• Excessive spending of taxpayers’ money to be cut down
• Opposition urged to hold talks on issues of national importance

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to slash “excessive spending” of taxpayers’ money on security of VIPs, especially the judiciary, and instead devise a system which will work on the basis of ‘threat assessments’ made by special threat committees to be established in all provinces, except Sindh.

The cabinet once again urged the opposition to sit with the government on “at least issues of national importance”, including judicial reforms.

The meeting, which was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, also approved the first-ever cyber security policy in response to the looming threat of cyber warfare which was gaining roots across the globe.

“The prime minister was of the view that people of the country and overseas Pakistanis should have confidence that the government was spending their tax judiciously, which is why a new system is being devised to curtail excessive security spending,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

He said that overall Rs5.6 billion was being spent on the security of VIPs, which did not include the money utilised on judiciary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan.

Quoting the prime minister, Mr Chaudhry said: “Protection of taxpayers’ money is the foremost responsibility of the government and people should have confidence that their tax money was being used in a judicious manner.”

He said a report was presented before the cabinet, which provided details of the expenditure on the protocol of VIPs, including the president, prime minister, cabinet members, governors and chief ministers, as well as on judiciary.

He said that around Rs700 million was being spent annually on the security of federal government dignitaries, Rs2,529m in Punjab and Rs998m in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The security of judiciary was of paramount importance, and the law minister and attorney general would discuss the issue with them, he said, adding that “the least amount is being spent on the federal cabinet members and most of the money is being utilised on the security of judges”.

Mr Chaudhry said the capital police had deployed 762 police personnel for the security of the president, prime minister, ministers, advisers and special assistants, besides 14 Rangers and FC personnel.

On the contrary, Mr Chaudhry said, 373 police personnel were deployed for the security of judges in Islamabad, which cost Rs287m.

“Similarly, in Lahore Rs1,137m is being spent on the security of judges,” he added.

He said that cumulatively around Rs1,400m was being spent, adding that if other provinces were incorporated, the total amount might exceed over Rs1,700m.

The minister highlighted that the Punjab police expense amounted to Rs446m. Likewise, Rs300m was being utilised on the former government servants, including ex-premiers and presidents.

He said that at least 106 police officials, four Rangers personnel and 47 FC men were deployed for the security of retired officials, which cost the national exchequer Rs10.97m.

On electoral reforms, the minister said government’s consultations with the opposition were moving forward. “There was no stalemate and the process would resume once National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser returned from Azerbaijan where he had gone with a parliamentary delegation to attend a trilateral meeting of the speakers of parliaments of Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Turkey.

He said the cabinet issued directives for the Board of Investment to take necessary steps for repealing obsolete laws that created hurdles in the way of investment process.

The minister said the cabinet also gave approval to the Advertisement Policy 2021, which envisaged issuance of ads to digital media as well.

On the recently held AJK elections, the minister said the PML-N leaders should concede their defeat instead of crying foul in a press conference at AJK Prime Minister’s Office.

He said PTI’s victory in the AJK elections was, in fact, a manifestation of the people’s confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The minister said the cabinet was given a detailed briefing by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan on the electoral reforms process.

Mr Chaudhry said both the government and the opposition needed to build consensus on important national issues such as holding free, fair and transparent elections, which were vital for national development. Otherwise, he added, allegations of rigging would continue to be levelled by the losing parties after every election.

He said the past governments misused official resources to defeat the opposition candidates in the by-elections, adding that it was only the PTI which did not resort to such a practice.

He cited his own defeat in the by-poll held in his constituency (Jhelum) in the past, where the then ruling party’s candidate misused government resources.

About dues of media, he said at present there were no outstanding dues with the Press Information Department (PID). However, certain media houses had still not paid salaries and other dues to their employees, with the worst affected being the technical staff like NLEs and cameramen, he added.

The present government, the minister said, had taken steps to overcome the problem and necessary legislation would soon be carried out in this regard.

Mr Chaudhry said the PID had become paperless and details of advertisements and payment of dues were now available on its website.

He said the government aimed to inoculate 40 per cent of the population by the end of July, “but so far we are behind the target”.

He said big institutions were being asked to make arrangements for vaccinating their workers, adding that Covid-19 vaccine jabs had been made mandatory for the employees of government corporations. “If the rate of voluntary vaccination does not increase, the government has the option of blocking mobile SIMs of those not getting vaccinated,” he added.

Published in Dawn, July 28th , 2021

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