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February 10, 2021

Wheat import exempted from PPRA rules

Top Story

February 10, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to set up 30 additional accountability courts in the country. It also accorded approval for exemption of PPRA regulations for import of 300,000 ton wheat and 500,000 ton sugar.

Chairing the meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan apprised the cabinet that relevant ministries had been directed to present proposals for reducing the burden of indirect taxes, particularly on food items, to provide relief to the masses. Talking to journalists after the cabinet meeting, Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Senator Shibli Faraz said the courts would be set up under orders from the Supreme Court in Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Sukkur, Hyderabad and Quetta. He said the prime minister had directed that the first phase of establishment be completed on priority.

He said the cabinet was concerned about reports of the Sindh government releasing six-year old 32,000 ton wheat that is unfit for human consumption. The Sindh government, the minister noted, had disrupted the wheat supply in the country and sold flour to the people of Sindh, particularly Karachi, at higher prices and taken out money from the pockets of people by not releasing the wheat at a time when the federal government was importing wheat by using its foreign exchange reserves. The Sindh government had played with the lives of the people and done politics on wheat and also succumbed to profiteers and hoarders, he pointed out.

The minister asserted: “We condemn this and people of Karachi should protest on this and the issue should be discussed in the assembly, as the government of Sindh is directly responsible for creating disruption in the supply of wheat in the country.”

The cabinet, which met with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, noted that Sindh did not release wheat timely and share wheat and sugar stock status with the federal government, resulting in an artificial price hike and hoarding. The minister was briefing journalists and replying to their questions about the cabinet meeting.

He said the cabinet was apprised of the updated status of action taken pursuant to the Sugar Enquiry Committee Report. It was informed that several sugar mills had approached the courts and action was underway after the completion of court proceedings. The cabinet was also informed that the NAB was looking into the issue of subsidies.

Shibli explained the government would collect tens of billions of rupees by implementing the Sugar Commission Report and through negotiations with the electricity companies. Talking about the report, he said the government had won the cases filed by the sugar mafia in different provinces. He contended that implementation on the sugar report was delayed owing to court cases, filed by the mafia, who ganged up to protect vested interests.

He continued that now cameras were being installed in the sugar mills to ascertain the actual position of stocks while in the past sugar prices were manipulated by the mafia. The minister said that according to the State Bank, the overseas Pakistanis sent $500 million through the Roshan Pakistan digital account.

He said the prime minister had directed that chief executive officers of about 60 public sector institutions should be appointed in a week and in case of further delay the reasons should be given.

Mr Shibli said the cabinet had approved the recommendations of the committee on electricity. The government, he continued, held negotiations with the power companies to find ways to reduce the circular debt of more than Rs2 trillion without compromising on anything and the new agreement would save the government Rs836 billion over the next 20 years.

The minister said that last year the capacity payments were of Rs 650 billion and this year it was Rs850 billion due to expensive oversupply of power. He said that the rate of return for local producers would be in rupee while for foreigners it would be in dollars and fixed at Rs130-168 and rate of equity cut from 17 to 15 per cent. Likewise, kibor plus rate reduced from 4.5 per cent to 2 per cent.

Mr Shibli maintained that the cabinet had extended the period of Afghan transit agreement by three months while the prime minister had instructed that there should not be any unannounced loadshedding in the country. He said the cabinet had decided to abolish the price control committees formed in the past to determine prices of items of daily use. These price control committees were not effective and the price control committee of Islamabad was also disbanded. He said before these committees implementation of prices was the responsibility of the district administration. Now the responsibility to maintain uniform prices across the city or a district was again given to the district administration, he said. The minister noted that the economy and industry were suffering losses and getting less profit owing to smuggling. He said the smuggling of petrol was inflicting a loss of Rs120 billion and was a reason for environmental degradation and inferior petrol quality.

About 2,192 petrol stations were selling smuggled oil so strict punishment was proposed for them, including confiscation of property and petrol pumps. The customs department and Federal Board of Revenue had now effectively controlled the smuggling of oil. Similarly the smuggling of cigarettes and other items would be controlled to check the revenue loss.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, he said, had stressed that the government would have to look for alternative sources of income and that the smuggling was reducing the government revenue and putting extra financial burden on the common man.

The minister said the the government would not create hurdles to the PDM ‘long march’ on Islamabad. He said that protest was PDM’s legal constitutional right and for the last 1-2 months, there had been no resistance from the government to their movement.

