ISLAMABAD, June 28: There was some joy in the National Assembly on power front at the end of its first budget session on Friday after being told by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar that the government had begun paying a major portion of Rs503 billion debt owed to private power-generating companies.
He said that in keeping with the new government’s promise to take only two months to retire the entire so-called circular debt, a major cause of below-capacity generation by independent power producers and the resulting power cuts, an amount of Rs326bn “is being paid today” as decided by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet on Thursday.
“Right now people are sitting in (the headquarters of) banks in Karachi (for the purpose),” the minister said in a brief speech amid cheers from lawmakers of the ruling PML-N and their allies.
He said the balance, amounting to Rs177bn, was expected to be cleared by mid-July, ahead of the promised date of Aug 10.
The finance minister also informed the house that about 400 outlets of the state-run Utility Stores Corporation across the country would give a discount ranging from 10 per cent to 30pc on several food items during Ramazan under a Rs2bn Ramazan package approved by the ECC meeting.
The discount would be applicable to items like wheat flour, cooking oil, gram and gram flour, spices and dates, he said.
The minister said the Trading Corporation of Pakistan had 126,000 metric tonnes of sugar in its stocks and it had been asked to arrange 100,000 tonnes more to avoid any shortage during Ramazan.
The house, which had little business for the day after passing the budget for 2013-14 of about Rs4 trillion and additional demands for grants for 2012-13 on Thursday, also heard the minister promising an honorarium worth two months’ basic salary for the staff of the National Assembly and of all other departments and state-run organisations who had worked in and around assembly premises during the budget session.
There also was a plethora of members’ complaints raised in brief speeches on points of order before the house was prorogued after a 17-day session.
Those points of order included one from a former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister, Akram Khan Durrani, complaining about the in-charge of a police station in Islamabad for allegedly demanding Rs300,000 in bribe from a person for the recovery of a car stolen in the capital along with his passport and visa.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi endorsed another member’s complaint about “some migration” of members of religious minorities taking place from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
PPP leader Amin Fahim referred to danger caused to a recent PIA flight from Karachi to Quetta on which he said five passengers kept standing because seats were not available to them.
Some members had a dig at the competence of Punjab’s former caretaker chief minister Najam Sethi on his recent appointment as acting chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board.
JOURNALISTS’ WALKOUT: Earlier, journalists staged a token walkout from the press gallery to protest against what organisers called the BBC’s sacking of nine journalists employed in Pakistan, including two in Islamabad.
The walkout ended after Information and Broadcasting Minister Pervez Rashid assured the protesters that the matter would be taken up with the BBC.
Meanwhile, the BBC issued a statement on the issue which said that in common with other parts of the BBC, the Urdu service had been tasked with making savings as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).
“Out of a total staff of 69 people in Pakistan, we have announced 10 job cuts – one management post and nine editorial posts in Pakistan. We communicated the job losses to staff in March 2013 and have followed a fair selection process in accordance with BBC policies and Pakistani labour law guidelines,” it said.