To the murmurs of his imminent ouster, and early elections as a result, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had one thing to say: the countdown to the current government’s dismissal had begun the day it assumed charge.
Yet, he said, the government had now presented five budgets, and was still alive and kicking. “No one can teach the PPP about politics and democracy. Who understands these things better than us?” he questioned, while speaking at a public gathering after visiting the site of the Thar coal gasification project on Thursday.
Having been summoned to the Supreme Court to explain his stand on implementing orders pertaining to writing a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, the premier avoided talking about the matter directly. However, he said that the time for the general elections is near and the government does not want a ‘fight’ with any institution.
The under coal gasification (UCG) project of Dr Samar Mubarakmand has, meanwhile, secured Rs900 million funds for work on Block 5 – announced by the prime minister at the public gathering.
Finances had stalled after the shutting down of the gasification project after four months of its operation. While detractors interpreted the move as a failure, Dr Mubarakmand stressed that it was closed to avoid wastage of coal as it was being run on an experimental basis. Praising the work of Dr Mubarakmand and his team involved in the UCG project, the PM announced a month’s salary bonus.
The scientist has so far spent around Rs1 billion from the government-approved outlay of Rs9 billion. He will set up a power plant from the newly-released funds to use the gas for electricity production. The fresh releases come over two weeks after Dr Mubarakmand took the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Science and Technology into confidence at a briefing in Islamabad.
While briefing the premier, he said an eight-megawatt power plant will be installed but stopped short of announcing the date when it will begin to produce electricity. In the second phase of the project, a 100 MW plant will be installed, however, the funds for that are yet to come. He said that UCG experiment has succeeded elsewhere in the world. The scientist claimed that Block 5 also has reserves of 2 billion barrels of oil.
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, while speaking at the public meeting, requested the premier to provide financial support for the project. Shamsuddin Shaikh, the CEO of Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company, informed the premier that the company will begin open-pit mining after three months. He said the company requires a sovereign guarantee from the federal government to obtain financing for the project.
Senator Gul Muhammad Lot, who belongs to Thar, briefed the PM about the need for water supply, electrification, education, health and infrastructure facilities. On his request, the PM announced Rs200 million for electrification of 200 villages in Thar. Federal minister Syed Navid Qamar, Syed Khursheed Shah, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Dr Asim Hussain, MNA Rabia Qaimkhani and Khatumal Jeewani were also present.
Prime Minister Ashraf tried to woo enraged leaders of two coalition partners, Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) and Awami National Party (ANP), during his stay in Karachi on Thursday.
Soon after his visit to Thar and attending an iftar dinner hosted by the Sindh Chief Minister, the prime minister visited the residence of Pir Pagara, Syed Sibghatullah Rashdi, following grievances over the attitude of the government as well as PPP leaders. Sources said that the meeting of prime minster was arranged in the wake of threats issued by some senior PML-F leaders to walk out of the government on the alleged shifting the polling stations to PPP dominated areas. The local government issue was also taken up, with PML-F saying that, despite being a coalition partner, PPP was not taking them into confidence.
Though PML-F leaders told the media that the prime minster had come to condole with Pir Pagara on the death of his sister, sources in the party said that the premier sought the support of Pir Pagara and assured that he would resolve all grievances of his party. In this connection, a PML-F delegation, led by Senator Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah and Khuda Bux Rajar, would meet Prime Minister Ashraf today (Friday) in Karachi.
On the other hand, the prime minister also visited Mardan House, the ANP headquarters in Karachi, and met Senator Shahi Syed. The ANP leader had complained that the last time the prime minister was in Karachi, which was his first here since being made premier, he only visited Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) headquartes Nine-Zero.
At the Chief Minister House iftar dinner, the premier said that the PPP has never desired confrontation with any institution – and added that the prime responsibility of the coalition government is to hold transparent, free, and fair elections. Leaders of different political parties, including MQM, ANP, PML-Q and PML-F, were at the event.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2012.