Finance Minister Asad Umar on Thursday distanced the federal government from the recently announced increase in power tariffs, stressing that the hike was determined by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) before the PTI government had even taken shape.
"The power tariff and any hikes in it are decided by Nepra," he explained. "This time, Nepra, after conducting its review, had recommended that the power tariff should be increased by Rs3.82.
"I should clarify that this government had nothing to do with even a penny of this hike. This determination of the price hike was completed in August.
"After the ECC's decision and its cabinet's sanctioning today, the average price hike (per unit) will be Rs1.27 instead of Rs3.82, which is less than one-third of what was recommended."
The finance minister said that the hike in power tariff will not affect those who consume less than 300 units of electricity.
"Seventy per cent of household connections fall in this category, and they will not have to pay a penny more," he said. "The 20pc people whose consumption is between 300 and 700 units, their rates have been increased by 10pc; and consumers of 700 plus units, their rates have been increased by 15pc."
The finance minister further said that "commercial consumers who consume less than 5KV of electricity", which he said comprise 95 per cent of overall commercial connections, will also remain unaffected.
Umar said that the government is trying to secure loans "not just from the IMF", but from multiple lenders.
Regarding the recent protests by Utility Stores employees in Islamabad, the finance minister said that Abdul Razak Dawood has been asked "to make a plan to make the Utility Stores Corporations viable."
The finance minister clarified that there is no direct Saudi involvement in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which he emphasised, remains a bilateral venture between China and Pakistan.
"One month ago when the Chinese finance minister came to Pakistan, we spoke to him about CPEC projects," he said.
"The entire CPEC programme is a bilateral project. Underneath the CPEC there are many more plans, in which we had discussed whether we can invite a third country to invest — to which China agreed.
In this context, we had talked to Saudi Arabia for a project, and other countries could also join this."
"There is no direct linkage of Saudi Arabia and CPEC," Umar asserted.
The finance minister also dismissed concerns that Pakistan may have had to agree to meet some Saudi demands in return for securing a bailout package.
"The Saudis did not make any demands that we refused to meet," he said. "[In fact], they made no demands. And this is the Pak-Saudi relation; it's a people-to-people connection. They will stand by Pakistan's side during our time of need."
NAB officers to get 'official passports': information minister
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, meanwhile, said that the government is taking measures to facilitate National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) officers so they can better perform their jobs.
"NAB officers will be given official passports so that they don't have difficulty traveling and can catch thieves easily," he said.
The information minister further said that the federal cabinet has asked Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood to find ways to improve the National Testing Service (NTS).
Chaudhry said that "in addition to the already announced agreements with Saudi Arabia, the visa fees for the kingdom has also been lowered from SAR2,000 to SAR300".
Govt to clamp down on power thieves: Ayub
Minister for Power Omar Ayub Khan said that instead of "blindly" increasing power tariff to the level Nepra had recommended, the government is also looking inwards to reduce power sector deficits.
He said that the federal government will not only clamp down on those stealing electricity but also reduce inefficiencies and recover overdue bills.
"We are going to launch this drive from Lahore and Punjab," the power minister said. "Local DCs, security agencies and others will conducts raids."
Ayub warned electricity thieves to "stop their activities right away" or get ready to be "behind bars or face heavy fines".