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Agenda of change comes to fore

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his inaugural address to the nation since being elected the country's new premier, on Sunday announced his agenda of change, pledging that his government would cut spending, launch sweeping reforms and take austerity measures that affect the welfare of the nation.

The speech was broadcast at 9:30pm by the state-run TV following recitation from the Holy Quran and playing of the national anthem. The prime minister launched a wide-ranging austerity campaign and reiterated to root out corruption and bring back the money transferred abroad.

“I will lead a simple life and have to keep security because of threats. I will save your money and spend it on the underprivileged. I will do no business while in power. Those people against you are my enemies. Those stealing the country's money are destroying you. You have to help to protect this money. It is your responsibility to stop these people and help me. You need to keep a check on us on how we spend your tax money. I want to assure everyone that Allah has given our country everything and we have to protect it,” Imran said.

He said it is his vision that there will be a day when no one will take Zakat in Pakistan. “This can be accomplished if we move towards nation building. We will be the country which will help others. That is the Pakistan I want to see,” he said.

The premier said he wants to make Pakistan a welfare state. “It is our responsibility to improve the situation of our street children, widows and handicapped. We need to take responsibility for them. I have spoken to all of Pakistan's neighbours and improve relations with them. There is a need for peace and without it, we cannot improve the country's situation,” the premier said.

Imran Khan thanked those who stood by him in his political struggle. "I want to thank all my supporters who have been with me on this journey for the last 22 years," he said, adding: "I salute all those who stood by me in my most difficult times; those who bore ridicule to support me ... I could not have been here without you."

Clarifying that he had stepped into politics not to pursue it as a career or profession, Imran Khan said his only motivation was to help set Pakistan on the path envisioned by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

The prime minister also described Pakistan's economic challenges at length and later spoke about how he would go about fixing them. Foremost on his mind were Pakistan's debt liabilities.

"Never in Pakistan’s history have we faced such difficult economic circumstances," he said.

Imran said Pakistan’s debt burden is now at Rs28 trillion. “We haven’t been as indebted in our entire history as we have become in the last 10 years," he regretted, saying that the interest that we have to pay on our debt obligations too has reached levels where we have to take on more debt just to settle it.

Imran mentioned that Pakistan’s human development index (HDI) ranking is also disappointing. Quoting from a United Nations report, the PM outlined deficiencies in Pakistan's human development, noting that: "We are unfortunately among the five countries where infant mortality is highest because they do not have access to clean water."

He said the pressure being faced by rupee is due to foreign debts. Imran said that in Pakistan, the ruling elite are living a luxurious life.

Imran said he PM House is spread over an area of 1,100 kanals. “Prime Minister of Pakistan has more than 500 employees. The prime minister uses 80 vehicles. We have rest houses, chief minister houses, secretaries and DCs and commissioners. They live in big houses. A prime minister spends 650 million on foreign visits. Why do they such have expensive visits? Why do they achieve? Do they go there to conquer countries?"

The premier said we have to change our mindset and lifestyle if we have to save our nation. Exhorting the rich and the privileged to reassess their priorities, he urged: "We need to be compassionate towards our compatriots: towards those who cannot afford to eat twice a day. We need to ask what will happen to the 25 million children out of school. We need to ask what happens to our population. We need to ask how we are to grapple with climate change.”

He said this was the time that we decide to change our destiny. Imran spoke about Pakistan suffering from the highest incidences of stunting in children.

"I have been saying this for ages and nobody took me seriously. We are talking about 45 percent of this nation’s children. They are not getting proper nutrition. They are not developing properly. They are automatically left behind. What must their parents go through seeing their children in such a state?" he asked, adding: "We also have the highest rates of mortality for pregnant women."

The prime minster then explained he will use the examples of governance set forth by the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) "to bring the nation out of its plight."

"What did the Holy Prophet (PBUH) do to unite all the tribes living in the Arabian Peninsula?" he asked. "What did he do to mould them (the Arabs) into one of the most powerful nations on earth? I want to speak on those principles.”

The prime minster then proceeded to give a five-point agenda: "The first thing is the supremacy of law. The second thing is Zakat. What does Zakat mean? It means that I spend based on what I have on those who do not have enough. This is called progressive taxation. The rich pay more to subsidise the poor. This happens in Scandinavian countries, where there is good healthcare, good education and justice for all. The disabled, the orphans and widows have support. The third is compassion. In the West, they care for animals in ways that would put us to shame. The fourth is merit. Without merit you cannot do anything. The responsibilities of the ruler entail that they are sadiq and ameen. They have to be truthful. They can have no conflict of interest. The West has these laws. In our country, you see people amassing untold riches during their tenure in power. The fifth is education. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) stressed education above everything else. After the Battle of Badr, he made it incumbent on his people to attain an education. Look at us today: we are nowhere because we have not followed his instructions."

