Cabinet discontinues discretionary funds, approves austerity steps: Fawad

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APP29-24 ISLAMABAD: August 24 - Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain briefs the media persons during a press conference at PID Media Centre. APP photo by Saeed-ul-Mulk

ISLAMABAD, Aug 24 (APP):The Federal Cabinet on Friday decided to discontinue provision of discretionary funds to the president, the prime minister, federal ministers and parliamentarians, besides announcing a number of austerity measures and holding forensic audit of certain mega projects.
“The cabinet has decided to discontinue provision of discretionary funds to the president, prime minister and ministers, hold forensic audit of mega projects like metro bus, Orange Train and other projects to ensure transparency,” Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry told a news conference after the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
He said two weekly holidays would continue, however, in order to improve efficiency of the government offices, all of them would work from 0900 hours to 1700 hours. “After a detailed discussion, it was decided to continue Saturday as a weekly holiday. But, the office timing has been increased by an hour, from 0900 hours to 1700 hours.”
He said a task force would be set up for collecting information about basic amenities at slums as he referred to the prime minister’s vision to focus on the poorest of the poor for providing them basic facilities.
The cabinet, he said, also decided about starting an urban tree plantation campaign with special focus on Karachi where the environmental situation had degraded over the years while Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta would be other cities of its focus.
He said the Ministry of Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) would be done away with while the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting would stay and organizations working under it like Pakistan Television (PTV), Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) would be overhauled.
The minister said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif used Rs 21 billion discretionary funds during one year and also allocated Rs 30 billion to parliamentarians for development schemes at his own will. “Since the national kitty is not a personal property of any individual, therefore, the cabinet has decided that all future projects will route through the parliament to ensure that tax payers’ money were spent judiciously.”
He said funds worth billions of rupees had been spent or announced, by the previous government, for different districts to build airports, motorways and other mega projects ignoring the basic needs like health, education and clean drinking water. “Therefore, the cabinet has also decided to conduct a forensic audit of such projects and call in the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for investigation if required.”

The information minister said during last year Rs 750 billion was allocated for development projects, but Rs one trillion more was spent or announced for the purpose, which was later got approved from the parliament through supplementary grants.
He said the prime minister would not use his personal aircraft for travelling rather he and his cabinet members would avail Club Class instead of First Class. “The government will request other important personalities to also use the Club Class no matter even if they are entitled to the First Class.”
He said the purpose for conducting forensic audit of mass transit projects was to evaluate if the public money was used appropriately. “We spent billions of rupees on metro bus projects and afterwards are paying billions of rupees to run them. This needs an audit that will be done across the board.”
He said the prime minister was keen about forensic audit of projects as he desired that facts were briskly revealed to the masses.
The minister said there was a chance of corruption as earlier billions of rupees were spent on those projects and the government had now to pay Rs 8 to 10 billion more to run them.
Talking about the Faisalabad incident, Fawad Chaudhry said the scuffle occurred during a cock-fighting and it had nothing to do with sectarianism.
Later replying to questions, he said the prime minister had expressed concerns on power load-shedding during Eid days. The authorities concerned had conveyed him that there was a shortfall of 4000 MW. “We are looking into technicalities as apparently it was the distribution problem.”
The prime minister, he said, had sought a detailed briefing on the issue as the previous government had focused only on power generation but did not upgrade the distribution system. Furthermore, the last government had also left behind two circular debts amounting to Rs 546 billion and Rs 480 billion.
When asked about dissolution of the CADD ministry, he said departments attached to it would be merged into other ministries. However, the Information Ministry would continue and the government would re-constitute boards of directors (BoDs) of entities working under its umbrella, he added.
“We are also ensuring that the opposition is duly covered by state-run news organizations and for the purpose we shall be giving representation to PPPP and PML-N in their BoDs, besides inducting independent professionals,” he stated and mentioned to overhaul English news channel of PTV transforming it into a regional player.
When asked what would be the alternative of discretionary funds that were also spent to meet emergency situations, the minister said the secretary finance had been directed to evolve a mechanism where brisk provision of funding was ensured to meet eventualities. “But, it will be through the parliament as we cannot leave the public money on behest of any individual. It is a major decision and now nobody will be able to spend public money on his or her discretion.”
To a question about the Orange Line train project, he said the projects under CPEC and where there were state guarantees, the present government would abide by those agreements and the Orange Line project would be completed in near future as the Chief Justice of Pakistan had also directed for its early completion.
Fawad Chaudhry said after the austerity measures and the assurances that public money would not be misused, the government would introduce an incentive package for overseas Pakistanis.
He said putting name of anybody on the Exit Control List was decided by the cabinet and when the matter regarding former President Pervez Musharraf would be referred to the Executive, the latter would proceed accordingly.
Answering another question, he said the timeframe for task forces constituted for different purposes varied as the task force formed for bringing back money from foreign banks would present its report by Tuesday while others like cleanliness of cities, tree plantation and slum areas would take time for accomplishment of their assignments.
When asked about inquiry into failure of RTS (Result Transmission System), he said Senator Azam Swati had raised the issue and it was demand of all the political parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, to investigate the matter. “Therefore, a mechanism is being evolved and Mr Swati will brief media on the issue in coming days.”