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July 13, 2020

Changes in 18th Amend must be discussed with open heart: Asad

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July 13, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Planning Asad Umar has said some gaps have surfaced relating to coordination among the Centre and provinces over post 18th Amendment scenario so bringing changes in it must be discussed with open heart.

Ruling out possibility of minus-one formula, the minister said the PTI could be ousted through minus-one but in presence of PTI’s majority, no one could oust Imran Khan under any minus formula because 99 percent vote bank belonged to him.

“The 18th Amendment and NFC Award should be reflective of each other as responsibilities should be assigned in accordance with resources share. Both the 18th Amendment and NFC Award should be discussed at national level with open heart,” Asad Umar said in an exclusive interview with The News.

The minister said that the gaps existed in coordination and it was realised after the NCOC meetings. He said if there is no proper coordination about exact health facilities then how the planning could be done to tackle COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about minus-one formula, he said that he did not know from where this has come. “How can you oust Imran Khan under any such formula when 99 percent vote bank of PTI belongs to him,” he questioned? He said that he was listening about minus-one for the last 12 years as when Asif Ali Zardari was president under the PPP regime, there was minus-one formula. The phenomena continued when Nawaz Sharif came into power and now Imran Khan has come to power and the same mantra is continuing.

Asad Umar said that there was a need to telecast debates on Geo and other TV channels by candidates during the US primary election campaign then people of Pakistan would know how they call and treated each other. “The same is done in UK during their election campaign,” he said. The minister said that in Pakistan the Parliament was functioning so there was nothing to worry about.

To a query that why the PTI ministers brought out differences publicly, the minister said everyone know about relations of Shahbaz and Nisar and Nisar with other ministers of PML-N, but they did not oppose each other publicly. He said the PTI is a democratic party where everyone talks about from core of his heart. “All this is like storm in a teacup, otherwise our governance is much better than the PML-N,” he claimed.

When asked him to mention standalone reforms introduced by the PTI during its rule, he mentioned that Pakistan Post Office improved a lot and ports operation streamlined. He said that it was first time in the country’s history that three mega hydel power projects including Dasu, Mohmand and Diamer-Bhasha dams were under construction. He said the government cleared procurement of land with over Rs100 billion and now this dam would be completed by 2027.

To another query regarding lingering dispute between Gilgit-Baltistan and KP government on land dispute where the power generation of Bhasha Dam would be carried out so determination of land would finalise royalty rights, the minister said that he was heading the committee and had done his homework. However, he said, there would be elections due in GB and when their new government would come into power then the decision would be made on this issue.

When asked about restructuring plan into the Planning Commission, the minister said that there was no restructuring plan under consideration, but the efforts were underway to build up a good talented team.

He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted to transform the Planning Commission on model of 60s when it was working under Mehboobul Haq. After getting frequent programmes of IMF, he said that the Ministry of Finance assumed the driving seat in policymaking under the IMF programme. He said that now the Planning Ministry would be strengthened by developing a good team.

He said the government has decided to hire a chief economist for the Planning Commission and chief statistician for the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) into special pay scale (SPS). It is relevant to mention here that these two key posts were falling vacant for several years and could not be filled in last two years rule of the PTI.

The minister was also asked about cash bleeding power sector by inquiring how it would be fixed, he replied that without placing market-based mechanism, the power sector problems could not be fixed in haste. He said the best professionals would have to be hired at Gencos and Discos levels in order to bring efficiency.

However, the minister said that these two key posts would be filled within the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

To another query regarding restoration of full-fledged economic activities in post COVID-19 pandemic situation, he said it would be hard to predict, but it was the best strategy placed by government of Pakistan as the countries that adopted approach of extreme lockdown or those that eased down completely, both faced problems, however, Pakistan pursued smart lockdown that went very well. He said that it was a conscious decision of the government to open up exports sector first of all because the government knew that the country could not afford steep fall in its export earnings.

The minister said that they were analysing the IMF forecast recently and the Fund changed its forecast about Pakistan from negative to positive 1 percent for the current fiscal year. He said it all happened due to policy of moving ahead with smart lockdown.

Asad Umar said Pakistan would not get any relief in the Net Present Value (NPV) on account of debt relief from international community because these loans payments were deferred for certain timeframe but not waived off. He said Pakistan will have to stand up on his own feet to revive its economy because this pandemic had hit everyone.

The minister also said that despite COVID-19 pandemic, the Planning Ministry utilised over 80 percent development funding that demonstrated that the utilisation remained more than last six years.