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ISLAMABAD: Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Tuesday warned that the government would have no option but to impose complete lockdown again if the people failed to act in a responsible and cautious manner in the wake of COVID-19.
Addressing launching ceremony of corona relief Tiger Force activities in the federal capital, he said people were apparently taking the decision of easing lockdown, easily by freely moving around in the markets and other places sans any purpose.
“After witnessing public rush in the markets, it seems that the virus has vanished away and situation has become normal,” he said, adding that the threat of virus still persisted and it could even aggravate if the people did not follow precautionary measures.
He said the prime minister had decided to ease the restrictions only for the sake of poor people who were unable to earn their livelihood during the lockdown.
He paid special tributes to the Tiger Force who expressed their determination in supplementing the relief activities of government.
The prime minister, he said, was leading the crusade against coronavirus in the country and wanted the people to play active role in curbing the virus.
Umar said so far, situation in hospitals was under control and hoped that it would remain so in future as well.
He also urged the people to prepare for Eid with utmost responsibility to stem the spread of corona virus in the country.
Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz Tuesday said that the federal cabinet appealed to masses to strictly observe the precautionary measures and the SOPs while preparing for upcoming Eidul Fitr. The cabinet noted with concern that currently the SOPs for easing lockdown were not being observed by the public generally.
Briefing the media about the cabinet meeting decisions here, he said the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, made it clear that the country could not afford surge in the virus.
He said the prime minister told the meeting that lockdown was a temporary process, which could limit the spread of the virus to an extent, but it was necessary to take precautionary measures as much as possible to prevent the pandemic from spread.
The PM said that the decision to ease the lockdown was taken keeping in view the economic situation and the plight of the common man, especially labourers, vendors and daily wagers.
Likewise, activities in construction and other sectors had been allowed by the developed countries also keeping in view the ground realities. Keeping the economy afloat and balancing security measures was a need of the hour, he said.
The minister said that it was observed that generally people had not been adopting precautionary measures and the cabinet appealed to people to strictly follow the SOPs. He added there was need for striking a balance between economic activities and social distancing to run the affairs of the country.
“It is national responsibility of all citizens to practise social distancing as those countries, which followed the practice, have, to a great extent, succeeded in protecting their population from the pandemic,” he added.
The minister said that no country had unlimited resources to give subsidies and relief packages to its population for a long time, adding no country in the world could afford continuous lockdown and the decision regarding ease in countrywide lockdown was taken in view of difficulties being faced by the poor labour class.
He said the government had limited resources and infrastructure, and continuous lockdown was not possible under the prevailing conditions.
The meeting also decided to amend relevant laws for appointment of heads of various government departments to attract the best human resource in public sector organisations.
The PM, he noted, had constituted a committee, headed by Adviser on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain, to thrash out its recommendations in this regard within one week. He also directed Minister for Law and Justice Farogh Naseem to prepare draft for amendments to the relevant laws like Civil Establishment Code (Estacode) and Companies Act and Corporate Governance Rules.
Briefing was given to the cabinet on the progress made in the electoral reforms process and about the salient features of the proposed reforms. Minister for Narcotics Control Azam Swati, who previously headed the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry, said that the recommendations made by the committee included timely delivery and announcement of election results, finalisation of action plan by political parties four months before the election, time of delimitation, permission to the candidate to appoint five agents.
Presence of the appointed representative of the candidates during the counting of votes, reforms regarding women quota, election expenses, basis of delimitation and steps to address the lacunas in the process, right to vote for Pakistanis abroad, biometric voting were also part of the proposals, the meeting was told.
While appreciating his proposals, the prime minister said that all lacunas in the election laws would be addressed so that people's trust in the election process was restored and nobody could point finger at the polls transparency.
The minister quoted prime minister as saying that transparent and credible electoral process was the foundation of democracy and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was the only party which had made serious efforts and taken practical steps to introduce reforms in the electoral process. He said the government was committed to electoral reforms and efforts should be intensified to complete the process at the earliest.
He said that the cabinet again discussed the issue of unlawful appointments made to various ministries during the previous governments without approval of the cabinet and it transpired that such appointment were made to 12 ministries. He added that the PM expressed his serious concern over the issue and directed all ministries to share all details till the next cabinet meeting so that action could be taken on the issue.
