PTI govt okays 15% cut in medicine prices

Cabinet decides not to remove Maryam Nawaz’s name from ECL

Rizwan Ghilzai December 25, 2019
File photo illustration of pills of all kinds, shapes and colours. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday gave the nod of approval to a 15% cut in the prices of 89 essential and life-saving medicines with immediate effect – offering some relief to the people reeling under the burden of the price hike of drugs approved by the government earlier this year.

In addition, the cabinet also unanimously decided not to remove the name of PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz from the no-fly list, endorsing the recommendations of a subcommittee of the interior ministry which was directed by the Lahore High Court to decide the matter.

“Many of these medicines [whose prices are being decreased] are used in treating heart diseases and blood pressure,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza told the media after the cabinet meeting.

“They were on the list of essential medicines whose prices had to be decreased by 10% annually for three years under the Medicine Pricing Policy 2018,” he added. “Keeping all the factors in view, we have obtained the government’s approval to cut the prices of essential medicines by 15%.”

The PM’s aide explained that the government had to increase the prices of medicines by 15% earlier this year because of the devaluation of the rupee.

“The prime minister has instructed that the Medicine Pricing Policy be reviewed within two months to facilitate the people,” he said. “The ministry is in the last stages of formulating a national medicine policy for the pharmaceutical sector, which will be announced in the coming weeks.”

In April this year, the prices of medicines were increased by up to 400%. This prompted the prime minister to order the reduction of the prices within 72 hours. Aamer Mehmood Kiani, the then national health services minister, was sacked and Dr Mirza was appointed PM’s special assistant on health.

In May, Dr Mirza announced that after meetings with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, it had been decided that the increase in the prices of medicines would not exceed 75%.


Maryam to stay on ECL

Briefing the media about Maryam’s case, Special Assistant to the Prime Minster on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, who was also present at the news conference, explained that cases of 24 people on the Exit Control List (ECL) were presented before the cabinet for consideration.
Four of these names have been added to the no-fly list on the recommendations of the subcommittee and eight were removed. The decision on eight other names has been put off.

“[In the case of the] VIP person [Maryam] you are referring to, the cabinet has unanimously decided to reject her application to remove her name from the ECL,” the PM’s aide said. “The cabinet agreed that the law should be equal for everyone and endorsed the decision of the subcommittee, which opposed the removal of the [Maryam’s] name from ECL,” she added.

The cabinet subcommittee was directed by the court to review Maryam’s plea seeking the removal of her name from the ECL and one-time permission to visit London to see her ailing father, former premier Nawaz Sharif.

The PML-N vice-president was arrested in August by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with an investigation pertaining to the Chaudhry Sugar Mills.

She was granted post-arrest bail by an LHC bench against two surety bonds worth Rs20 million and deposit of an additional Rs70 million. She was also ordered to surrender her passport to secure release. Maryam had moved the LHC days after her father had was allowed to travel to London for medical treatment accompanied by his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif in November.

Speaking on other matters, Dr Firdous said the cabinet had approved the formation of a Local Government Commission for the Islamabad Capital Territory, which would be headed by MNA Ali Nawaz Awan.

“The Local Government Commission will work to keep the federal capital clean, maintain a healthy environment and remove garbage, besides monitoring and assessing the situation of municipal services,” she added.

The PM’s aide said the cabinet had approved a special package of Rs670 million for 13,498 families living along the Line of Control (LoC) under the Ehsaas Programme.

“The cabinet was informed that around 70,992 people living along the LoC came in the direct range of firing across the border from India,” she elaborated. “A ration scheme will be introduced and every married woman in these families [living along the the LoC) will be given Rs5,000 each month. The package will be reassessed and brought before the cabinet to ascertain the exact number of beneficiaries,” she added.

Dr Firdous said the cabinet had ratified the decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) during its meeting on December 12.

Giving further details about the cabinet’s decisions, the PM’s aide said Hamid Haroon of the Military Lands and Cantonment Boards had been appointed senior member of the Federal Land Commission in grade-22.

Similarly, Farrukh Iqbal has been appointed the CEO and President of the First Women Bank and Irfan Bukhari the CEO of Exim Bank of Pakistan.

The cabinet forwarded the issue of the sale of the shares of the House Building Finance Corporation to the ECC after which it would take up the issue.

The cabinet formed the subcommittee to consider the names for appointment as members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. They will be finalised in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.

Dr Tauqeer Ahmed, the chief finance and accounts officer, and Muhammad Ayub, the director legal of the information technology ministry, have been appointed members of the Board of Trustees of the Pakistan Telecommunication Employment Trust.

The cabinet also approved the reorganisation of the Executive Committee of Pakistan Sports Board and amendments to its laws. It also approved 11 new members for the committee.

The cabinet approved the appointment of Rear Admiral Zakaur Rehman as general manager of the Karachi Port Trust and that of Talha Ali Khan as the executive director of Lok Virsa for two years.

The reorganisation of the National Power Parks Management Board was also approved. The cabinet allowed a one-time import of finger markers from India for the anti-polio campaign. The World Health Organisation, which has funded the anti-polio campaign, had endorsed the finger markers.
The cabinet also approved names of five experts for the regulation board of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan.

Dr Sania Nishtar briefed the cabinet about the Ehsaas Programme and the introduction of automation and technology to minimise the role of humans in updating the list of beneficiaries, previously prepared through a survey.
Dr Firdous said the cabinet had approved reforms in the laws related to sales and income taxes and customs duties

“The prime minister has instructed that tax reforms should take place in a way that jobs are created, a desirable environment is available to businessmen and poverty is reduced,” she added.

To a question, Dr Firdous said the Capital Development Authority chairman had told the cabinet that the salaries of Christian employees had been disbursed before Christmas.

To a question, she said the government's legal team was still holding consultations on the issue of Justice Waqar Seth. To another query, she said the hearing of PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah’s case would be held on January 4, when the Anti-Narcotics Force would present evidence before the court against him.

(With additional input from APP)


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