ISLAMABAD, Apr 27 (APP): Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain on Tuesday urged the opposition to submit their suggestions for electoral reforms to hold the next general elections through electronic voting system and granting the right of vote to nine million overseas Pakistanis.
Apprising media persons about the decisions taken by the Federal Cabinet, which met here with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, Fawad said Prime Minister’s Advisor on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan briefed the cabinet about the electoral reforms and electronic voting machines.
The government, he said, wanted to move forward on the electoral reforms with political consensus and the prime minister had written a letter to the National Assembly speaker to engage the opposition on the matter. The speaker, he said, had also written letters to the opposition leaders for their input on the electoral voting system but so far no reply had been given by them.
Fawad said the government could not wait for the opposition’s response indefinitely as it wanted to hold next general elections through the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and grant overseas Pakistanis the right to franchise.
Both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan peoples Party (PPP), he said, wanted to oppose the move of granting the right of vote to the expatriates as they were not their supporters. The two parties should openly express their viewpoint whether they wanted to give the vote right to the overseas Pakistanis or not, he added.
The minister said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal and Minister for Planning Asad Umar briefed the cabinet about the the latest coronavirus situation in the country.
The cabinet, he said, was informed that around 5,000 patients suffering from the deadly virus were in critical condition, which was the highest number as compared to the last two peaks of the contagion when the maximum number of serious patients remained 3,400.
He said currently Pakistan was producing 792 metric tons of oxygen to meet the requirement of COVID-19 patients. The situation in Pakistan would have different had it not increased 7,000 ventilator beds and doubled the production of oxygen during the last one year.
It was decided that the oxygen meant for the industrial sector would also be diverted to the health sector if the situation worsened, he added.
The government, Fawad said, was also considering import of oxygen from China and Iran if the need arose.
The minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed to ensure supply of essential items during the pandemic. The government was trying hard to avoid complete lockdown and that was why it was considering to announce five-day holidays for Eidul Fitr.
About anti-COVID vaccination, Fawad said so far 2 million people had been vaccinated. The vaccine was fully safe for human health, he added and urged the people to get themselves vaccinated against the virus as around one billion people, across the world, had so far been immunized against the disease.
He said 3.7 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine were available in the country and now 40 and above people were eligible for vaccination.
He appreciated the print and electronic media for creating awareness among the people to follow the Standard Operating Procedures against the pandemic.
He said the prime minister while chairing the meeting of National Coordination Committee, had observed that in case a complete lockdown were imposed, the government would have to ensure supply of the essential commodities.
The five-day Eid holidays would ease burden on the cities as the pandemic was an urban phenomena, he added.
The information minister said the cabinet was also given a detailed presentation on the electricity sector’s circular debt.
Due to inefficient policies of the previous government and 40-50 per cent excessive production of electricity, he said, the capacity charges of plants had increased from Rs 450 billion to Rs 900 billion. “It means that the government has to pay Rs 900 billion to the power-producing companies whether we use electricity or not.”
He said in 2023, which would be the election year, the capacity charges would reach Rs 1,500 billion, causing raise in electricity rate from Rs 11.75 to Rs 16.44 per unit. “The cost of per unit electricity production is at around Rs 22 or 23.”
Fawad said had the full cost of electricity production was passed on to the consumers, all the industry would have collapsed because of unaffordable power.
The prime minister, he said, had asked the quarters concerned to find a way to get rid of the capacity charges issue without increasing the electricity tariff.
The issue could be tackled by shutting down inefficient power production plants, he added. Some had already been closed and the remaining would be shut down by September 2022.
Similarly, the minister said, there were around 11 IPPs (Independent Power Producers) generating around 3,300-megawatt electricity that cost extremely expensive. “We are giving Rs 6,00 billion to these IPPs. The government is in negotiation for the purchase of the 11 IPPs so that these could also be shut down as per its policy.”
He said the sector’s line losses had also come down from 18.3 per cent to 17. 8 per cent, despite the increase in the electricity price which showed the government’s good performance.
As regards the national flag carrier, the minister said the cabinet was apprised that the operational losses of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had come down from Rs 57 billion to Rs 1 billion, which was a ‘great success’ of the present management.
The real problem of the PIA, however, was its loan which caused an overall loss of Rs 460 billion, he added.
The national flag-carrier’s per aircraft staff ratio, he said, was 450, that was the highest in the world. The previous governments of the PML-N and PPP had ruined the national institution by making political and unnecessary appointments, he added.
Winding up the media briefing, Fawad said a delegation of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNAs had called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to convey their recommendations over the Jehangir Khan Tareen issue. The meeting discussed all the issues in detail.
Jehangir Tareen was a very important leader of the PTI and the top leadership believed in rule of law and fair play, he added.
The government, he said, would not influence any department at any cost to give someone any kind of relaxation in inquiries. However, the PM had given a task to Senator Ali Zafar to look into the reservations of some of the Members National Assembly (MNAs), who complained that a deliberate or politically motivated attempt was being made to malign Jehangir Tareen, he added.
Accordingly, he said, Senator Ali Zafar would compile a report after taking into consideration all aspects and submit it to the party’s top leadership.
Replying to media persons’ questions, Fawad said the prime minister did not accept the PTI MNAs’ demand for establishment of a commission under a retired judge with regards to the Federal Investigation Agency’s probe into sugar scam-related matters.The demand was not accepted for the time being, as it would show as to someone had been made to sit on the investigations, he added.
To a question, he said the PTI legislators would not create any issue, as they did not belong to the PPP or PML-N.
“They will remain part of the PTI and if they believe it is a politically-motivated case and there are political reasons behind these allegations, then there should be investigation into it and one has to move forward keeping both these in view,” he maintained. So far there had been no meeting between the prime minister and Tareen, he added.
Regarding the newly-appointed Minister for Science and Technology Senator Shibli Faraz’s concerns about the locally-made ventilators’ quality, Fawad said he might not have been given complete presentations so far on the subject and that was why he had given such a statement.
Some 100 locally made ventilators were being sent to Sri Lanka and another 300 to Iraq, while many installed at Mayo Hospital after fulfilling all the procedural requirements and tests during the year, he added.
He pointed out that the ventilator, being made by NUST University and NUTECH was also in final stages.
Fawad said Shibli himself might not have knowledge about it as such and based his opinion on the briefings given so far perhaps. He suggested to the minister to get briefings from the companies, that were producing the ventilators, which would also give him certifications too.
He said all the COVID-related materials had been made following the procedures and claimed that had the same not been prepared, the situation would have been extremely critical by now.
The minister contended that the scientists and engineers should be appreciated for their efforts and the private sector, which had done a tremendous job so far.
With regards to the approval of issuance of arms licenses, Fawad said only Shahbaz Gill had applied for it and others, who wanted to get, should give applications.
A new policy, he said, was being brought, under which instead of the Federal Cabinet, the Ministry of Interior would give permission for an arms licence and it would become easy.
Regarding legislation for the electronic voting machine (EVM), he said the government, which was now in majority in the Senate as well, was in a position to go for legislation on its own, if the opposition did not support it on that count.