Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday expressed serious reservations over the process of allotting plots to government officers as well as including journalists and judges after acquiring land from poor people in the federal capital.
At post-cabinet meeting briefing, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry quoted the premier as saying that it was unfair to forcibly snatch land from the poor to hand over to influential people at cheaper rates.
Referring to the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority audit report for 2018-19 submitted to the Public Accounts Committee recently, the minister said it was unfortunate to note how the poor were exploited in Islamabad.
Fawad added that PM Imran had formed a committee to formulate a comprehensive policy in accordance with principles laid down by the Islamabad High Court’s chief justice in this matter.
The minister said the committee, which would be headed by Planning Development Minister Asad Umar, was aimed at working out a system that would stop the acquisition of land from the poor to set up housing societies by influential individuals.
Human Rights Minister of Dr Shireen Mazari, Adviser to the PM on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar and Law Minister Dr Farogh Naseem were also included in the committee, he added.
The minister lambasted the opposition parties over their “lack of seriousness” in electoral reforms.
He hinted that the cabinet would soon allow the import of all international movies except Indian ones.
Fawad also hoped that the UK would review its policy of placing Pakistan on its travel red list.
Among other key decisions, the minister said the cabinet had approved the appointment of Sardar Ali Khan as the Punjab IGP. He added that Kamran Afzal had been appointed as the chief secretary of the province.
In addition, Fawad confirmed the upcoming tour of New Zealand’s cricket team and said the cabinet had approved a security plan for this purpose.
“The security provided to the New Zealand cricket team during its previous tour to the country was not up to mark,” he admitted. He added that “extraordinary security” would be provided to the New Zealand cricket team this time around.
The minister said Pakistan had won the Roosevelt Hotel case in the US and the cabinet had approved the allocation of funds to meet its liabilities.
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He said the cabinet had given approval to 50% reduction in port charges for exporters, whereas the proposal to appoint four members of the National Industrial Relations Commission was also given the nod.
The cabinet was informed that the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) incurred losses worth Rs286 billion during the fiscal year 2017-18.
All the SOEs, excluding the National Highway Authority (NHA), have been transformed into profitable organisations, the minister said.
He said the SOEs were facing colossal losses amounting to Rs140 billion and were now registering a profit worth Rs31 billion.
Fawad said his ministry has proposed allowing the import of non-Indian Punjabi films in the country for revival of the cinema industry.
“The country had 780 cinemas in 1970s that has now been reduced to 78.”
On the proposal, he said, the cabinet asked for expanding the initiative’s scope to import all international movies except Indian ones to Pakistan.
The minister said a summary would be presented before the cabinet again after necessary amendments for allowing foreign movies in Pakistan.
“Steps for the revival of the cinema industry were required on a war footing basis,” he said, while announcing the roll-out film package next week.
The minister also said Maryam Khawar had been appointed as the CEO of the Pakistan Expo Centre Private Limited.
He added that the Essential Services Act had been enforced in Radio Pakistan.
About the presence of Pakistan on the UK’s red list for travel, the minister explained that Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Faisal Sultan had held a detailed discussion with that country’s chief medical scientists and removed their concerns about Pakistan’s coronavirus data.
The minister further said the cabinet had fixed the price of Remdesivir, a life-saving injection for coronavirus patients, at Rs3,967 -- bringing it down from Rs5,680.
The minister said the cabinet had accorded approval to a landmark initiative of the National Database and Registration Authority -- Data Depository.
It was aimed at centralising the scattered data of the population.
Fawad maintained that Pakistan was the first country which had issued computerised national identity cards to over 200 million people and introduced machine readable passports.
“Pakistan is also the only country which has verified 160 million mobile SIMs through biometric verification,” he added.
About the frequent reshuffle in Punjab’s bureaucracy, he said such changes at the administrative level made no difference as policymaking was the government’s task.
Citing the example of the US, he said the top level bureaucracy was reshuffled there after every two months
Fawad said the government was committed to introduce electronic voting machines (EVMs) for the next general elections to ensure free, fair and transparent polls, but the opposition showed no interest in electoral reforms due to their vested interests.
“If free and fair elections are held in Pakistan, the PML-N will never win and the politics of the Sharif family will come to an end. Therefore, they have no interest in the electoral reforms,” he added.
The minister said not a single government in the past, including those of the PML-N and PPP, had ever made efforts to improve the electoral system in the country and now when they were in opposition, they were still resisting the move.
“It is unfortunate that the PTI government has to deal with the most non-serious, incapable and inefficient opposition of the history of the country. Their only interest was to save the party’s leadership from the ongoing accountability process.”
Fawad said the opposition parties had never given any viewpoint on the ongoing Afghanistan situation or the issue of refugees looming large over the country.
He regretted that the party of former premier Benazir Bhutto was being run by “political clowns”.
The minister said both the PML-N and PPP were resisting the electoral reforms deliberately as they knew that both Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari could only become the prime minister through manipulated and rigged general elections.
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