• Disqualified by Supreme Court, PTI leader Jehangir Tareen attends cabinet meeting
• Federal ministers empowered to appoint heads of public organisations
• Fawad denies reports of clash with Asad
ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to sell off property and assets of different federal ministries and allied departments worth trillions of rupees with a view to generating revenue to support the country’s crippling economy.
Interestingly, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Jehangir Tareen, who was disqualified for being ‘dishonest’ by the Supreme Court in a case in December 2017, made an appearance after a long gap and gave briefing on the Rs290 billion National Agriculture Emergency Programme (NAEP) to the cabinet that later approved it.
The cabinet also decided to change the procedures for appointment of the heads of departments of different government organisations, empowering federal ministers to appoint them.
The meeting was also apprised that 3.2 million gas consumers had suffered due to inflated billing during the past three months and decided to take action against bigwigs involved in the scam.
Sharing details of the meeting with the media, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told a press conference that the government had decided to sell off assets and properties of federal ministries and allied departments which were not in use.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has sought lists of properties of ministries for disposal,” the minister said, adding that the ministries had already finalised their lists and sent them to the federal cabinet.
Asked how the government could sell its assets without adopting proper liquidation process, Mr Chaudhry said the government would first adopt a uniform policy for disposal of all such properties, because every public organisation had their own disposal policy hampering the government’s plan to dispose of abandoned properties or those which were not in use. “The uniform policy will also describe a modus operandi to legally sell off the properties,” he said.
The information minister said a committee comprising ministers Zulfi Bukhari, Ali Zaidi, Murad Saeed, Ali Amin Gandapur and Hammad Azhar had been formed to sell the government assets.
The appearance of PTI’s convicted leader Jehangir Tareen in the federal cabinet meeting stunned the opposition. Mr Tareen came up with the Rs290bn National Agriculture Emergency Programme (NAEP) and got it approved by the cabinet.
The PML-N said Tareen’s appearance was another U-turn of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Asked how Mr Tareen, being a convicted man, could attend the meeting of the federal cabinet, Mr Chauddhry said: “Mr Tareen is a seasoned agriculturist and he attended the meeting on special invitation of the cabinet to brief it on agriculture.”
On Dec 15, 2017, the Supreme Court handed down its much-awaited judgement in the Imran Khan-Jahangir Tareen disqualification case, rejecting Hanif Abbasi’s petition for Mr Khan’s disqualification but disqualifying Tareen for being “dishonest”.
Mr Tareen was declared guilty on multiple charges including misrepresentation and short payment of agriculture income tax, inside trading and hiding off-shore assets.
The information minister said the government was spending over $4 billion on agriculture products’ import, which was $1.5 billion in 2015. “$2 billion are being spent only on the import of edible oil and oil seeds,” he said, adding that the government decided to spread awareness to reduce use of imported agri-products including edible oil.
He said the cabinet approved the NAEP and Rs290 billion would be spent on improvement of agriculture in five years. He added the government was also working on steps to improve fisheries and Halal meat industries by giving loans to farmers.
Public organisation heads
The cabinet decided to empower federal ministers to appoint heads of public organisations.
The decision may help Mr Chaudhry to win the ongoing battle against PTI leader Naeemul Haq over the controversy regarding appointment of managing director of Pakistan Television. According to media reports, Mr Naeem had managed to get changed the procedure of appoint of heads of departments as Prime Minister Khan curbed ministry’s power to appoint MD PTV and authorised PTV selection board to appoint its MD.
Mr Chaudhry said under the new procedure, appointment committees would be formed in each ministry which would be headed by the relevant federal minister. Secretary of the ministry concerned and two other experts would be members of each committee. “The committee will finalise the nomination of candidates for the top positions in government departments and will forward their names to the federal cabinet for a final nod,” he explained.
No clash with Asad
Mr Chaudhry denied media reports regarding verbal clash between himself and the finance minister in the cabinet meeting. “I have great respect for Asad Umar and no such incident took place during the meeting,” he said.
In a separate decision, he said the cabinet approved restructuring of National Information Technology Board (NITB), which would be headed by President Arif Alvi, with an aim to digitalise the government.
Probe into inflated gas bills
About the information that over 3.2 million gas consumers had received inflated bills during the last three months, the information minister said this was not a new practice. It had been going on since 2016 mainly to facilitate industrialists, he said, adding that the government had decided to launch a thorough investigation into the matter.
“In fact gas is stolen for big industrialists and the burden of theft is put on petty domestic consumers through inflated bills,” he said, adding that it was expected that names of bigwigs would be exposed in the scam during investigations.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2019