• Cabinet takes serious note of flagrant violation of SOPs • Coronavirus death toll tops 730
ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday took serious note of flagrant violation of the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) following reopening of several businesses as the Centre and Sindh threatened to reimpose the lockdown if people do not observe social distancing in markets and workplaces.
Meanwhile, the deadly coronavirus is on the rise in the country as over 1,100 new cases and 42 deaths were reported during the last 24 hours, taking the national tally of Covid-19 cases to 32,916 and deaths to 733.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, while presiding over a meeting of the cabinet, made a significant announcement that now he would set timelines for every target to be given to the government quarters and directed the ministries to complete within a week lists of illegal appointments on lucrative positions during previous regimes.
The cabinet approved 39 proposed amendments to electoral laws and hinted that the government might also be working on reversal of the 18th Constitution Amendment — a move which may spark a new political battle between the government and the opposition.
“PM directed in the meeting that strict implementation on SOPs be done as in case of sharp spike in Covid-19 cases, the country’s hospitals will not have the capacity to cater for all patients,” Information Minister Shibli Faraz said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference.
He said the government had lifted the lockdown after its capacity to tackle the main restrictions [lockdown] had exhausted as no government could provide food to people at their homes, especially in Pakistan where the government had limited resources and inherited economic crunch.
Meanwhile, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar warned that the government would have no option but to impose complete lockdown again if people failed to “act in a responsible and cautious manner” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Addressing the launching ceremony of Corona Relief Tiger Force activities, he said: “With crowded markets it seems that the virus has vanished and the situation has become normal.” He said the virus threat still persisted and it could even be worse.
Similarly, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said at a press conference that people’s non-serious attitude on the first day of lifting of the lockdown on Monday had compelled the provincial government to reconsider re-imposing lockdown restrictions.
At the post-cabinet meeting press conference, Information Minister Faraz said the prime minister had directed all ministries to compile their reports in a week regarding illegal appointments during previous regimes.
When contacted by Dawn, the minister said that so far 12 ministries had provided the lists of such appointments whose number was said to be over 150.
A source said these employees had been appointed directly by previous cabinets on lucrative positions with heavy perks without meeting the prescribed procedure and rules.
The cabinet approved 39 proposed constitutional amendments to electoral laws. “They are related to holding of transparent, free and fair elections, timely announcement of results, presentation of election plan four months prior to the polls, delimitations, expanses of elections, presence of polling agents of political parties in polling stations at the time of polling and compiling of results, etc,” said the information minister.
Responding to an opposition’s demand, he said Prime Minister Khan would soon attend the current sessions of parliament. He, however, criticised Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif for not joining the session that was requisitioned by the opposition. “The prime minister has to run the entire government, but where is Mr Shahbaz Sharif? Has he returned to the country only to sit in front of a computer to monitor Covid-19 situation?” he asked.
Mr Faraz said the prime minister had given a relief package of Rs1.2 trillion, especially for the poor and weak segments of society who were badly hit by adverse impact of the viral disease.
In reply to a question about concern expressed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) over the performance of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the minister said: “If anyone has any objection about NAB, he should raise the issue in parliament for amendment to NAB laws.”
Asked about the opposition’s claim regarding replacement of Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, who tested positive for coronavirus, Mr Faraz said: “Unfortunately, Sindh governor’s Covid-19 test was positive, but he will resume charge of his office after having recovered from the ailment.”
The prime minister also directed the authorities concerned to give incentives to cotton growers who were shifting to other crops because of less profit, causing no improvement in cotton yield for over 15 years.
The information minister hinted that the government might be working on reversal of the 18th Constitution Amendment. “Any change in 18th Amendment should be considered as an amendment to the Constitution but not in a specific amendment,” he added.
A few days ago, Mr Faraz had said the 18th Amendment was a hurdle in the way of preparing a uniform policy to fight coronavirus as after the amendment the federal government’s role in various spheres had been limited to issuing policy guidelines. “Unanimity of policies and implementation is needed between Sindh or any other province and the Centre in the national fight against Covid-19,” he had said.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2020