To another question, he said the heads of public entities would soon be appointed. The prime minister, he noted, had already asked about it and sought a report in the next cabinet meeting. The minister said that these issues were over 70 years old and one should not expect from the government to fix them in 32 months.

He contended that the government would legislate in the interests of the country and nation to strengthen democracy. He then referred to the last sitting of the National Assembly and said that after moving a constitutional amendment bill in the house on open voting, the government expected a debate thereon and proposals from the opposition, but they resorted to hullaballoo.

“We wanted transparency in Senate elections which does not suit them that is why good people and those from the middle class can’t take part in elections. With the support of media and the nation, we have to eliminate wealth factor from politics and polls and this is the golden opportunity to do it,” he noted.

The minister urged people not to pay heed to what he called the non-sense talk by the opposition that the ordinance had been promulgated to favour PTI friends or that PTI did not believe in loyalty of its legislators. He said transparency would ensure merit and parties would have loyal members, who would get tickets and then get elected and this was the change.

About the Pak Secretariat employees’ demands, Mr Shibli said that the federal government had the mandate to handle the federal employees while those, who had come from provinces and where PTI or its allies had government, would be requested to settle their issues there.

He said the prime minister had again asked about this matter and the three-member committee, consisting of cabinet members Pervaiz Khattak, Ali Muhammad Khan and Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shiekh, had presented its report to the premier. Mr Shibli noted that the committee was constantly in touch with the employees and soon a workable formula acceptable to both the sides would be reached upon.

In the past, he said that the price committees would focus on prices of commodities but this could not yield the desired results, therefore, these were dissolved and now the respective administrative would be responsible price control.

“The prime minister’s main concern is to control prices of essential commodities and hopefully these will be brought down. The prime minister holds meetings with the officials concerned daily,” he said.

He said the cabinet had approved the Tax Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2021. These amendments are aimed at facilitating transaction under the Digital Roshan Pakistan scheme. It was apprised that $500 million have been transacted through Digital Roshan Pakistan scheme so far.

The chairman of the Task Force on IT & Telecom briefed the cabinet on progress made for development of IT and telecom sector. The cabinet was also updated on vacant positions of heads/CEOs of public sector organizations. It was informed that since 2018, 56 heads/CEOs have been appointed to public sector organizations on merit. The meeting was informed that at present 86 posts of heads/CEOs were vacant. The prime minister had expressed displeasure over the vacant positions and directed the Establishment Division secretary to furnish a report to the cabinet citing reasons for delay in appointments.

The cabinet was apprised of the Metro Bus Project, Islamabad. The NHA chairman informed that infrastructure had been completed and the project was ready to be handed over to CDA. The interior minister was tasked by the cabinet to present a road-map for handing over the project to CDA. The cabinet also accorded approval for Mutual Legal Assistance requests from Non-Treaty Countries.

The Cabinet okayed appointment of Chief Metropolitan Officer as Administrator, Metropolitan Corporation, Islamabad, for six months or till the time new local government setup is in place, whichever is earlier.

The cabinet also approved appointment of Mr. Masroor Khan as Chairman of the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and granted approval for three-month extension of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA 2010). The existing agreement is due to expire on Feb 11, 2021. The cabinet was also briefed on the measures taken to control smuggling at Pak-Iran and Pak-Afghanistan borders. It ratified decisions taken in Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and Cabinet Committee on Energy meetings.

The cabinet was briefed on negotiations held with Independent Power Producers (IPPs). It was informed that the government will benefit to the tune of Rs 800 billion over a period of 20 years. It was apprised that the present government is clearing a liability of around Rs400 billion after pre-audit. The cabinet was informed that a high-level committee had been established comprising two Supreme Court judges and the auditor to decide on the disputed amount of Rs57 billion claimed by IPPs.

The cabinet was informed that as a result of negotiations, the government had saved Rs 32 billion against an adjudicated claim of Rs 92 billion by IPPs. It was clarified that the government had not surrendered any of its rights in the negotiations process.

The cabinet was told that this process will result in a direct benefit of reduction in energy prices. The cabinet also appreciated efforts of the Negotiations Committee. The prime minister, Mr Shibli said, had directed end to unscheduled loadshedding in any part of the country and ordered the energy ministry to conduct in-depth investigations into power loadshedding owing to technical reasons.