Ready for corruption trial of ministers: PM

Says he will ask CJ to form special bench if a case surfaces


Our Correspondent January 01, 2021
PM Imran Khan speaks during a press conference in Kabul. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

Prime Minister Imran Khan promised harsh actions against his ministers if any one found involved in corruption, saying that he would approach the chief justice of Pakistan for setting up a special court for their trial on a daily basis.

In an interview with a private news channel, Imran dubbed himself “the prime minister of the common man” and stressed that all other questions about his government would be irrelevant and just one question would be asked after five years — whether he improved lives of the people.

In the wide-ranging interview, the prime minister touched various topics, including drive against corruption, reshuffle in the government, economic situation, civil-military relations, the opposition’s anti-government drive from the platform of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, and others.

Imran said that corrupt public office holders should get harsher punishments compared to civilians, because they were guilty of abusing power. When the head of a government was corrupt, he added, it had a trickledown effect which allowed the subordinates to also become corrupt.

He assured of action if any of his ministers was found involved in corruption. “I will take action. This is my ideology for 24 years. Corruption by an SHO [police station head] or a patwari [a revenue officer] affects people only, but by a prime minister or ministers, it destroys the country,” he said.

The prime minister announced that the government would approach the chief justice of Pakistan for setting up a special court to hear the corruption cases of ministers on day-to-day basis, if any, and decide their fate within minimum possible time.

Criticising Nawaz Sharif, he said that the former prime minister was sending millions of dollars outside Pakistan, while the country was suffering. Sharif’s ministers, including Khawaja Asif and Ishaq Dar, also plundered the nation, he added.

Imran reaffirmed that he will give “no NRO to the opposition”, referring to the political amnesty granted by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf through the National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2007. He said it would be “an act of treason or opportunism if he did so”.

Describing himself as the prime minister of the common man, and not of the elite class, Imran reiterated his government’s resolve to uplift the people’s living standard and improve the justice system. He voiced hope that the new year would bring about good time for Pakistan. “I have very good feelings. My instinct is saying that 2021 will bring about a very good time for Pakistan.”

When asked about reshuffle in his team, Imran said that the reshuffle in federal and provincial cabinets and in bureaucracy would be “irrelevant before the question whether Imran Khan had improved the lives of people after five years”.

“You get a mandate for five years. I will not commit [that I will] not change my team. I am the captain and always kept changing the team. I have to win the match. I have to make Pakistan win,” he explained.

Asked further about his “unprepared” remarks, the prime minister denied that he called himself “ill-prepared to run the government”. However, he proposed at least six weeks for prior briefings by the state machinery on government affairs to a newly-elected government on the pattern of the US.

He said the US president-elect Joe Biden was being given briefings by every government department and when he would assume office his entire team would be ready to tackle the challenges being faced by their ministries.

In the interview, the prime minister admitted that his last two years in office were difficult but highlighted that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government took several measures to improve the economic situation.

“I was fully aware of the country’s crises. I have told in my previous interviews that there were no easy solutions to the country’s problems. The country was under the debt of Rs6,000 billion in 60 years but debt reached Rs30,000 billion in the last 10 years of the previous governments,” he said.

“When I came to power, I came to know that the PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] was under Rs450 billion debt” and the Pakistan Steel Mill (PSM) was shut because of its Rs3.5 billion debt, while its employees had filed cases due to which the investors didn’t show their interest in investing.

During the first two years, he said, the government had paid back $20 billion debt, spending half of its receipts that left little amount for the public welfare. Because of the government’s pro-business policies, there was surplus current account, rising exports, improved stock market and textile industry running at full capacity, he added.

Coalition govt

About the possibility of forming a coalition government, Imran referred to his previous interviews in which he had said that he would prefer to sit on the opposition benches than to form a coalition government with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

He pointed out that the accountability would have been difficult had he forged an alliance with the PPP or the PML-N. But when reminded that he formed alliance with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), he said his quarrel was with “terrorist MQM founder” and not with the party if it had dissociated itself from its founder.

The prime minister stressed that the parties in the ruling coalition were pursuing the government’s policies and the PTI’s manifesto, and rubbished the notions of any differences with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), MQM or the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA).

PDM campaign

Regarding the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) anti-government campaign, he said since the start of the PTI government, the opposition had been giving repeated deadlines for its ouster but they always failed.

Asked about the January 31 ultimatum, Imran noted that the PDM’s anti-government protest was bound to fail. “People will not participate [in long march] because they know this movement is not for any cause but to protect their wealth earned through corruption.”

He added he had predicted that the corrupt would band together to blackmail the government to drop corruption cases. However, he reiterated that under no circumstances the PDM would be given an NRO.

The prime minister said that the recent report by EU DisinfoLab exposed the PDM leaders, as those media outlets, which targeted Pakistan with fake news were also backing the 11-party opposition alliance. “They both have the same agenda; attack Imran Khan and the Pakistan Army.”

He said that the opposition was in a fix because it had failed to prove any rigging in the 2018 elections and faced a prime minister who was not prepared to give them an NRO, unlike Musharraf. He reiterated that he was willing to discuss any issue with the opposition but not accountability.

“They [opposition] are left with only two options… return nation’s looted wealth through plea bargain or go to jail,” he said, adding that many issues of the country could be resolved just by recovering “ill-gotten assets” Nawaz Sharif and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari made.

Asked about the performance of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Imran said that his government did not interfere in the matters of the graft buster or of the judiciary. He mentioned that the cases against the opposition leaders were not made during his tenure.

He said the government enjoyed exemplary civil-military relations because the military knew that he was not corrupt. “The military will stand with any prime minister who works for Pakistan’s betterment,” he said.

“The military wants to see a strong Pakistan, under a patriotic government that has no stakes outside the country. Any nation that goes under heavy debt loses independence in its foreign policy and its sovereignty, which no military would ever want.”

(WITH INPUT FROM APP)

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