ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet, which met here with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair on Thursday, decided to establish a special ‘Recovery Unit’ to suggest ways and legal means to bring back the looted money stashed abroad and the property owned by Pakistanis in foreign countries.
Briefing reporters after the cabinet meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the new unit comprising forensic experts and international law experts would work under the supervision of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar.
The minister provided no further information about it, but sources told Dawn that Mr Akbar would finalise the names of the members to be made part of the unit in consultation with the prime minister.
Minister rejects reports about increase in electricity and gas prices
The federal cabinet in its last meeting on Sept 5 had decided to form a high-powered task force comprising officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as well as intelligence agencies as a step towards fulfilling its promise of retrieving ill-gotten wealth of Pakistanis from other countries.
In this regard, the government decided to enforce an anti-corruption rule that offers informers 20 per cent of the looted wealth recovered through information provided by them. The rule exists in accountability laws but has seldom been enforced.
Metro bus projects
Mr Chaudhry said the cabinet in its previous meeting had ordered an audit of the metro bus projects in Punjab and the cabinet members had come to know that the Punjab government had been paying over Rs8 billion subsidy every year on three metro projects in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan.
Giving a break-up, he said the Punjab government was spending Rs4.2bn on subsidy for the bus project in Lahore, Rs2bn for Rawalpindi and another Rs2.1bn for Multan.
The minister said if the provincial government stopped these subsidies, buses would come to a halt. He said another mega project of Orange Line Train was about to complete and it was expected that the government would have to pay Rs3.5bn as subsidy.
However, when specifically asked if the government would stop the payment of subsidy and close the projects, he said it was up to the Punjab government. “If the Punjab government thinks that it can run these projects, they will continue and if it decides that it cannot run [the projects], then they will not be run,” the minister said vaguely about the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government in Punjab. He said only the provincial finance minister could tell how long the government could run these projects.
Mr Chaudhry said the Lahore Metro Project was completed at a cost of Rs30bn and the government was receiving an amount of Rs917 million annually as fare. Similarly, the Rawalpindi project had cost the government Rs45bn whereas it was getting Rs660m in the form of fare. And in Multan, he said, the metro project was completed at the cost of Rs29bn while the authorities were receiving only Rs54m fare.
However, he defended the Peshawar metro project that had been launched by the PTI government and said the project would be completed at a cost of Rs67bn while Rs41bn had already been spent on it. He said the difference between the bus projects in Punjab and Peshawar was that the buses in Punjab had been acquired on rent whereas the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had paid Rs10bn to purchase the buses.
The information minister told the reporters that the cabinet had decided to allow import of 100,000 tonnes of urea for Rabi crops due to its shortage in the country. He said it would cost $34m to $35m to the government. Blaming the previous government for urea shortage, he said the production of the fertiliser had come to a standstill after the previous rulers stopped gas supply to the factories.
He said the government had decided to continue to provide gas to the urea plants till Nov 15, enabling them to produce fertiliser.
Mr Chaudhry claimed that the outgoing PML-N government spent Rs2.3bn on Prime Minister House and Rs2.9bn on the Punjab CM House during the past five years. Similarly, he added, the previous government had spent Rs1.29bn and Rs1.4bn on Governor Houses in Punjab and Sindh. When asked to disclose the details of spending on CM House and Governor House in KP, the minister said that he did not have the figures of KP and Balochistan.
The minister disclosed that the cabinet had in principle decided that the amount being collected for the construction of dams would be exempted from taxes and the matter would be placed before the parliament. He said the cabinet lauded the chief justice of Pakistan for taking the initiative of building dams.
Responding to a question, he refuted the reports regarding an increase in power and gas prices. He also refuted a report stating that the government had decided to withdraw the relief in the income tax that had been provided to the salaried people by the previous regime by reducing the slabs. He stated that the cabinet had not discussed any mini-budget in the meeting.
Mr Chaudhry said the government had decided to convert four helicopters into air ambulances before handing over them to the National Disaster and Management Authority. He denied the reports that the helicopters which the government wanted to dispose of were non-functional.
He told the reporters that the federal cabinet in its meeting had offered Fateha for the departed soul of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018