ISLAMABAD: The government of Saudi Arabia has signed three grant agreements with Pakistan to finance three road infrastructure and energy projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“These agreements have been inked in line with the understanding reached during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told a press conference on Thursday.
The agreements were signed by the Saudi envoy and the officials of Pakistan’s finance ministry.
Minister says agreements on Reko Diq gold, copper mines and Gwadar oil refinery likely to be signed next week
“The first step has been taken as three grant agreements have been signed. This is a very positive step and bodes well for relations between the two countries,” the minister added.
Giving a briefing about the federal cabinet’s meeting held earlier in the day, he said that a high-level Saudi delegation would arrive in Pakistan on Sunday for materialising the deal between Islamabad and Riyadh.
More agreements would be inked next week between a high-level Saudi delegation and Pakistani officials, Mr Chaudhry said. The accords will be related to Reko Diq’s gold and copper mines and the oil refinery at Gwadar Port, and the delegation would comprise the Saudi investment team, minister for petroleum and minister for energy.
“During the prime minister’s recent visit, Saudi Arabian leaders including Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman were eager to fanalise the deal within days despite the fact that such deals require months for materialising,” the minister said.
It may be mentioned that since the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the opposition has been asking the government to unveil the pledges made by Riyadh regarding mega investment and monetary assistance to Pakistan.
The information minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had issued directives that a comprehensive policy be designed for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan till June 2019.
He said 2.5 million Afghan refugees were residing in Pakistan of whom 2m were registered and the remaining ones were undocumented.
“There are only two ways to go about this issue: either we let things remain the way they are, or [do something about it]. There are 879,198 Afghan refugees living in Pakistan who have citizen cards issued by their country; 1,394,000 who have POR (refugee) cards; and 500,000 who are undocumented,” he said.
Afghan refugees have been given an extension for their stay in Pakistan till June for the renewal of their accreditation cards and the prime minister wants to see a comprehensive policy drafted before the next extension,” the minister said.
100 big defaulters
He said that the cabinet had decided to take action against 100 big tax defaulters. “The government will be launching a major operation soon against 100 major FBR (Federal Board of Revenue) defaulters”.
“The first stage of reforms in the FBR has been completed and details in this regard will be provided by Finance Minister Asad Umer next week,” Mr Chaudhry said.
To overcome the prevailing financial crisis in the country, he said, the government had set up the Financial Action Task Force and appointed Mansoor Hussain Siddiqui the director
general of the financial monitoring unit at the State Bank. Earlier the post was non-existing in the department.
He said former Justice Abdul Rauf had been appointed the new chairman of the Wage Board to decide within 120 days the matter of low and untimely-paid wages of journalists.
Mr Fawad said that the government believed that the right to information was part of its policy as only with the right to information and transparency journalists would have easy access to information.
The cabinet, he said, also declared that an anti-encroachment drive would be launched in Karachi to reclaim large swathes of land belonging to the Karachi Port Trust and the Pakistan Railways. “We are heading towards Karachi after getting vacated 6,000 kanals of state land in Islamabad,” he added.
Tax amnesty for tribal areas
The minister said that the federally and provincially-administered tribal areas, which were previously being run under independent systems outside the jurisdiction of Pakistani laws, would continue to enjoy tax amnesty for five years.
“This means that these regions will continue to enjoy the use of non-custom paid cars up to June 30, 2023. Similarly, residents (of the tribal areas) will be exempted from paying sales and withholding tax,” he added.
Mr Chaudhry said that all ministries had been instructed to not only stop making selective appointments, but also to desist from forwarding their ‘recommendations’ for candidates for other ministries.
He said that the prime minister had urged members of his cabinet to move towards more technologically-savvy practices and adopt e-communication practices, instead of wasting paper for printing agendas and budgets. “All ministries have been instructed to go paperless in our effort to become an e-government,” he said.
He said that the IT ministry had been tasked with implementing the government’s initiative and it would give a presentation in two weeks on this.
Later, Minister for Power Umar Ayub accused the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of leaving an acute financial and electricity crisis to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.
He defended the PTI government even for increasing gas and electricity tariffs and said that as a result of faulty polices and decisions of the last government the country had come under huge burden of foreign and local debts.
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2018