As the opposition’s deadline for the government to quit by January 31 passed without any event, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday threw down the gauntlet, saying he would resign if the opposition leaders return the wealth they had looted from the nation.
The opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) had given a deadline to the government to resign by January 31, saying that they would force the departure of the ruling party by staging a long march and en masse resigning from the assemblies.
“It takes courage to resign,” the prime minister said, while chairing the cabinet meeting. “If they had the courage to resign, they would not have run away from the country by getting a NRO,” he said, referring to the Musharraf era political amnesty under the National Reconciliation Ordinance.
“The opposition cannot hold a long march or gather people,” he told the ministers. On the other hand, he offered his resignation but with a condition: “If [PDM leaders] Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman return the money stolen from the country, I will resign tomorrow,” he said.
Addressing the cabinet meeting, the prime minister, while taking notice of an accident in the federal capital overnight, sought details of the security provided to the ministers in order to stop misuse of the security protocol.
Later, giving a briefing to the journalists after the cabinet meeting, Information Minister Senator Shibli Faraz said the prime minister took notice of the incident in which a squad of vehicles had broken the red traffic signal in Islamabad and four persons were killed.
“The prime minister instructed the federal and provincial governments to strictly discourage the use of security and protocol squads on roads which created a culture of fear and impunity,” the information minister said.
The minister said the problem of land grabbers was also discussed in the meeting and it was informed that operations were continuing against illegal occupiers of state land, including those who had encroached upon railways land.
“Railways Minister Azam Swati is working on the issue of railways land and he has been further instructed to get the government assets recovered,” the information minister added. “Land grabbing has weakened the rule of law and also created a sense of insecurity among the public,” he added.
He said that as per the government’s plan the construction activity was moving ahead with over 100,000 housing units being built in different projects. He added that the people were getting loans from banks for the low-cost housing units.
The banks were giving loans on 5 to 7% mark-up for the construction of 5-marla houses and the loan limit was set at Rs3.5 million. Parliament had also passed the foreclosure law to protect such banks loans, he added.
He said two projects, including Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project and the Bundle Islands, were currently under way. According to a briefing of the Housing Ministry, about 35,700 housing units were being built, while over 21,000 would be constructed in another six projects.
About the opposition parties, the minister said that everybody knew what they were up to, as they had their own priorities to focus on, rather than playing the democratic role of highlighting weaknesses in the governance.
When asked about the passing of the PDM’s deadline for the government’s resignation, the minister said that the media should ask the opposition as to what happened to their resignations as the January 31 deadline had already passed.
About a section of the road closed for several months near Lal Masjid in Islamabad, Faraz said there had been a controversy going on for long time, but the matter was being thrashed out and durable steps were being taken. He hoped that within a month or so, there would be good news.
Regarding the constitutional amendment for open ballot voting in the Senate election, the minister said it was the government’s stated position that the Senate polls should be transparent, adding that the opposition in the Charter of Democracy had also called for transparency in the Senate polls.
The minister said that the Senate elections in the past had been tainted with sale and purchase of lawmakers’ votes. “All have seen as how a party with six or seven votes, secured 20 votes in the previous Senate election,” he added.
“The government with that objective has approached the Supreme Court for guidance on this count and one option is the constitutional amendment. It will, however, show on which side the opposition stands. The opposition will be exposed if it opposed the constitutional amendment.”
The money factor, Faraz argued, also marred the international perception regarding the elected public representatives. “The PTI has the moral justification to push for transparency, as it has sent home 20 of its lawmakers for receiving money for votes.”
Replying to questions from journalists, the minister said the government strongly believed in the media freedom and no-one would wish that the channel (media) of communication between the government and public should be disturbed.
He emphasised that he, as minister, had never questioned any media outlet about releasing any news report, and had just one request to make that while filing a report, the government’s version should also be incorporated to give it a balanced outlook as it should not be one-sided.
Criticism, he said, helped improve the performance of a government as the media pointed out any weakness in its governance. The minister added that the government wanted cordial relations with the media as neither the government nor the media would like any bitterness.
About the rejection of a bill for journalists rights, the minister said the opposition parties had opposed it despite the fact that they had representation in the house standing committee concerned, which had approved it. “Traditionally, a bill approved by a committee, is not opposed.”
He promised that after having numerical strength in the house, the government would not only bring such bill again but also do some other legislation for the media persons for their rights, pay protection job security and health cover.
He also said that a point-to-point reply would be sent to the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) in response to its report on Wednesday. There was exaggeration and some things associated with the government were factually not true, he added.
About the price hike, he said the rates of =many items had come down while others – mostly imported commodities like cooking oil, tea, pulses, powered milk and petroleum products – were witnessing an increase owing to the hike in the world market. The prime minister, he said, had been holding weekly meetings on inflation and price hike was a temporary phenomenon.
(With input from APP)