Pakistan

ISLAMABAD – The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has said that it could move the Supreme Court to challenge the government’s act to amend the definition of public debt “which would understate the debt by over Rs3 trillion”.

Talking to media on Tuesday, PTI leader Asad Umar warned that the party could approach the apex court against the amendment to the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation (FRDL) Act of 2005 through the Finance Act 2017.

The PTI would join the 37 Senators belonging to the opposition parties, who have already challenged the delegation of federal cabinet’s powers to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar if it moved the court.

The federal government by violating the judgement of top court that makes prior cabinet approval compulsory for legislation had changed the definition that understated the public debt by Rs2 trillion. With an earlier amendment, the public debt is now understated by over Rs3 trillion, Express Tribune reported.

It was the second amendment to the FRDL Act taken up by the government in June 2017 after it tabled the Finance Bill in the National Assembly.

Legal experts had also raised an objection to the amendment through the Finance Act, stating that as the FRDL Act had been sailed through both the houses of Parliament in 2005, it can only be changed by them. But the Senate does not have power to participate in voting for the Finance Bill.

The proposal for amending the FRDL was presented by PML-N Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq through the Senate’s Standing Committee on Finance when deliberations were made on current year’s budget.

The law ministry also cleared that financial laws cannot be changed without getting prior approval from the cabinet, adding that amendment cannot be tabled as a private member’s legislation.

It was the second move to change the definition of public debt during the last year following the failure of the finance ministry to limit the debt and is now using ‘window-dressing tactics’ instead.

The federal government also brought several changes to the FRDL in June June 2016, and changing the definition of total public debt is one of them.

The original definition as per FRDL ACT 2005 is as “total public debt means a sum of total outstanding borrowings.” Now, it has changed to “total public debt means the debt of the government serviced out of the Consolidated Fund and debts owed to the International Monetary Fund.”

The single change helped the government to show a decrease of Rs2 trillion in total debt as of March this year.

The issue of public debt came under spotlight after the PTI alleged the government that its total debt during the five-year tenure would swell to Rs10.8 trillion.

However, the finance ministry rejected the accusation and said the government borrowed about Rs6.1 trillion, adding that the total figure for five years would be stood at Rs7.5 trillion until 2018.

The difference of Rs3.3 trillion occurred after changing the definition of the debt.

Umar said the PTI worked out Rs10.8 trillion debt figures by using original debt definition to show consistency in all political eras.

“The external debt and liabilities of government, PSEs, banks and private-sector companies have the same impact on the foreign exchange reserves of Pakistan,” said Umar. He highlighted that payments of these external debts exert pressure on the foreign reserves.

“The government is hell-bent upon pushing the economy over the cliff into a debt spiral and leave us at the mercy of global lenders,” Express Tribune quoted Umar.