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Sunday January 23, 2022

Govt not to fund polls sans EVMs: Fawad

Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday directed his ministers to stay in their ministries and avoid going abroad without permission as the next three, four months were challenging for the government.

December 01, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday directed his ministers to stay in their ministries and avoid going abroad without permission as the next three, four months were challenging for the government.

During the federal cabinet meeting held here under his chairmanship, the prime minister took strict notice of some PTI leaders’ remarks regarding the climate change moot in Glasgow and termed the remarks unfortunate, according to sources.

The PM lauded Adviser on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam and said that owing to his efforts, Pakistan’s performance in the conference remained on top. He also gave a shut-up call to the party leaders who issued controversial remarks regarding the Glasgow conference.

Earlier, the PTI body of internal accountability issued a show-cause notice to a Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Riaz Fatyana after he levelled allegations of witnessing a fight between ministers.

Later on, Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain warned the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that there was a likelihood of the government not being able to fund the upcoming elections if held sans the electronic voting machines (EVMs).

He emphasised that all institutions, including the ECP, were bound to move forward in line with the Parliament’s decisions (legislation). The minister was briefing the media about the cabinet meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, and replying to reporters’ questions.

Fawad said the cabinet discussed the matter at length and agreed that the ECP was bound to use EVMs in by-elections. “And one of the points of view was that the government could not fund any election held without EVMs, as after the recent amendment, the law recognises polls involving the use of EVMs and noted Law Minister Farogh Naseem had the same viewpoint.

Discussing EVMs in the light of the recent amendment, the minister said the cabinet had formed a committee and the law ministry would also give its opinion. “It seems we will only be able to release funds to the Election Commission for polls where EVMs will be used,” he reiterated and added that the government now wanted the ECP to start working towards the induction of EVMs in elections.

Moreover, he said, Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz had shared during the cabinet meeting a comprehensive plan on the use of EVMs, which included details such as how many machines would be required and the government wanted the ECP to move forward now according to the schedule.

The cabinet was briefed regarding introduction of electronic voting machines and empowerment of overseas Pakistanis to vote. The minister also spoke about recently surfacing video clips wherein individuals were seen distributing cash, allegedly for getting on-oath pledges from voters to cast votes in their favour ahead of the NA-133 by-polls in Lahore.

He said, “The cabinet expressed concern on the videos. Had quick action been taken after a similar incident during Senate elections in March this year, we would not have been facing the situation today.”

He again highlighted the importance of transparent election in a democratic country and said while it was important that the ECP was strengthened, its being effective was also of significance, and hence, the ECP needed to take such incidents of rigging to their logical conclusion.

About Rs40 billion alleged irregularities in the use of corona funds, the minister said the Ministry of Finance on the same day had come up with a comprehensive response to it and the cabinet had asked the three related agencies to also give a detailed response to it while PM’s aide Senator Sania Nishtar had given a comprehensive point of view on this matter.

He continued that many people even did not understand the process of audit and it was also declared an irregularity as to why the PIA did not transport corona vaccine to the country to save billions. He asked how the PIA could do so while its flights were banned in Europe.

The minister called on the Sindh government to fix its issues and held it responsible for rising prices of essential commodities and pointed out that the cabinet was told that 40 per cent of the Sensitive Price Index (SPI) data was based on Karachi pricing. He said the SPI readings were messed up mainly because of data from Karachi and Hyderabad where inflation was high.

Fawad said a presentation on the prices of kitchen items was given in the cabinet meeting and it showed that the prices had gone down in recent days. The SPI, he said, had recorded a decrease of 0.67 per cent and the price of sugar had reduced by more than Rs60 in a month. He claimed that the rise in the price of sugar was basically due to the Sindh government delaying the crushing season. Prices of five commodities saw a reduction in prices trend. He explained that flour price was the highest in Hyderabad, followed by Karachi, while the price of sugar remains to be the highest in Karachi.

The minister alleged that urea was being smuggled and hoarded in Sindh, which had led to an increase in its price in the province, adding that clearly showed that the Sindh government was unable to handle its matters in Karachi and Hyderabad.

The minister urged Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to address the province's issues, adding that some might say that the Sindh government was being criticised for political purposes, but facts were out in the open now. He also claimed that except for tea, the prices of all other kitchen commodities were the cheapest in Pakistan in the region, comprising India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. He said, “We are doing whatever we can in these times of global inflation.”

Fawad Chaudhry said it seemed like the newspaper, which reported on the notarised affidavit of ex-chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim, had "obtained it from Nawaz Sharif". He told the press conference that the Islamabad High Court held proceedings on “PMLN vice-president Rana Shamim’s affidavit”, who told the court that it was not his [affidavit] and his affidavit was stored under lock and key.

“Then the question arises: if that is locked, then how did it reach a newspaper and how that newspaper published it,” said the minister. “It seems the affidavit reached the newspaper through Nawaz Sharif and it published it,” he opined.