Shibli noted that during discussion on the cotton crop, the PM directed that support price of the crop should be fixed after thorough consultations with all stakeholders so that farmers could be encouraged to sow more cotton as its ratio had been dropping during the past two decades. He said that the PM was in favour of giving subsidies on seed and fertilisers for cotton growers so that the poor farmers could benefit from it.
The minister said the cabinet also gave approval to the names of the members of National Commission on the Status of Women. The proposed members include Shaista Bukhari from Punjab, Habiba Hassan from Sindh, Rubina Naz Advocate from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fatima Iqbal from Balochistan, Madiha Sultana from Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), Sosan Aziz from Gilgit-Baltistan and Asia Azeem from the federal capital.
It also approved decisions taken by the cabinet Committee on Energy and Economic Coordination Committee.
Moreover, he called for steps to provision of energy to the consumers at affordable cast and reduction of circular debt.
He also directed the minister for energy to complete the process of reformation in various departments of the ministry with a timeline. The minister said the cabinet reviewed matters pertaining to audit survey regarding embezzlement at Karachi Port Trust.
He said that Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar gave a briefing on all steps being taken to control coronavirus in the country and presented progress report on the situation after relaxation in the lockdown.
The minister called on the opposition to raise the issue of 18th Constitutional Amendment in the Parliament and desist from triggering controversy about it.
He observed this while replying to questions from journalists during the media briefing on the federal cabinet decisions, he said that the raising of the issue in the legislature would carry weight and there could be action on it too.
He emphasised that the 18th Amendment was part of the Constitution like so many other constitutional amendments and the opposition should refer to it as a constitutional amendment instead of calling it the 18th Amendment to make it controversial and raising hue and cry over it.
In this context, the minister also referred to the bills, introduced by Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Senator Abdul Qayyum about amendments, concerning the Election Commission of Pakistan, which was also part of the 18th Amendment. “Every member of the Parliament has the right to move amendments, being his or her right,” he said.
About the opposition’s calls for amending the NAB law, he said that one should see this thing separately that whenever, any of opposition parties leaders was arrested or faced allegations, he would start lambasting the anti-graft body.
And, he noted that there was no doubt that like many other institutions, there might be issue of capacity building and other issues in relation to NAB and its performance, might also not be up to expectations but, yes, if they wanted to change the law, they could; whereas in the past these two main parties had been using the bureau to target one another instead.
On this count, he referred to PPP Senator Farooq H Naek’s bill on NAB powers, which was to be taken up by the National Assembly for deliberations. He asked the opposition to take up the matter in the Parliament instead of in news briefings and TV shows, as talking about it outside the house would serve no purpose.
“There should be discussion in the Parliament on the constitutional amendment and if any party had the required numbers, it would be through; otherwise, there is no need to create controversies,” he added.
When asked if Prime Minister Imran Khan would come to the Parliament to give policy statement on the coronavirus, he said he would definitely come to the Parliament. He said the premier was hectically busy in dealing with the corona challenge and other matters.
But, he pointed out that one should also ask a question about the champions of democracy, who had been talking so much on summoning of the Parliament session, and after requisitioning, were staying away from its sessions.
“I had already said that they are just clamouring but will not attend the session and they did not.
“As regards question why prime minister is not coming to the Parliament, he is running the country. But where is Leader of the Opposition; he is not running the country. He is just sitting before a computer. Public fully understands this conduct of hypocrisy,” the minister said.
Regarding major issues, like IPPs probe, NFC and presentation of the budget, the minister noted that those were definitely challenges, but the PM would be able to handle them successfully, as he was quite fit and doing multi-tasking and also believed in teamwork.
The PM, he said, believed in transparency and the government had no idea about the outcome of the sugar and wheat probe, but it ordered it and made it public for the government was sincere in it. He added there were delays in some matters, due to the virus and having problems in access to the relevant record.
Likewise, he continued the prime minister had given one more week, in view of big numbers of officers, for furnishing list of illegal appointments to ministries and departments with timeline and next week, he would brief the media about the actions to be taken and other related details.
He said this, as a reporter reminded him, the cabinet had given one week during previous meeting and now more time had been given again.
In reply to a question about reports of replacement of Sindh governor, he said that after recovering from the virus, Governor Imran Ismail would resume his duties.