Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday said that gas reserves in the country were depleting fast, warning that there would be no gas in the country in the coming years.
“People getting gas at cheaper rates in big cities should change their habits … this trend will not continue for long,” the government spokesperson said while briefing the media on the federal cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier in the day. Fawad said, “Gas is available to only 22 per cent people living in cities while the burden is being borne by 78 per cent people in other parts of the country who use liquefied petroleum gas, coal and other means.”
Reiterating what he had said in a previous post-cabinet press briefing, Fawad said that gas was depleting by nine per cent every year for the last two years. Despite the gas shortage, he claimed, the issue of fertiliser was resolved in the best possible way and the history’s biggest production of urea – 33 million metric tonnes – was recorded in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) tenure. “The urea prices have fallen by 10 per cent,” he said, insisting that there was no shortage of urea in the country.
The cabinet decided to ensure supply of urea fertiliser for Rabi crop in the country; the Sui Northern Gas Company (SSGC) will supply gas to the urea plants by January 2022; gas supply to Pak Arab and Fatima fertiliser plants will be ensured; and the process of importing additional 50,000 tonnes of urea should be completed expeditiously. The cabinet was also informed that the price of urea per sack in Pakistan was about Rs1,864 while in other countries it was being sold at Rs10,000 per sack.
To a question about Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed’s claim that the PTI leaders used to provide funds of up to Rs3 million per month for now Prime Minister Imran Khan’s household expenses, Fawad said that “jokers like Justice (retd) Wajihuddin” say things like these to get some importance.
ECP should issue tender for EVMs
The information minister urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to go ahead and issue a tender for the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) as the government was ready to provide them.
Fawad said that the ECP should issue a tender carrying all the requirements and conditions needed for holding the next general elections through the EVMs.
Referring to the correspondence between the ECP and the Ministry of Science and technology, the information minister said that the government has informed the electoral body that the demonstration of the EVM prototype was given to the commission on April 17 and later to the ECP secretary on November 15.
“To our understanding, the ECP has approved the machines and the science ministry is ready to supply them,” he added. The minister recalled that the idea about holding elections via the EVM was first initiated in 2012 during the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government and, subsequently, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government directed the ECP in 2017 to take practical steps for making it a reality.
He said that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was taking the work already done by the PPP and the PML-N forward, adding that all political parties should play a positive role in this regard. The cabinet was given a detailed briefing on the schedule regarding the delivery and use of the EVMs at all polling stations in the country and training of the staff. The cabinet expressed its firm resolve to hold the next elections through the EVMs after the implementation of laws regarding it and voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.
Previously, the federal government had linked releasing of funds to the ECP with holding all elections in the country through the EVMs. “If the elections are not held through the EVMs, the government will not be able to release funds to the ECP because the law permits holding elections only via the EVMs,” he had said.
On the cost of elections via EVMs, the minister had told The Express Tribune that roughly Rs27 billion rupees would be required for holding the next general elections, saying 400,000 machines with 800,000 voting pads would be enough to hold the national and provincial assembly elections in 2023. Keeping roughly 400,000 polling booths in the country in view, he had said, the ECP says that 800,000 EVMs would be needed to hold the next general elections.
On Tuesday, the cabinet welcomed the ECP’s decision to use EVMs in the local body elections in Islamabad. Later, while replying to a question, the minister said that obtaining 4,000 machines was not a problem for the ECP as it would get the machines as soon as it issues a tender.
On the ongoing protest in Gwadar, Balochistan, the minister revealed that Prime Minister Imran has constituted a two-member committee comprising Planning Minister Asad Umar and Minister for Defence Production Zubaida Jalal with the directions to visit the area, meet the protesters and submit a comprehensive report.
He said that the premier has already taken notice of the issue, adding that the federal government had announced Rs700 billion Southern Balochistan Package, which included Rs500 billion from the federal government.
On Sunday, PM Imran had vowed to take “strong action” against illegal fishing by trawlers off the Gwadar coast, adding that they had “very legitimate demands” and he would speak to Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo to address the reservations of the province’s fisherfolk community.
Read More: Balochistan promised ‘maximum share’
Sugar sector reforms
Fawad said that the cabinet mulled over the Sugar Sector Reforms Committee’s report and decided to hold a “public debate” for three weeks in order to take input from different stakeholders on sugar sector reforms, and the proposal that the sector should be deregulated and the government should only keep an eye on the crushing season.
To the questions about the news reports stating that the cabinet was expected to discuss mini-budget and legislation for curbing the practice of buying and selling votes in the Senate elections, Fawad replied that both the issues were not discussed in the cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile, SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan gave a briefing on the preventive measures regarding the new type of coronavirus variant, Omicron. The cabinet emphasised on the need to increase vaccinations, maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. The cabinet was informed that at present, 20 million people in Pakistan have not been vaccinated with the second dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
The cabinet urged all such citizens to take the second dose as soon as possible to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The meeting was also informed that immunity increases 17-fold after the second dose of vaccine.
Finance Adviser Shaukat Tarin presented a comparative review of the prices of essential commodities to the cabinet, saying the weekly inflation rate has come down by 0.07%; prices of sugar, flour and other household items have decreased; collectively, prices of nine items decreased; and prices of 23 items remained stable.
The cabinet was informed that apart from the prices of Banaspati Ghee and tea leaves in the region, prices of all other essential items were lower in Pakistan. Concerns were raised over higher prices of essential commodities in Sindh including flour, sugar, milk, ghee and pulses.
Pakistan-Central Asia ties
The cabinet approved amendment in bilateral air route between Pakistan and Tajikistan, saying the decision will reduce both air distance and travel costs. The cabinet also allowed Kazakh Air Company (SCAT) to operate in Pakistan to start air travel between Pakistan and Kazakhstan, noting that the decision will help boost bilateral trade between the two countries.
To promote trade between Pakistan and Central Asian countries, the cabinet directed the Aviation Division to start work on finalising air travel agreements with all Central Asian countries.
It also approved an amendment to air travel agreement between Pakistan and Iraq. In addition, the cabinet approved extension in the period for exchanging old Pakistani 10, 50, 100 and 1,000 currency notes till December 31, 2022.
On the basis of humanitarian grounds, the cabinet decided that the process of obtaining Pakistani visas for Afghans has been further eased and after this decision, the security clearance required for obtaining a visa has been reduced from 30 days to 15. The meeting also decided to further facilitate the registration process of international NGOs working for the welfare and assistance of the Afghan people.
Facility for Afghans immigrating to other countries through Pakistan has been extended for another 60 days, fawad said, adding that the facility includes travel by land and air routes.
Ogra’s annual report for the year 2019-20 was presented to the cabinet.
The report carries recommendations regarding the performance of Pakistan’s petroleum industry, production, supply and demand as well as improvement. The cabinet was informed that at present there is a 27-day stock of petrol and diesel; 75 exploration licences generated revenue of Rs29 billion; safety standards for LPG cylinders are being improved and a public awareness campaign is under way.
Also, it was told, 10 licences were issued to LPG companies; an audit is being carried out to prevent gas theft; and action is being taken against those selling petrol at illegal pumps and in plastic containers.
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