The circumstances behind Asad Umar’s removal from the position of Finance Minister have been one of the mysteries of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s cabinet reshuffles. The former Finance Minister was removed a few weeks before the budget presentation and in the middle of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since then, Asad Umar has remained silent about both the topics- until Thursday, in a thirty-minute speech in the floor of the parliament.

To say that Mr Umar’s Speech was informative would be an understatement. Umar’s speech indicates that his relationship with the government has not wavered. Yet that did not deter Asad Umar from making some astute observations about PTI’s recent economic reforms, showing that he is not afraid to make constructive criticism of his own party, and even take some swipes which hint at a deeper inner party rivalry.

While congratulating the government for the formidable task of presenting a budget in a crises economy, Umar lamented that not enough measures were being taken to alleviate the hardships on the lower classes, and recommended some interesting policy proposals. For example, Umar took issue with the increased tax on sugar and cooking oil in the federal budget, as well as the federal excise duty rise on small cars, calling it an unnecessary burden on the lower classes. Having been part of the negotiations with the IMF, Umar has insight on the extent of inflation demanded by the IMF- and it seems that the sugar tax could have been pardoned. 

Umar reiterated his disdain of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, indicating that he is not going to opt for an ideological shift any time soon. Yet his review of the budget shows he will not back down from airing constructive criticism, and his comments on sugar hint of the oft-repeated rumour of there being a “Jahangir Tareen bloc” in PTI.