Pakistan government reprimanded for ‘drink less tea, save money’ plea – Reuters

Several Pakistanis openly criticized Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s comments on social media



By AP

Published: Thu 16 Jun 2022, 09:14

A newly elected Pakistani government minister came under fire on Wednesday following his call for the nation to drink less tea to help save on imports amid a deepening economic crisis.

Pakistan is one of the world’s leading importers of tea, a hugely popular beverage among rich and poor in the country of 220 million people. The government spends about $600 million annually from the central bank’s hard currency reserves on tea imports.

A Pakistani is believed to drink at least three cups of tea a day on average, the country’s caffeinated beverage of choice.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who took office in April after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament, has pledged to improve the struggling economy and meet conditions set by the International Monetary Fund in an effort to revive a $6 billion bailout. .

However, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s call to drink less tea surprised many.

“I call on people to reduce their tea consumption by one or two cups a day because we also borrow money for tea, which is imported,” Iqbal said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Some have openly advised Iqbal on social media to quit.

“Yesterday Ahsan Iqbal asked us to consume less tea and tomorrow they may tell us to eat less. Is this a solution? asked Dil Sher, owner of a roadside tea stall on the outskirts of Islamabad.

The government has so far raised the price of fuel, natural gas and electricity by up to 45%, sending food prices skyrocketing. Last week, Sharif’s cabinet presented its first budget to parliament for approval, levying more taxes on the wealthy and pledging to scrap energy and fuel subsidies as demanded by the IMF.

Much to the shock of many Pakistanis, the Sharif government announced at midnight the third hike of 24 rupees in the price of petrol in the past three weeks, bringing it to around 234 rupees per litre. Petrol was available at around 150 rupees a liter in Pakistan when Khan was ousted in April.

Khan says Sharif came to power as part of a US plot, a charge Washington denies. Sharif and the country’s military also denied Khan’s claim, saying no evidence of a US conspiracy in Khan’s ouster was available.

Hour-long power cuts across Pakistan also made Sharif’s coalition government unpopular.

Now in opposition, Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party of Khan also took to Twitter, saying Sharif’s government had hurt the economy, just two months after taking office. Sharif, however, says he is paying the price for the mismanagement of his predecessor’s government.

During his 3½ years in power, Khan’s government also faced criticism, including when a lawmaker from his party, Riaz Fatyana, called on people to use less sugar and eat only only one flatbread at each meal instead of more due to a shortage of sugar. and wheat at the time. In Pakistan, most people eat roti, a flatbread similar to Indian naan.

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Pakistan’s currency, the rupee, fell to a historic low against the US dollar on Wednesday. According to the central bank, the rupiah slipped to 206 against the US dollar.

Also on Wednesday, Esther Perez Ruiz, the IMF’s resident representative for Pakistan, denied local media reports that the global lender had asked Pakistan to renegotiate CPEC-related energy deals before making heavy payments to Beijing. “These claims are simply false. On the contrary, the IMF supports the government’s multi-pronged strategy to restore the viability of the energy sector, which shares the burden of restoring viability among all stakeholders – government, producers and consumers,” Ruiz said in a statement.

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