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Wednesday May 22, 2024

Cabinet approves further restrictions in Toshakhana laws

Regarding gifts of books, the recipients would not keep them with themselves, rather they would be displayed in their offices or at public libraries

By Ayaz Akbar Yousafzai & Muhammad Anis & News Desk
May 15, 2024
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet in Islamabad on May 14, 2024. — APP
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet in Islamabad on May 14, 2024. — APP

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet, with the prime minister in chair, approved amendments in the laws with more restrictions related to Toshakhana gifts.

Under the amended provisions, the recipients of shields, souvenirs and other such gifts would not hold them but these gifts would be displayed at a prominent place within the premises of the recipients’ institutions or organizations, besides maintaining a record in this regard.

Regarding gifts of books, the recipients would not keep them with themselves, rather they would be displayed in their offices or at public libraries.

Similarly, the honorarium for expert from the private sector evaluating Toshakhana gifts would be enhanced. Those gifts deemed prohibited under the local laws would be wasted in the presence of a committee constituted by the Cabinet Division.

During the PDM government’s tenure, the federal cabinet approved Toshakhana Policy 2023 which imposed restrictions on the president, prime minister, cabinet members and government officials from receiving gifts valued at more than $300. No public holder could keep a gift worth the same value while a gift below $300 value could be obtained after due payment under the relevant mechanism.

The cabinet meeting also ratified the decisions of May 7 taken by the Cabinet Committee for Legislative Cases. However, the cabinet directed for the constitution of a special committee to hold consultations over amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. The committee would comprise representatives from the coalition parties and would be headed by the adviser to Prime Minister on Political Affairs Rana Sanaullah.

The cabinet approved Appellate Tribunals Inland Revenue (Conditions of Service) Rules 2024 under which the appointment of members of Appellate Tribunals would be made. The main purpose of the Appellate Tribunals was to dispose of pending cases related to tax matters. The cabinet accorded its approval to the conditions of Service Rules 2024 on the recommendations of the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Also, Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif announced that all State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), whether those loss-making or in profit except from strategic SOEs, would be privatized.

While chairing a meeting on privatization, the prime minister directed all the ministries to take necessary action and extend cooperation to the Privatization Commission in this connection. “It is the government’s responsibility to provide business and investment-friendly environment and facilitate investors and not to do business,” Shehbaz Sharif said. He said that the privatization of SOEs would not only save money for taxpayers but would also help in improving the service delivery of enterprises. He directed to telecast live the whole bidding process of SOEs, including Pakistan International Airlines, to ensure transparency of the process.

The meeting was also given a briefing on the latest developments in the privatization of SOEs. It was informed that the pre-qualification of parties for the privatization of PIA would be completed by the end of this month while consultation on the privatization of Roosevelt Hotel was in process. It was further informed that the privatization of electric distribution companies had been included in the privatization programme 2024-29 while the First Women Bank Limited was carrying out government-to-government transactions with the UAE. It was briefed that loss-making SOEs, however, would be privatized on a priority basis. To expedite the privatization process, an expert panel was also established in the Privatization Commission.

The prime minister also directed the authorities concerned to ensure the routing of a proportion of the country’s imports, particularly related to the government, through the Gwadar Port. He made this landmark decision to fully operationalise the Gwadar Port.

He was chairing a high-level meeting on the projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Chinese investment. He instructed all the ministries to enhance collaboration for the swift execution of CPEC’s second phase and warned against any laxity by the ministries and government departments.

Instructing provision of foolproof security to Chinese workers, he said the promotion of trade and commerce ties with time-tested friend China was welcoming. He told the meeting that the Pakistan-China partnership was on the highest ever level, so the relevant officers and departments should strive for positive outcomes in this relationship.

In a related development, Shehbaz Sharif said that he would visit Azad Jammu and Kashmir in a few days to personally review the ground situation and promote an environment of resolving issues at the dialogue table. The prime minister expressed his deep grief and sorrow over the loss of lives during the protest incidents in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and told the federal cabinet that it was a matter of immense pain that a few people lost their lives during the protest, besides damage caused to buildings. “It was a very unfortunate incident,” he said, adding that a police officer also lost his life, and some personnel of law enforcement agencies were also hurt. The prime minister and members of the cabinet also offered Fateha for the departed souls.

He said the federal government pledged to provide Rs23 billion to meet the urgent needs of the people of AJK. The prime minister said Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan as declared by the founder of Pakistan and maintaining law and order there is the top priority. He said the federal government, in consultation with all stakeholders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Chaudhry Anwar-ul-Haq, and others, immediately decided to meet all the demands of the people of Azad Kashmir, who were running a protest movement in the area. He said now the protest movement has been called off. Shehbaz appreciated the Azad Kashmir Government for demonstrating restraint, foiling nefarious designs of the elements, who intend to sabotage the situation under the pretext of protests.

Meanwhile, the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) announced to call off the ongoing protests in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) against soaring inflation, high taxes and electricity bills after the government acceding to their demands announced relevant relief.

“The government accepted all the demands of the protesters yesterday,” a JAAC representative said in a statement referring to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s announcement of a Rs23 billion subsidy package. “The shutterdown strike is being called off,” he added while referring to the government’s announcement of a Rs1,100/40kg reduction in wheat prices along with the provision of electricity at production cost.

However, he added that a state-wide shutter down will be observed till 3 pm today to honour the people who were killed in the protests. Highlighting the notification of the constitution of a judicial commission on the issue of perks and privileges enjoyed by the ruling elite, the JAAC representative said that all those arrested during the protests would be freed as well and the cases registered against the demonstrators would be annulled.

Speaking to Geo News, JAAC leader Shaukat Nawaz Mir expressed gratitude to PM Shehbaz for accepting the demands they had been asking for more than a year. “[Our protest] movement had three basic demands [which were] cheap flour, cheap electricity and the abolition of privileges for the elite,” Mir said while lamenting the suspension of internet services which, according to him, prevented the news of successful talks from reaching the protesters.

Addressing a press conference along with Federal Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Balochistan Engineer Amir Muqam at the Parliament House, Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s decision to resolve the ongoing crisis in Azad Jammu and Kashmir had averted a tragedy. He said the inimical forces conspiracy was foiled due to the prime minister’s timely actions. Terming Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf as “Tehreek-e-Intishar”, he said its dreams of creation of chaos and anarchy had also been shattered. “Along with the enemy, the ‘Tehreek-e-Intishar’ also thought that in some way or the other, chaos would spread and there would be anarchy” as its leadership wanted to benefit from the sad situation.”

The minister said the prime minister took all the coalition parties and stakeholders on board and heard their views. Lashing out at the founder of PTI, Tarar said Imran Khan was a convicted prisoner facing trial in several corruption cases. He said that Imran’s letters to the International Monetary Fund or Chief of Army Staff have no significance. In the past, PTI’s conspiracies regarding the IMF loan agreement and GSP plus status failed and in future such plots will also fail.

The minister said the political leadership and federal ministers resolved the issues through mutual understanding. To a question, he said that the AJK had a special status and its affairs were run with the federal government’s grant. He said the Kashmir issue was being raised at all relevant forums and should be resolved according to the UN resolutions. Expressing heartfelt condolences to the families of the martyred policeman in AJK, he said they will be supported and compensated. “There is a world of difference between the incompetent government of the past and the present elected government,” Tarar added.