billion worth properties in the UAE alone in recent years and most of these properties have been acquired through ill-gotten resources and money laundering.”
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has already obtained documents of some 895 expensive properties and initiated legal action against them, he maintained.
He also disclosed that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has identified some 70 bank accounts through which billions of rupees of transactions have been made.
“It puzzles me that how billions of rupees have been recovered from a street vendor’s account.”
“I have promised with the nation that the PTI government will not let the corruption happen in the country. I will keep my promise and all corrupts will be behind the bars,” he stressed.
The prime minister said he was not satisfied with the speed the NAB chairman has been proceeding against the corrupt. “The government is ready to provide all requisite resources to the bureau for quick investigation and disposal of corruption cases.”
Responding to a question, the prime minister revealed that only 70,000 people have declared in their tax returns that they are earning over Rs200,000 out of 200 million population.
“If the rich won’t pay taxes, the general people have to pay its price. However, the PTI government has already initiated a process to increase the national tax base and recover the looted wealth,” he said.
“The opposition has already started questioning the the performance of the PTI government even though we have not completed our 100 days in office,” he said.
He asked the PTI opponents to wait for the completion of 100 days. “Then we will let them know what we have done and what we are going to do in the country.”
Sardar Usman Buzdar
The prime minister started his news conference from Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar’s introduction. He said he wanted to introduce Buzdar to the media and the people of Punjab.
“Buzdar symbolises change in the country as it never happened in the country’s history that a person from the most underprivileged area of the province has become chief minister of the province.”
“Buzdar will remain the Punjab chief minister till my party is in power because he is honest and know what the issues of common man are.”
The prime minister said that the country might need to return to the International Monetary Fund to address its mounting balance of payments crisis but would seek funding from friendly countries first.
“We may go to IMF for loan to handle the country’s financial issues,” he told the reporters.
“But, first we will try to get assistance from other countries as we have requested three countries to deposit money in the State Bank that would help boost national reserves.”
He did not name the countries or provide any details of the requests.
By Imran Adnan
THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE