A minister in Pakistan’s newly elected government faced criticism on Wednesday after urging the country to drink less tea in order to save money on imports during the country’s deepening economic crisis.
Pakistan is one of the world’s top tea importers, and tea is a popular drink among both the rich and the poor in this 220 million-person country. Every year, the government spends approximately $600 million from the central bank’s hard currency reserves on tea imports.
A Pakistani is thought to drink at least three cups of tea per day on average, as the country’s caffeinated beverage of choice.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who took over in April after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament, has pledged to improve the country’s ailing economy and meet IMF conditions in order to resurrect a $6 billion bailout package.
Nonetheless, many people were taken aback by Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s call to drink less tea.
“I appeal to the people to reduce their tea consumption by one or two cups per day because we also borrow money for the imported tea,” Iqbal said at a press conference on Tuesday.
On social media, some have openly advised Iqbal to resign.
“Yesterday, Ahsan Iqbal advised us to drink less tea, and tomorrow, they may advise us to eat less.” Is it a viable option?” Dil Sher, who owns a roadside tea stall on Islamabad’s outskirts, inquired.
So far, the government has raised fuel, natural gas, and electricity prices by up to 45 percent, sending food prices skyrocketing. Sharif’s Cabinet presented its first budget to Parliament for approval last week, raising taxes on the wealthy and promising to eliminate energy and fuel subsidies, as demanded by the IMF.
To the surprise of many Pakistanis, Sharif’s government announced at midnight the third 24 rupee increase in petrol prices in three weeks, bringing it to around 234 rupees per liter. When Khan was deposed in April, petrol cost about 150 rupees per liter in Pakistan.
Khan claims Sharif came to power through a U.S. plot, which Washington denies. Sharif and the country’s military have also denied Khan’s claim, claiming that there is no evidence of a US conspiracy in Khan’s ouster.
Power outages that lasted for hours across Pakistan have also made Sharif’s coalition government unpopular.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which is now in opposition, also took to Twitter to claim Sharif’s government has harmed the economy in less than two months. Sharif, on the other hand, claims he is paying the price for his predecessor’s government’s mismanagement.
During his three and a half years in power, Khan’s government faced criticism, including when a lawmaker from his party, Riaz Fatyana, urged people to use less sugar and eat only one flatbread with every meal instead of two, citing a sugar and wheat shortage at the time. Most people in Pakistan eat roti, a flatbread similar to naan in India.
The rupee, Pakistan’s currency, fell to a record low against the US dollar on Wednesday. The rupee fell to 206 against the US dollar, according to the central bank.
Also on Wednesday, Esther Perez Ruiz, the IMF’s resident representative in Pakistan, denied reports in local media that the world lender had asked Pakistan to renegotiate CPEC-related energy deals before making large payments to Beijing. “These assertions are simply false. “Rather, the IMF supports the government’s multifaceted strategy to restore energy sector viability, which distributes the burden of restoring viability among all stakeholders — the government, producers, and consumers,” Ruiz said in a statement.
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