However, he told the nation not to feel overwhelmed. “We are in this together and we will find a way out together," he said. He then proceeded to explain what he himself was doing towards that goal.

PM Khan detailed how he plans on cutting down his own as well the country's expenditure. "I will keep only two people with me out of the (prime minister's staff of) 524. I will be staying in a three-bedroom house that served as the military secretary's house. I will have to keep two of the cars because my intelligence agencies tell me my life is under threat. I also wish I did not have to move out of Banigala, but I have been forced to do so because it is not safe to stay there,” he said.

"We will be auctioning off all the other bulletproof cars. I invite businesses to come and buy them. We will put the proceeds of that auction in the state treasury. I also wish that all the governor houses are kept as simply as possible. I further wish that the PM House will be turned into a university. It is in a great location to be one,” Imran said, adding: "I am forming a committee under Dr Ishrat Husain to figure out how to cut expenses nationwide." He said no governor will stay in the governor house.

He also urged his supporters to adopt austerity measures. "I want you to understand that the money we lavish on ourselves could be spent on those who our state has left behind. Naya Pakistan also requires a new thinking. We have to think about those who we have left behind," he said.

On reforming the financial sector, Imran Khan explained that instead of trying to rebuild the economy via external loans, his government will try and fulfill its needs from within. He said no country can succeed by taking on debt again and again. He said: "Debts are taken for brief periods of time. We cannot go on the way we have. And you need to realise that when these people give us money, they attach conditions to it. I will be ashamed to go abroad and ask for money. If the leader of the nation has to go and ask for debt, how will my nation feel?”

Imran Khan said he is going to fix the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) on a priority basis as it has lost its credibility that is why people don’t pay taxes.

“I will promise my people that I will protect your tax money and spend it on you. We will keep our end of the bargain, but I want you to pay your taxes too. That is your responsibility. Pay your taxes so that we can lift our destitute out of poverty,” he said, adding that the government is creating a task force to repatriate the wealth looted from the country.

“We need to put an end to money laundering. It is our biggest problem right now,” he said. The premier also emphasised the need for boosting the country’s exports. “We will need to help export industries. We have made a business advisory council to help address their challenges. Then we need to boost investment. We need to bring in money from abroad. There is going to be an office in the prime minister’s secretariat dedicated to this purpose,” he said.

"We need to help our small and medium businesses. They are the backbone of our economy. We need to reduce the cost and difficulties of doing business for them," Imran said.

The prime minister invited overseas Pakistanis to come back and invest in the country, saying: "We need to facilitate overseas Pakistanis. Our embassies need to facilitate them in every way we can.

"We are short of foreign exchange, and I hope you (overseas Pakistanis) will park your money in Pakistani bank accounts. Send your money through official accounts. We need your help and I hope you will help us," he said.

The prime minister said that rooting out corruption will also be a high priority for his government.

"I will meet the NAB chairman and facilitate him with whatever he needs," he said. "We will also enact a law for whistleblowers like we did in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Whoever helps identify corruption will get a share of the money that we recover. The SECP will be fixed on a priority basis. The FIA will also be fixed. I have kept the FIA and the interior ministry under me because I want to personally oversee our efforts to eradicate corruption,” he said.

"I want you all to understand that the moment we start going after corrupt people, they will start raising a hue and cry. They are everywhere. They will come out on the streets. They will say that democracy is in danger. I want you all to continue standing with me. We will save this country or these corrupt people will save themselves," he said.

Imran said he will seek Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar's help to revamp the judicial system.

"The next focus will be on revamping our judiciary. We have a massive backlog of cases. We will sit with the chief justice and discuss how we can ensure that cases can be wrapped up within a year. We have to do this for our people,” he said, adding: "I want to make a special request to the chief justice. There are quite a few widows who have approached me for help. They are embroiled in property disputes. I want to request the chief justice: please, at least for widows, resolve such cases at the earliest.”

The prime minister said he has asked former KP IG Nasir Khan Durrani to implement the KP Police model in Punjab.

"We also need to fix our police. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police is our biggest success. We won the election because of how good our police had become. The former IG who oversaw those successes, Nasir Khan Durrani, has been asked to help fix the Punjab Police and he has agreed,” Imran said. He said South Punjab province will be created which is a longstanding demand of people.

The premier said the federal government does not have the power to do so in Sindh, but it will work with the Sindh government as well to do what it can. The prime minister said his focus will be to improve public sector education as well as madrassas.

"We also need to fix our education system. We need to focus on government schools, which are in a shambles. I know that salaried individuals are making huge sacrifices to make sure their children get a decent education. They sometimes work two jobs to give their children the best they can. We need to make sure our government schools are good enough that everyone can send their children to them. This is an emergency," he said, adding: "We also cannot leave madrassa students behind. They too should become engineers and doctors and generals. Why do we not give them the opportunity? We need to do it."

