ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Thursday decided to keep gas and electricity prices unchanged for the next four months [till the announcement of next fiscal budget] and tasked the ministries concerned with reducing taxes on utility bills to provide some relief to the inflation-hit people.
The prime minister, while presiding over a meeting of the cabinet, directed the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) managing director to get edible oil and ghee from the factories set up in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir as these factories were exempted from all taxes and the USC could get their [factories] products at lower rates for consumers in other parts of the country.
“The prime minister directed the ministries of power and petroleum that no increase will be made in gas and electricity tariffs and [asked them to] come up with a comprehensive plan in the next cabinet meeting on how taxes on utility bills could be withdrawn,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said at a post-meeting press conference.
“The prime minister wants ‘out-of-the-box solution’ on how to reduce electricity and gas bills,” she said, adding that the prime minister wanted that minimum burden of leakage, line losses and theft be transferred to the common man.
PM directs USC to get edible oil, ghee from tax-exempted factories in erstwhile Fata, AJK
She recalled that faulty international agreements made during the previous governments of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party were the main reasons for an increase in gas and electricity tariffs.
Responding to a question about inflation, she said the cabinet expressed satisfaction over some “reduction” in prices of essential items after a subsidy of Rs15 billion was given to the USC.
Dr Awan agreed that in the last cabinet meeting some members had proposed that Rs150bn funds allocated for the Ehsaas programme should be converted into a subsidy in gas and electricity, especially for domestic consumers, so that they could have significant relief, but said their proposals had been rejected because Ehsaas gave targeted subsidy to the poor class and if its funds were diverted to gas and power sectors, the elite class would also get its benefit.
The government, she said, was going to launch the Ration Card Scheme to provide subsidised consumer items to the deserving and the poor. She said the prime minister would launch the Ehsaas Assets Scheme at a function in Leyyah on Friday (today) so that like rich people, the poor would also have their assets like their own rickshaws, cattle, motorbikes, sewing machines, etc.
Dr Awan said the much-awaited inquiry report of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on sugar and wheat crises would be made public next week. “The prime minister has given a two-week deadline to the FIA to come up with a detailed report on high prices and shortage of wheat and sugar and one more week is still left in this regard,” she added.
The cabinet, she said, decided to carry out a third-party evaluation for fixing the price of sugar in the country. In this regard, all stakeholders like growers, mill owners and distributors will be taken on board.
Dr Awan said the prime minister directed the authorities concerned to ensure that the prices of onions, potatoes and tomatoes remained stable in the country and make available adequate stocks of these items in the coming month of Ramazan.
The meeting decided to import 500,000 tonnes of wheat to meet the local requirement and it would be made at the time when its price in the international market would come down.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020