In what comes as a relief amid the Covid-19 pandemic adversely affecting economic activities, G-20 countries have suspended the repayment of $3.7 billion loan by Pakistan till the end of the year, it was announced after a meeting of the federal cabinet on Tuesday.
The cabinet, which met with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, also decided that a third party would monitor and evaluate the projects under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP).
The G-20 countries have approved the second part of Dalhart’s Group Seasonal Index (DGSI) under which they have suspended repayment by Pakistan of its $ 3.7 billion loan by end of the year.
“The suspension of the loan, which was liable to be repaid instantly, is good news for the national economy,” Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said at a post-cabinet media briefing.
The cabinet has also decided to create a third party mechanism to evaluate the utilisation of funds on the projects to be executed in the Centre and provinces under the PSDP.
“The initiative is aimed at sensitising the public about the utilisation of funds, ensuring execution of the PSDP projects in true letter and spirit, and bringing transparency to the system,” the minister added.
The cabinet also gave the nod to the plan to introduce a national digital cable policy.
"Moving our cable channels from the existing analog to the digital mode will ensure transparency in the ratings,” Fawad said.
He added that the move would also help in increasing the number of channels to up to 900 to 950, such as those related to science, technology and history.
Moreover, he maintained, the channels would be run on the subscription model to create a futuristic media scene.
"Cable operators will have the right to buy content while youth will be able to sell their content to them," the information minister said, adding that this would help create a new content industry.
He observed that the step would also help incentivise the channels, as well as those running YouTube channels, to sell their content.
The minister said the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) might announce reopening of cinemas from June 30 considering the improvement in the Covid-19 positivity ratio in the country.
"Have spoken to the NCOC and [Federal Minister] Asad Umar has promised that cinemas will be reopened by June 30. However, a final decision will be made by the NCOC," he clarified.
The minister further said the government wanted to put the electronic voting machines [EVMs] to use as early as possible.
"We want to enable the use of EVMs by as early as the next by-elections," he added.
Fawad said the machines had been developed as per the aspirations of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
He added that the government considered overseas Pakistanis as a vital component [of the national mainstream], while referring to granting the expatriates the right to vote.
According to Fawad, the entire nation was looking at the matter of accountability as if it was “some kind of a joke”.
“We request the judiciary to decide [PML-N President] Shehbaz Sharif's case on a day-to-day basis," he added.
"The schedule for hearing of cases isn't issued despite the passage of up to six months.”
During the meeting, the parliamentary affairs ministry told the cabinet that the legislation on electoral reforms had been sent to the Senate after its passage from the National Assembly.
A report on the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) audit system was also submitted to the information technology ministry.
The minister said the cabinet had also decided that 42.6% income share of the Central Business District, being established at the Walton Airport site in Lahore, would be given to the Civil Aviation and 57.4 % to the Punjab government.
“The Civil Aviation had the ownership of 52 acres and the Punjab government owned 70 acres,” he elaborated.
He described Imran Khan the ‘only prime minister,’ who was a true environmentalist and environment-friendly PM and had serious concerns that cities were being expanded without any planning that too horizontally. “But, we need to expand the cities vertically.”
The minister said now billions of rupees investment would pour in due to the construction of vertical buildings, which would add to the beauty of Lahore.
The cabinet also approved handing over of convicted Muhammad Awais, involved in a rape and domestic violence case, to Norway on his own request. It gave the nod to a storm water drains project under the Karachi Transformation Plan.
The cabinet also approved the regularisation of an air company, AHS Air International (Pvt) Ltd charter lenience class –II, from August 17, 2016, while further extension to air company would be given by the aviation minister as per the policy.
The minister said the cabinet also discussed the ongoing budget session and the government wanted a thorough debate on the budget and would listen to the constructive criticism.
“But criticism and insulting are two different things,” he said, referring to the National Assembly descending into chaos earlier in the day.
Lawmakers from the treasury and opposition benches nearly came to blows and hurled objects at each other.
“The opposition under the garb of criticism was trying to insult [the treasury members], which is not acceptable in any case,” Fawad maintained.
“As planned by Shehbaz Sharif, PML-N MNAs were given the task of sloganeering and misconduct. We will never allow anyone to do such things in parliament.”
According to sources, PM Imran expressed his displeasure over the opposition’s behaviour and directed the party’s lawmakers to respond to them in the same manner.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak were in favour of approaching a reconciliatory approach in parliament. However, most ministers were of the opinion that the treasury benches should not succumb to pressure and “fight fire with fire”.(With input from APP)