Imran also stressed the need to fix the healthcare system. He said the KP health system did not start showing results till the fifth year. But, he said, it needs to be done. "We also need to introduce the health card all over Pakistan. We have given every household in KP Rs550,000 in case of a healthcare emergency. We should give it all over Pakistan," he said.

About water crisis, Imran Khan said Pakistan requires dams to be built to resolve it. "There was a crisis brewing but we weren't prepared. We have an emergency. Karachi doesn't have water due to the tanker mafia. Quetta and Islamabad too. A ministry will work towards saving water. New methods will be taught to farmers. Canals will be lined to save water, while the Bhasha Dam will be constructed at all costs. It’s a commendable initiative started by the chief justice," he said.

The PM said that he will enforce meritocracy to improve civil service. "In the 1960s we were considered one of the best in the world. It is unfortunate how we have fallen behind. Dr Ishrat Hussain is forming a committee to bring merit back. We will not tolerate any political interference in anyone’s appointment. I just want people ready to work for the nation,” he said.

Imran said an ordinary man, when he steps into any govt office, also has to be given respect. He said bonuses will be given to those who serve people in a timely manner. Otherwise, he said, penalties will also be imposed.

Imran stressed on the need to transfer the power to the local government. He said power must be given to the bottom-most tier. Nazims will be directly elected in districts, while checks and balances will be kept.

"Development funds are given to MNAs and MPAs but the development takes place in local bodies," he said. The prime minister said jobs must be given to the country's youth. He said a big project of housing will be started. He said it will be a one-window operation to create jobs and to boost industries. He said the youth will be given loans without interest so they can become entrepreneurs.

"Cricket grounds have been taken over and houses schemes made over them. We need to build playgrounds and parks for them," the premier said. Imran said he will replicate KP's billion tree scheme in the entire country. “Karachi has a heatwave as it has nothing but concrete. A large-scale initiative will be initiated to make Pakistan green again," he said, adding that the menace of pollution has to be addressed immediately as it leads to the spread of innumerable diseases.

Imran said the government will open new resorts every year to promote tourism. “We will develop beaches where our people could go," he said. The prime minister vowed that his government will have compassion for and take care of the neglected and the underprivileged.

"Street children are our children, and if we don't look after them who will? Widows and the handicapped ... we will take responsibility of all. I want us to develop compassion in our hearts. It's in the animal kingdom where it is the survival of the fittest. In human beings, it should be different,” he said.

PM Khan said he "will follow Medina’s example" to rid Pakistan of its chronic problems. "They did not borrow from Roman or Persian empires. They strengthened the people and made them self-sufficient. They adopted simple ways," Imran said, adding: "I will show you that, I will lead a simple life. I will save every penny, I will do no business as my doing so will only harm other businessmen."

Imran Khan also said the government will take strict action on the cases of child abuse, adding that ministry of human rights has been formed to act against such cases. About the Fata reforms, Imran said reforms in Fata will develop the region at par with rest of Pakistan. He said special attention will be paid to development of Balochistan and Karachi.

Giving example from his own life, he said nothing is impossible. The prime minister, at the end of his maiden address, told the nation to play a more proactive role in the rebuilding. "I need your help," he said.

"When you are being robbed you don't wait for the police to come. You nab them and hand them over. You should help me catch these robbers of the nation. This is the social media age. Keep check and report such people. We have to act as a team. Help me protect your money," he said.

--  Imran vows to cut down spending, launch sweeping reforms

-- Relations with neighbours to be improved

-- Either we will save country or corrupt will save themselves

-- South Punjab province to be created

--  New LG system to be introduced

-- Development of Fata, Balochistan and Karachi will get priority

 -- Reforms to be introduced in police, govt schools, hospitals

-- Nasir Khan Durrani to implement KP police model in Punjab

-- Imran cites personal example, saying nothing is impossible

--  Will do no business while in power

-- Dr Ishrat to lead task force for cutting expenditures

--  PM House to be turned into university

-- No governor will stay in the governor house

--  West has adopted Islamic principles

-- Responsibilities of the rulers entail that they are Sadiq and Ameen

-- Will meet chief justice for wrapping up cases within a year

-- Health cards to be introduced in whole country

-- Basha Dam to be constructed at all costs

--  Govt will take strict action on child abuse cases

--  PM House spread over 1,100 kanals, having 80 vehicles,

500 employees

-- PM House bullet-proof cars to be auctioned

--  Imran to live in military secretary’s house

-- To keep two employees and two vehicles

--  Madrassa students should also become doctors,

engineers and generals

-- Cricket grounds occupied by housing schemes

-- FBR to be fixed on priority basis

--  Overseas Pakistanis to be facilitated

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