Pak hikes next fiscal year's federal budget; hints at general elections this year
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif

Islamabad: Pakistan was “drowning” in debt and it was the new government’s job to “sail this ship ashore,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday after chairing the first Cabinet meeting since assuming office.

Sharif’s 34-member Cabinet – a mix of experience and fresh blood – was sworn in on Tuesday after several days of delay, with Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani administering the oath to new ministers after President Arif Alvi excused himself from the ceremony.

“I consider it a war cabinet because you are fighting against poverty, unemployment (and) inflation. This is a war against all problems,” Sharif said in his address to the Cabinet, which was aired by the state media.

He said that the previous government badly failed to address the issues and stressed on providing ease to the nation, especially the poor families, through a “thorough and continuous” process of consultation.

He thanked the allies for joining the cabinet and appreciated the abilities of cabinet colleagues to address the problems.

“Today is an important day because we have successfully taken office by constitutionally and legally ousting the corrupt PTI government,” he said, thanking his coalition members.

“This coalition is the most extensive one in the history of Pakistan.

“This alliance will serve the people despite different political visions of the parties.”

He said that the cabinet was a “combination of experience and youth”.

Talking about the issues, he said that power shortages and huge debt were among the major issues faced by the country. “The country is drowning in debt but we have to take its boat to the shore,” he said.

“We have to struggle with challenges like poverty, unemployment and inflation as the previous government failed miserably in its fight against hardships,” he said.

“Dozens of warehouses and factories are closed due to lack of electricity and gas. We need to immediately find solutions,” he urged, adding that growth, not politics, was the priority for his Cabinet right now.

In the World Economic Outlook released in Washington, the IMF projected Pakistan’s current account deficit to hit USD 18.5 billion this fiscal year. Previously it had projected a deficit of USD 12.9 billion for FY2022.

It estimates that Pakistan requires gross external financing of over USD 35 billion in the current fiscal year on a current account deficit of 5.3 per cent of GDP in FY2022. The IMF also raised its inflation forecasts for Pakistan to 12.7 per cent on an average for the current fiscal from the previous projection of 9.4 per cent.

Sharif warned that the opponents were doing a negative campaign against the government, which should be responded with facts. We need to respond to the toxic propaganda based on facts, not on the basis of lies.

He also said that corruption was on its peak in the government of Imran Khan which the cabinet should eradicate.

He also called for unity among the federating units and especially talked about the impoverished province of Balochistan. We need to focus on all four provinces, especially Balochistan. We need to also tackle problems in other provinces, he said.

Sharif exhorted his colleagues that they should take examples of Germany and Japan as they turned their anger into opportunities and rose to become first rank nations.

He also said that bureaucracy had stopped working in the previous government when the officers were being coerced to become witnesses and approvers against opposition during the previous government.

Meanwhile, Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the cabinet is being briefed on the economic disaster and unprecedented irresponsible fiscal acts of the last four years under former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

She said inflation, poverty, unemployment, debt and deficits rose whilst GDP growth decreased during the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government. She said Khan’s term in office was marred by corruption.

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