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Govt tightens purse strings

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August 25, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet in its second huddle in less than a week and on the third day of Eid decided to ban all the discretionary funds including those of the president, prime minister and members of the National Assembly (MNAs) viewing such authority an insult to the tax payers.

The cabinet took significant steps in line with the policies of the new government and as measure of austerity placed ban on air travel by first class for the president, prime minister, chief justice and all other government high-ups. The federal cabinet also fixed new working hours of the government offices from 9 am to 5 pm and decided to continue with Saturday as closed day besides Sunday. The prime minister chaired the meeting on Friday evening.

Briefing the media about the cabinet decisions, the Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Fawad Ahmad Chaudhary, said from now onwards the development projects will be discussed in the parliament and their approval will be given after a detailed review. Chaudhary said the discretionary powers of all the ministers to grant funds have also been withdrawn. He said funds worth Rs21 billion were spent by the previous government last year. In addition, Rs30 billion was allocated to MNAs for development projects, making it a huge amount of Rs51 billion. The previous governments used the national exchequer like their own property, he said.

Chaudhary said as part of the austerity drive of prime minister, it was decided that the special plane of the prime minister will not be used for foreign visits. Rather, he will travel in ordinary passenger planes and use the club class instead of business or the first class. This discretion has also been abolished for president, chief justice, and other senior officials. The minister said the cabinet also took decision to hold forensic audit of all mass transport projects including Multan Metro Bus, Lahore Orange Train and Peshawar Metro Bus. He said, if needed, the FIA will investigate the issues. He said the government wanted to improve the living standards of the people and resolve their issues and a task force will be set up to resolve the problems of slums to bring them into the mainstream. It was not part of the agenda items of the cabinet meeting but taken up on a priority basis.

The cabinet decided to start the urban tree plantation projects in Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta and Lahore from next month to make these areas green and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. He referred to the heat-wave in Karachi and said it is essential that through tree plantation we should overcome the problem. He said the cabinet decided that working hours will be changed from 9 am to 5 pm and the weekly holiday of Saturday will not be abolished. It will also be ensured that public servants dedicate full time to their jobs during the working hours including on Fridays.

Commenting on an incident in Faisalabad, Fawad Chaudhry said it was a law and order situation matter between two groups and had no religious dimension. Replying to a question, the minister said it is being considered to abolish the Ministry of CADD and merge its employees into other departments. He said there will be visible changes in his ministry soon and the ministry will stay intact. He said the PTV and Radio Pakistan were directed to give equal coverage to all political parties and their leaders and there is no editorial censorship on both. He said the duration of English transmissions on PTV and Radio Pakistan will be enhanced to give the world a better picture of what is happening in the country. He said PTV World will highlight the regional issues of the country. Chaudhry told a questioner that task forces set up by the government were for short-term and long term goals and they will work accordingly.

To another question, he said a mechanism is being evolved to hold a inquiry into the Result Transmission System of the Election Commission of Pakistan so such delays do not occur in the future. The cabinet decided to complete the Orange Train Project Lahore without further delay. No decision was taken to close down Metro Bus Service anywhere. However, considering the apprehensions of corruption in the mega projects, the federal cabinet has given go-ahead for forensic audit of Metro projects including the Peshawar Mass Transit Projects. The prime minister expressed concern over loadshedding in various cities on the Eid day and wanted to know its reason.

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