ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet at PM Office on Tuesday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet at PM Office on Tuesday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: Terming the traders’ recent countrywide strike ‘politically motivated’, the federal cabinet on Tuesday resolved not to withdraw its decision on registration of traders to bring them under the tax net.

Read: Traders observe nationwide strike to resist govt drive to document commercial activity

The cabinet set up a committee to review the recent decision of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes on the dispute between Pakistan and the Tethyan Copper Company on the Reko Diq project contract that may cost the country $5.976 billion.

Members of the cabinet were told that $60,000 would be spent on the coming visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the US. On the other hand, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited the US at a cost of $460,000.

They were also provided details of over Rs27bn expenditure incurred on security, camp offices and foreign visits of former presidents Asif Ali Zardai and Mamnoon Hussain, former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf and former chief minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif.

Plastic shopping bags to be banned; manufacturers, sellers, users to be fined

In view of unbridled price hike in the country, the cabinet decided to reduce the recently imposed custom duty on imported edible oil from seven to two per cent and resolved to take action, with the help of provincial governments, against hoarders and Naanbais who are reportedly selling a Naan (bread) for Rs15-20 against last week’s price of Rs10.

The meeting also decided to ban use of plastic shopping bags and impose heavy fines on their production, sale and use.

Traders’ registration

In the post-cabinet meeting presser, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said Prime Minister Khan had decided that the government would not surrender on registration of traders. She quoted the prime minister as saying: “We will not step back from our stance and traders will have to register themselves under tax net.”

A successful shutter down strike was observed by traders all over the country on Saturday in protest against documentation of commercial activities.

However, Dr Awan said the strike was observed by some traders belonging to traders’ wings of opposition parties, not by entire traders’ fraternity.

According to her, the prime minister said the country was facing an enormous burden of foreign debts and therefore it was the need of the hour that everyone should contribute to the efforts to stabilise the crippling economy. She quoted the prime minister as saying: “Half of our income goes into debt retirement and this situation requires that all trade activities should be documented so that everyone can play their role for the stable economy.”

The prime minister said how a country could run if only 1 to 1.5 million people among the population 210m paid taxes.

Dr Awan said PM Khan formed a committee to ascertain the reasons for the Reko Diq predicament and fix responsibility for it.

She said the committee to be headed by Law Minister Farogh Naseem would comprise Economic Affairs Minister Hammad Azhar, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor, the PM’s adviser on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain, Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar and the PM’s aide Shahzad Syed Qasim.

Expenditure on ex-presidents, PMs

Federal Minister for Communication Murad Saeed, while jointly addressing the press conference with Dr Awan, said more than Rs4.3bn had been spent on security, camp offices and travels of Nawaz Sharif, Rs3.16bn on Asif Ali Zardari, Rs8.72bn on Shahbaz Sharif, Rs350 million on Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Rs245m on Yousuf Raza Gilani, Rs32m on Raja Pervez Ashraf and Rs300m on Mamnoon Hussain while they were in power.

Mr Saeed said 1,600 security personnel had been deployed on the security of the Sharif family members and Rs8.3bn spent on their security during last 10 years. The minister said Shahbaz Sharif misused official aircraft of the former prime minister and paid 526 visits inside and 30 trips outside the country on which Rs417m was spent. Similarly, Rs2.14bn was spent on renovation and other expenditures of Jati Umra, the residence of the Sharif family in Raiwind.

The cabinet meeting expressed concern over increasing prices of kitchen items, including wheat flour (atta), pulses and sugar, and decided to take action against responsible people with the help of the provincial governments.

Ban on shopping bags

Adviser to the PM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam, who was also present in the press conference, said the cabinet had decided to ban plastic shopping bags and this would start from Islamabad.

He said such bans had already been imposed in 1994, 1995, 2001 and 2013 but all remained fruitless. “We are following the policies of some developed countries and imposing a new kind of ban under which manufacturers, sellers and users of plastic shopping bag will be fined,” he added.

The adviser said the ban would be imposed through an ordinance under which a manufacturer of plastic shopping bags would have to pay a fine ranging between Rs5,000 to Rs50,000, a seller from Rs10,000 to Rs50,000 and a user Rs5,000.

He said 55bn plastic bags were used and then thrown into drains, streams, rivers and sea every year in Pakistan.

Mr Aslam said the government would hold four camps to create awareness among the people on the issue and provide 100,000 specially manufactured plastic bags to the people which could be re-used for different purposes. “We are committed to make Pakistan a clean and green country,” he added.

The cabinet approved appointment of Mohammad Shahbaz Jamil as president of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited, Dr Nasir Khan as executive director of National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and Tauseef H. Farooq as chairman of National Electric Power Regulatory Authority. Chief Commissioner of Islamabad Amir Ali Ahmed was allowed to continue to hold his additional charge as chairman of the Capital Development Authority for three months.

It was also decided in the cabinet meeting that the government would expose alleged corruption of former rulers (the leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party) on a daily basis on the media.

In this connection, Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Ali Zaidi, Hammad Azhar and Shahzad Akbar held a separate press conference and provided some details of corruption allegedly committed by leaders of the PML-N and the PPP.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019