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ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet Tuesday tasked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with conducting the audit of all sugar mills since 1985.
All members of federal cabinet attended the meeting wearing facemasks as per the government-defined standard operating procedures (SPOs). The cabinet was briefed on the coronavirus situation in the country and strategies adopted to control the virus spread.
Chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the cabinet also approved the first draft of budget 2020-21. The cabinet was informed that work on preparation of the upcoming budget was under process and it would be presented in the National Assembly in the second week of the current month.
The prime minister directed his ministers to pay special attention to cut unnecessary expenditure in their ministries and government departments keeping in view the current corona and economic situation.
Imran said the nation was passing through a toughest time of its history and there was need to bring a balance between the earning and expenditures. The prime minister emphasized the need for focusing on improving the performance of institutions and advancing the reform process. He also sought a detailed report on the expenditures of ministries and divisions. The prime minister emphasized that the corrupt sugar mafia should be fully exposed and expressed anger at the failure of ministries concerned in bringing the sugar price down in market. The prime minister asked as to why price hike had not come down despite that the fact that the government had extensively decreased the petrol price. According to sources, ex-prime minister and PML-N leader Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s pictures with the family members having tea in London also came under discussion.
The cabinet members were of the view that Nawaz Sharif was making merry abroad after playing ducks and drakes with the country. The prime minister quipped that such people felt no shame for what they had done to the country.
The prime minister said the process of economic stability and reform would continue uninterrupted. The cabinet was informed that the next budget would be presented in the light of the current economic situation.
The meeting called for full implementation of SOPs in the public transport, markets, and industries to check the spread of virus. The meeting appreciated the TTQ strategy
(testing, tracking, quarantine) for the affected people. With regard to corona, the utility of resource management system in improving the health facilities and ensuring best and efficient use of available resources was also appreciated.
The cabinet expressed satisfaction over the testing of coronavirus in the country. It was informed that the number of testing laboratories in the country had been increased from two to one hundred.
At present, 32,000 tests are being conducted in the country on a daily basis. In the early days, the capacity was only 400. A detailed briefing was given to the federal cabinet on the future course of action and further action by the agencies concerned in the light of recommendations of the Sugar Inquiry Report.
The prime minister said the purpose of sugar inquiry by the government was to bring to light the reasons and facts, which led to the rise in sugar prices and put unnecessary burden on the people.
He said steps would be taken to rectify flaws in the system in the light of facts revealed in the report. It was decided that an inter-ministerial committee would be constituted to review facts in the light of inquiry report from various angles and thrash out comprehensive reforms to ensure effective role of the existing system including regulators.
The prime minister said these measures were aimed at ensuring that the people were protected from the burden of exploitation and unnecessary price hikes in the future. A detailed briefing was given to the cabinet on the progress made so far by the provinces in procurement of wheat and future supply and demand estimates.
The meeting pledged that there would be no shortage of wheat and flour in any part of the country and a balance between supply and demand would be ensured. A high-level committee will be formed to suggest recommendations in this regard as well as to make recommendations regarding reforms in matters related to flour mills.
The prime minister directed the home secretaries to submit recommendations of the task force on prevention of smuggling as soon as possible so that further action could be taken to curb the menace.
Expressing heartfelt condolences to the families of those martyred in the PIA passenger plane crash in Karachi, the prime minister said the loss of human lives was irreparable and ‘we share the grief of the bereaved families in this hour of need and stand with them’.
A detailed briefing was also given to the cabinet on the situation of locust attack in the country, measures to be taken for prevention and short and long-term strategies. The cabinet appreciated the performance of NDMA and Pakistan Army in taking measures to control locusts. The cabinet appreciated the cooperation of the Government of China, DFID and FAO in locust prevention.
He said all necessary resources would be provided to curb the locust attack. He said out-of-the-box solution for locust infestation should be considered, including providing incentives to the people at the local level.
The cabinet was informed that the Asian Development Bank had appreciated the strategies and initiatives of the Government of Pakistan in alleviating poverty and protecting the poorer sections of the society from the negative economic effects of corona.
The cabinet approved the appointment of Ms. Lubna Farooq Malik as DG Financial Monitoring Unit. The cabinet approved implementation of Essential Services Act 1952 regarding Utility Stores Corporation. It also approved appointment of Shakeel Ahmed as Chairman Pakistan National Shipping Corporation till December 2020 and approved appointment of Masood Bani as Managing Director Government Holdings (Pvt) Ltd.
The cabinet approved the appointment of Wasim Mukhtar (Additional Secretary, Power Division) as Chief Executive Officer, Central Power Purchasing Agency (Guarantee) Limited and directed the Ministry of Power to make the post permanent for the next three months.
The forum approved export of locally manufactured personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizers, etc. for protection from the corona. However, a committee comprising the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry and Production and the Ministry of Science and Technology will have the power to decide on a ban on export of a particular item based on national needs.
The cabinet ratified the decisions taken in May 20 and 21 meetings of the Economic Co-ordination Committee. These decisions include incentives for special economic zones, policy on making smart phones in the country, Prime Minister's Covid-19 Relief Fund, petroleum levy on LPG, and issuance of Sukuk bonds worth Rs200 billion.
Appreciating the government's decision to reduce the prices of petroleum products, the cabinet noted that at present the prices of petroleum products in Pakistan were much lower than in other regions and the recent decision of the government provided significant relief to the people.
Special Assistant for Social Security Dr. Sania Nishtar briefed the prime minister on the progress made in distribution of Corona Relief Fund to the beneficiaries.
Minister for planning gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet on the economic indicators. The cabinet was informed that due to the virus, the country's exports fell by 54% in April but increased by 34% in May.
The cabinet was informed that remittances of $18.8 billion were received in the financial year 2019-20. The cabinet was told that the foreign exchange reserves stood at $18.7 billion at the end of April. The cabinet was informed that despite the corona epidemic, the situation on the external side had improved.
The meeting was told that the current account deficit in the financial year 2019-20 was $3.3 billion, which was 1.5% of the GDP.
Last year (2018-19), the deficit was $11.4 billion, which was 4.7% of the GDP. The cabinet was informed that in the financial year 2019-20, exports stood at $16.4 billion and imports at $19.7 billion while service trade balance stood at Rs2.6 billion.
The cabinet was informed that the FBR's receipts had been affected due to the corona epidemic. The cabinet was informed that the primary balance had remained positive despite adverse conditions. (Primary balance refers to the country's income exceeds expenditure if debt repayments are excluded.)
This is the first time in the country's history that the primary balance has remained positive and is the result of adherence to the government policies and financial discipline.
The cabinet was also briefed in detail about the expenditure incurred under the Public Sector Development Program and the Provincial Development Program.
The cabinet was also briefed in detail on production of cotton, sugarcane and maize in the country, and production of major industries, and inflation. Inflation was recorded at 14.5 in January, while it came down to 8.5 in April.
Regarding investment in the country, it was informed that the total investment in the financial year 2019-20 was $1.864 billion while in the financial year 2018-19 it was only $403 million. Policy rate has come down from 13.25 to 8%.
The cabinet was informed that the journey of economic recovery and stability had been severely affected, which was achieved as a result of efforts of the government in the last two and a half years.
Nevertheless, the government provided a major relief package to the people, especially the poor and the business sector, including the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program and the concessional package for the industrial sector, especially the construction sector.
A briefing to be given by Information Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz that was fixed for 6:30PM was postponed and instead a statement regarding the cabinet meeting was issued.