The federal cabinet allowed the pledging of the country’s major airports and road network to raise around Rs1.8 trillion debt in the next fiscal year to finance the budget deficit, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Tuesday.
In addition, the minister told his post-cabinet meeting briefing that cabinet also approved the import of another 1 million metric tons of wheat, saying that growing public demand increased the need for wheat import despite a bumper crop of 27.3 million tons this year.
At the media briefing, the minister shared details of the decisions taken by the cabinet during its regular weekly meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The meeting disposed of several agenda items, according to the minister.
Chaudhry said that the agenda item pertaining to the issuance of domestic and international Ijara sukuk bonds against unencumbered assets of the government was approved. Initially, he said, only policy was approved and properties would be determined afterwards but later on, while answering a question, he said the complete summary was approved.
In its revised list of assets that the finance ministry wanted to give to international and domestic lenders in collateral, M-1 (Islamabad-Peshawar) and M-3 (Pindi-Bhatian-Faisalabad) motorways, Islamabad Expressway and Islamabad, Lahore and Multan international airports, had been identified, he said. “The government has dropped Fatima Jinnah Park, Islamabad, for now,” he added.
During the briefing, the minister also gave details of the government’s efforts for electoral reforms in the country, including the voting rights to the overseas Pakistanis and the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the elections.
“The government is in a position to manufacture the EVMs and believes that the ECP [Election Commission of Pakistan] should take necessary steps in this regards and ensure that the by-elections are conducted through EVMs before the next general elections,” Chaudhry said. “The purpose is to see if any complications arise so that they can be fixed before the 2023 elections.”
Chaudhry said that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government wanted to give voting rights to the overseas Pakistanis but it was “beyond understanding why the PPP [Pakistan Peoples Party0 and the PML-N [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz] are so afraid of the idea”.
“They think all the overseas Pakistanis are Prime Minister Imran Khan’s voters,” he said, adding that the whole issue of electronic voting was stuck just because the opposition parties were not in favour of giving voting rights to the expats.
He said EVMs were being used in 20 countries, but Pakistan was making the most advanced EVMs in the world as it would have electronic as well as paper trail. He added that Estonia was the most digitised country as it has now switched to internet voting from the EVM.
The information minister said that overseas Pakistanis contributed to the economy by sending remittances, adding that Rs1,000 billion were sent in remittances, and 90% of these transactions carried less than $500 amount.
“If the expats can send Rs1,000 billion now, why didn’t they send it before,” Chaudhry posed a question and said that because they trust Prime Minister now, they don’t trust former president Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif or his brother, former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif.
On the ECP’s objections to the electoral reform bill, the minister said that the ECP could not question parliament because it only dealt with administrative issues related to the elections. He added that the privilege committee could summon those writing letters and raising objections to bills.
“Parliament is supreme and if someone writes a letter like the one written by the ECP should see if parliament’s privilege is violated or not; parliament’s privilege committee can always summon such a person and enquire how he violated parliament’s privilege,” the minister said.
Chaudhry made it clear that those interested in politics should form a political party, stressing that only political leadership could decide about the method for the elections, while the ECP had to implement those decisions.
He reiterated that the ECP was not for the people, who wished to indulge themselves in politics. “The ECP is bound to implement the laws made by parliament,” he added. “Only the Supreme Court can see if something was in violation of the Constitution.”
Commenting on opposition’s decision to call an all parties conference (APC) to discuss the electoral reforms bill, he said that the decision to hold the APC on electoral reforms was actually aimed at weakening parliament.
He added that government did not see former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman as stakeholders in the current political setup. However, he said, the government was open to discuss the proposed electoral reforms with parliamentary leaders.
Interestingly, an agenda item pertaining to Special Inspection Report on Write-Off Cases of Banks was deferred because the details provided to the cabinet members about the people who took loans were not readable. Chaudhry said that the details about the people whose loans were written-off would be taken up again and shared with the public.
On Covid vaccination, Chaudhry said that 400,000 people are getting themselves vaccinated every day. On different countries not accepting certain vaccines, he said, several countries were in negotiations with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and it was expected that issue would be resolved soon.
The cabinet gave approval to appointing non-executive member of the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation Limited (PIACL), Aslam Khan, as the chairman PIACL. Sajid Baloch has been appointed as the executive director of the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC).
Moreover, the cabinet approved the Public Properties (Removal of Encroachment) Bill, 2021, to pave way for reclamation of the encroached government lands. Chaudhry announced that the cabinet allowed Pakistanis residing in Luxembourg to hold dual nationality. The cabinet made a committee to review policies related to NGOs and after examination, it would report back to the cabinet
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