Fawad Chaudhry said he was hopeful that the courts would take strong exception to the matter and take it to its logical conclusion, the way, PMLN sponsored a campaign against the judiciary and the army and the media was also part of it.

“As we are urging the Election Commission to take the issue of rigging to its logical conclusion,” he added. "The PMLN has sponsored the campaign against army and judiciary," Fawad said, as he berated the former ruling party.

The minister announced that rice would be a bumper crop this year with the harvest of nine million metric tonnes and its export was expected to fetch over $4 billion. He said Federal Minister Asad Umar briefed the cabinet on the new variant of COVID-19, omicron. The meeting was informed that the new variant had originated in Africa. According to initial reports, the rate of its spread was very high.

The cabinet called for implementation of COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) such as use of mask at public places, social distancing and vaccination for the public safety. The Petroleum Division briefed the cabinet on the vacancies of MD and CEO in the organisations under the division. It was told that at present four posts were lying vacant on which appointment process was in progress. On the recommendation of the Ministry of Aviation, the cabinet approved the renewal of aviation licences of M/s Serene Air, M/s Air Blue, M/s PIACL and M/s Princely Jets under the National Aviation Policy 2019.

The cabinet approved the delimitation of high-rise buildings around airports under the Civil Aviation Authority Rules. The height limit of buildings in Islamabad Blue Area had been fixed at 1,000 feet. The decision would also help prevent the rampant spread of urban boundaries, save vegetables and preserve agricultural land.

On the recommendation of the Ministry of Commerce, the cabinet allowed the staff stationed at the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran to import personal vehicles on repatriation under the Hardship Policy.

On the recommendation of the Ministry of Interior, the cabinet approved to increase the visa period from 120 days to 150 days for those coming to Pakistan from Tableeghi Jamaat from abroad. The cabinet also approved granting 45 days visa on arrival for Tableeghi Jamaat. Visas can be obtained through the online visa portal.

The cabinet approved procedure for appointment of EOBI (Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution) chairman. The appointment would be carried out under the Competitive Process of Management Position Scale Policy 2020.

The cabinet on the recommendation of the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis postponed approval to issue Overseas Employment Promoter Licences. The cabinet directed that a procedure be worked out within a week to review the work of these promoters. Special care should be taken that promoters should not be illegally charging extra money from those travelling abroad.

The cabinet ratified the decisions taken at the meeting of the committee on institutional reforms held on Nov 12, 2021. The meeting recommended reorganisation of Pakistan Gems and Jewellery Development Company. The cabinet ratified the decisions taken at the meeting of the Committee on Energy held on Nov 18, 2021. The Committee on Energy had recommended gas load management plan for winter 2021-22 and setting up of oil depot at Kemari Karachi.

Under the plan, domestic gas would be reserved for domestic consumers only because of its low cost. The CNG sector will be closed from Dec 1, 2021 to Feb 15, 2022.

Gas supply to IPPs and fertilizer factories will continue. Gas supply to export sector industries will continue. Power plants running on LNG will be provided 5% additional gas.

Electricity prices have been reduced for domestic consumers in winter (Rs12.96 per kwh) to meet the gas shortage. Gas saved from CNG, cement and captive power will be used for domestic consumption. A public awareness campaign is being launched to save gas.

On the recommendation of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the cabinet approved setting up of a selection board for the appointment of Chairman ITNE and chairman Press Council of Pakistan. The Selection Board for Chairman ITNE will consist of the Minister of Information, Secretary Information, Additional Secretary Information, Grade 21 Representatives of Establishment Division and Ministry of Law.

The Selection Board for the Chairman Press Council of Pakistan will consist of the Minister of Information, Secretary Information, Additional Secretary Information, Representatives of Establishment Division and Ministry of Law.

The cabinet approved the appointment of Muhammad Saleem as Chairman Privatisation Commission. Federal Minister for Industries and Production gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet on the current stock and prices of fertilisers in the country.

The meeting was informed that this year the fertilizer companies released 53pc more fertilizer to the dealers in Sindh as compared to the previous year, due to which there was shortage of urea in Punjab and other areas and the price had gone up.

However, on the directions of the prime minister, measures were taken to reduce this disparity and against hoarders, which resulted in an average reduction of Rs400 per sack. At present, a sack of urea is available in Gujranwala for Rs1,850. There is a surplus of 200,000 tons of fertilizer compared to the domestic demand.

The cabinet was informed that an online portal has been set up to monitor the supply of fertilizers through which the federal government, provinces and all district administrations can monitor the movement and stock of fertilizers.

The cabinet ratified the decisions taken at the meeting of the Economic Co-ordination Committee held on Nov 29, 2021. It gave approval to hold a special meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers in Pakistan and approval of 50,000 tons of wheat aid to Afghanistan.

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