ISLAMABAD: To make up for the Chinese president’s cancelled trip to Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be heading to China on Friday to sign projects worth $35 to $40 billion. Following his two-day China visit, the PM will also make brief trips to Germany and the United Kingdom.
Dr Mussadiq Malik the newly-appointed spokesperson for the PM told the media on Thursday that the visits were aimed at rebuilding investor confidence, visibly shaken by the ongoing political crisis in the country.
Also read: PM likely to visit China next month
“Whatever investment the Chinese will be making as a result of these projects will not be a loan to the government of Pakistan,” Mr Malik was at pains to state in his first interaction with the media.
The Chinese have agreed to provide this money directly to the companies investing, he said.
However, the PTI leadership contends that this money is coming in the form of loans rather than investment.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was due to visit Pakistan in mid-September this year, but called off his trip due to the ongoing political protests in the capital.
Now, with Pakistan Awami Tehreek supporters having left Constitution Avenue and the visible thinning out of PTI’s daily sit-in at D-Chowk, the PM appears to have decided to continue with his foreign engagements.
“It is time to reach out to international investors and remove their misconceptions about the political situation in the country, which is why the government has decided to take this initiative,” Dr Malik said.
The government has already wasted enough time on this front, as it is only through more foreign investment that the balance of payments can be improved, he added.
Talking about the nature of the projects to be signed during the visit, Dr Malik said 14 projects were exclusively aimed at the production of a total of 10,400MWs of electricity in the coming years. Infrastructure development in and around Gwadar port and laying new railway lines and roads will receive much needed impetus after this trip, he said.
Briefing reporters on Thursday’s cabinet meeting in which ministries of planning and railways made detailed presentation on their last year’s performance and future plans, Dr Malik said the prime minister had directed ministers to pay special attention to the common man’s needs.
Dr Malik, who is a special assistant to the prime minister on energy-related issues, failed to respond to a number of questions on the overbilling fiasco. When pressed, Dr Malik said that an investigation was still under way.
“So far, we are not in a position to pinpoint whether the overbilling was deliberate or under somebody’s instructions. Three different audit companies are currently investigating the issue and it will take another week to compile a detailed report. A three-member cabinet committee has also been constituted by the PM to look into the matter,” he said.
Even though the cause for inflated electricity bills is yet to be determined, the government has already started to provide relief to the consumers who were hit hard by the mismanagement, he said.
Mr Malik did not mince words and accepted that the practice of ‘estimated billing’ needed to be rectified. He said that in six-months, the government will be better placed to control cases of electricity theft, line losses and circular debt.
To a question, the spokesperson said that compared to last year, there had been a decrease of one-hour per day on average in loadshedding, which would only improve with every passing year.
Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2014