Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairing the first cabinet meeting at the PM secretariat.—Online Photo
ISLAMABAD: Presiding over the first meeting of his cabinet on Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave his ministers a tough talk, asking them to deliver on promises made by the PMLN in its election manifesto, set priorities and targets within two weeks, reduce non-development expenditure by 30 per cent, put the economy back on track, eradicate poverty and minimise loadshedding. He also warned them against failure.
There was pin drop silence as Mr Sharif made the opening remarks at the meeting. He encouraged the ministers to work hard and warned of strict action against anyone found wanting, according to a source privy to the meeting.
The source said although it was an introductory sitting, the prime minister used the occasion to candidly put across the message of how he expected the new cabinet to work.
He asked them to set priorities and targets within two weeks and said: “I will review your performance and I will not like you to fail.”
He particularly advised them to study the party’s manifesto and see “what are the commitments the PML-N has made to the people”. He asked them to reduce all non-development expenditures by at least 30 per cent. Talking about the challenges his government is facing at the moment, Mr Sharif said: “We need to put the economy back on track, eradicate poverty, eliminate intolerance and reduce loadshedding, inflation and, above all, isolation at the international level.”
The prime minister repeatedly warned his cabinet colleagues against what he called the culture of lethargy and personal whims and wishes. He said corruption and corrupt practices had severely affected the affairs of the state, adding that his government could meet the challenges if it remained corruption-free.
On the peaceful democratic transition, the prime minister said the people deserved best possible compliments because they had rejected all rumours about delays in elections and participated in the electoral process with great zeal. He underscored the importance of a government with undiluted mandate and said: “Governments with fractured mandate cannot solve any problem. Such governments have to compromise on principles and ideologies and the current state of affairs has no room for making such compromises. People have pinned high hopes on us, so we have to deliver accordingly.”
Mr Sharif also spoke on the massive circular debt and said it was the most immediate challenge which his government would like to address sooner rather than later. He said circular debt had reached the enormous level of Rs503 billion. “Even if we retire this debt there is no guarantee that this will not reappear unless we put in place a comprehensive plan to avert future problems,” he added.
About loadshedding, the prime minister said his government would have to see whether it could set up new plants because thermal power was extremely expensive. At the same time, he said, the government would try to remove line losses and end pilferage. “We will punish all those responsible for this crisis which is causing great discomfort to the people.”
Since the victory of his party in the elections, Mr Sharif has been holding meetings to find a sustainable solution to the power crisis.
He said public sector entities such as PIA and Steel Mills had been haemorrhaging the national economy, adding that his government was exploring the possibility of privatisation and public-private partnerships under the stewardship of competent chief executive officers appointed on merit.
The prime minister didn’t say much about the issue of extremism, militancy and sectarianism. “All efforts will be made to rid the country of these ills.”
Similarly on the issue of drone attacks, he said the government had already taken notice of these and registered its strong protest at an appropriate level. “Drone attacks are a violation of national sovereignty and will never be tolerated.”