Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and his cabinet colleagues believe they need to be tutored to explain the PPP government’s economic achievements to the public.

Having been briefed about economic indicators presented to them by the finance ministry at a recent meeting of the federal cabinet, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was directed to prepare bullet points for all ministers so that they could be used in the PPP’s election campaign.

“The cabinet decided that the ministry of finance shall prepare talking points on economic achievements of the government and pass these on to the information ministry. The information ministry shall fine tune the talking points in simple user-friendly language and pass on these to the cabinet for dissemination to the media,” according to minutes of the cabinet meeting held earlier this month.

The cabinet also praised efforts made by the finance minister and his team to bring down inflation, measured by Consumer Price Index (CPI), from 24.7 per cent in 2008 to a single digit of 6.9 per cent this year.

The cabinet members were equally happy to note that inflation in other regional countries was quite higher than in Pakistan — 9.8 per cent (October) in India, 7.2 per cent (October) in Bangladesh and 9.5 per cent (November) in Sri Lanka.

The finance ministry also reported that a price comparison of essential items on Dec 6 showed that prices of wheat, wheat flour, rice, sugar and red chillies were higher in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan than in Pakistan. The cabinet was briefed on the current CPI that determined changes in prices of essential commodities. In November, CPI was recorded at 6.9 per cent, food inflation at 5.3 per cent and non-food inflation at 8.1 per cent.

During the July-Nov period, CPI stood at 8.4 per cent, Sensitive Price Index at 7.3 per cent and Wholesale Price Index at 7.6 per cent.

The finance secretary informed the cabinet that inflation had come down to a single digit after a long time.

The SPI increased by only 0.15 per cent during the week ending on Dec 6. Prices of 14 essential items, including LPG, chicken, eggs, tea, wheat, wheat flour, masoor pulse, kerosene and mustard oil, have increased while prices of 13 items, including tomatoes, potatoes, onions, red chillies, gram pulse, sugar, moong pulse, vegetable ghee, basmati rice and Irri-6, have declined. Prices of 26 items remained unchanged.

CORRUPTION: The cabinet said incidence of corruption was being blown out of proportion to discredit the government, vowing to tackle it proactively in a friendly narrative and spinning blame with others.

According to the minutes, the meeting was informed that the National Accountability Bureau chairman’s statement about Rs7 billion corruption taking place in the country daily was based on a Transparency International report.

A minister said it implied that Rs2.4 trillion corruption was taking place annually, terming it fictional. “Some cabinet members felt that although the figure appeared to be incredible, the matter needed to be taken seriously and called for a concerted action,” the minister added.

The prime minister said the real problem was that defamation laws were weak in the country and everybody felt free to say whatever he wished without any fear of accountability. “Unfortunately in the absence of relevant laws, anybody could say anything against anybody and get away with it,” he said.

Some ministers were of the opinion that corruption index was based on a perception report and related not only to the federal government but also provincial governments. Others suggested that the federal government should desist from an “adversarial approach” towards the Transparency International.

Some said the government should be concerned and curious rather than being apologetic and defensive. Hence it was essential that “narrative based on facts be developed for sharing with people to dispel the wrong perception about corruption in Pakistan”.

Updated Dec 28, 2012 10:06pm

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