• Shibli does not rule out offer to JUI-F
• Opposition says govt trying to divide PDM
• PM terms e-voting vital for transparency in next polls
ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Shibli Faraz on Tuesday did not rule out the government’s offer of the Senate deputy chairman slot to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) as the federal cabinet expressed its confidence of winning the upcoming elections for the two coveted offices of the upper house on March 12.
The opposition termed the offer an attempt to create cracks within the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).
On Monday, a senior government representative had said that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was not announcing its candidate for the office of deputy chairman and was keeping the slot open to place itself in a better bargaining position.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan said electronic voting was essential to ensure transparency in the next general elections and directed the relevant authorities to prepare a feasibility report of the process on priority basis.
“Something has to be done to accomplish the task,” the information minister said while responding to a question during his press briefing following the cabinet meeting that why the government had offered Senate deputy chairmanship to JUI-F.
He, however, said nothing was clear about the elections at the moment.
The minister said the prime minister and the cabinet were confident that the government’s candidate and incumbent Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani would be successful.
Earlier, while presiding over the federal cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Khan said all necessary actions would be taken to end corruption in elections as witnessed in the recently-held Senate polls.
“We want the next general elections to be fair and transparent and therefore want to initiate the e-voting process well ahead of time,” he said.
PM Khan also directed that details be worked out to purchase electronic voting machines, saying that he would get regular updates on the matter.
He said introduction of online voting for overseas Pakistanis was also a top priority, adding that the Senate elections exposed how political leaders used money to buy votes.
He said politicians, including Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, transferred the national wealth to their bank accounts abroad through money laundering.
He mentioned a report of the Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI) which revealed that $1 trillion was taken out each year from poor countries to developed states.
Presently, he said, $7 trillion of the stolen assets was parked in these safe havens causing irreparable loss to developing countries such as Pakistan.
The prime minister said money laundering severely weakened the country’s institutions, adding that during past tenures, the ruling parties launched projects with mega kickbacks as a result of which the common man paid the price in the form of inflation and heavy loans.
“Such politicians normalise corruption in a society, bribe media houses and remove checks and balances to ease their money-laundering chain,” he added.
Mr Khan said a society which set such standards of corruption suffered ethical downfall and was destroyed after losing its ability to ensure socio-economic justice.
Replying to a question during his press briefing, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said politics of the opposition revolved around money, browbeating and extortion.
“An investor invests money, wins elections and then starts minting money after joining the government and patronising various mafias,” he said.
The minister said the electoral process would remain controversial without transparency and openness. “Right now a battle is underway between two systems – the opposition is representing the evil side and the government is leading the righteous forces,” he added.
Mr Faraz said senator-elect Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani had not even shown an iota of repent over surfacing of news about his son’s bid to purchase votes in the recently-held Senate elections. On the contrary, “my father Ahmed Faraz will have disinherited me if I were involved in such dirty practices,” he added.
“We will have to bring rule of law in the country as without it, progress and prosperity is impossible,” he said.
The minister said it seemed surprising to see PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who himself had been rejected by the people of his constituency, demanding the government to resign.
The opposition was divided as a tug of war between Hamza Shehbaz and Maryam Nawaz over who would succeed Nawaz Sharif was underway while other component parties of the PDM had been hit by internal bickering, he added.
He denied the impression that the opposition had the support of 51 senators and the government 48. During the last Senate polls, scores of PML-N senators were elected as independents, he said. The ruling coalition’s candidate, Sadiq Sanjrani, would win the coveted post of Senate chairman, he added.
While briefing the media about the cabinet’s decisions, the minister said an amendment bill to make the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) stronger and more autonomous had been approved.
He said the draft State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021, which would now be tabled before the Parliament, was aimed at ensuring the operational and administrative autonomy of the SBP and increasing its scope and powers.
He said the SBP, as a regulator, was responsible to control inflation but due to lacunas in the law, it was unable to perform in an effective manner.
The government, he added, wanted to further empower the central bank so that it could take decisions independently without any outside interference. The past rulers used to get political advantages by misusing the SBP’s authority.
The step to empower the SBP would have a far-reaching impact on economy and help control inflation, the minister said.
Mr Faraz said the cabinet had approved in principle the draft law of Pakistan Institute of Education Act and sent it to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation.
Under the proposed law, a modern institute would be established by merging the Academy of Educational Planning and Management and the National Education Assessment System. The new institute would be responsible for managing the affairs of educational institutes.
He said the cabinet also approved the Out-of-School Children Framework under which all factors and motivations that prevented children from going to school would be examined. The framework also proposed strategies to bring out-of-school children back to school, he added.
The cabinet, the minister said, also approved the procedure for distribution of donations provided by the government to the Saarc Covid-19 Emergency Fund. It may be recalled that the cabinet had already approved the donation of $3 million to the fund.
At the time of setting up the fund, it was decided to distribute donations through the Saarc Secretariat, but later it was decided by the member countries to distribute the fund provided by each member on a bilateral basis.
Therefore, the cabinet approved a new method of distribution of donations from Pakistan to the Saarc fund.
The minister said the cabinet also consented to the proposal of Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain that Pakistan should give Covid-19-related equipment being produced in the country as part of the grant.
He said the cabinet appreciated the decision of Justice Azmat Saeed, the chairman of the inquiry commission on Broadsheet, of not availing any perks and privileges.
He said the cabinet also approved Income Tax (Amendment) 2021, which was an important piece of legislation aimed at improving the tax network.
Mr Faraz said the cabinet discussed reforms in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and was informed about the steps taken in this regard.
The cabinet was told that before the PTI government came to power, the SOEs had registered Rs286 billion loss in the fiscal year 2017-18, which was halved to Rs143 billion in 2018-19.
He said the cabinet also gave approval to the summary of appointment of Aizaz Ahmed as managing director of the National Transmission and Dispatch Company, Fauzia Khan as director general of Pakistan Quality Control Authority and Tariq Rashid as director general of Government Employees Housing Authority.
He said the cabinet also gave its nod to the proposal of removing the chief executive officer of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan Sheikh Akhtar Hussain and appointment of Asim Rauf as its acting CEO.
The minister said the cabinet did not agree with the Sindh government’s proposal regarding member finance in National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) tribunal.
He said the cabinet approved the appointment of members of the boards of governors of Sheikh Zayed Postgraduate Medical Institute and Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre under the Federal Medical Teaching Institutes Ordinance.
The cabinet was informed that the Bureau of Immigration and Overseas Employees had so far sent 1.1 million people abroad, the minister added.
Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2021