Opposition not interested in poll reforms: Fawad Chaudhry

Published September 8, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan presides over a cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy PID website
Prime Minister Imran Khan presides over a cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy PID website

ISLAMABAD: Although the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) rejected the use of electronic voting machine, the federal cabinet on Tuesday reiterated the government’s resolve to introduce the EVM in the 2023 general elections “to ensure free, fair and transparent polls”.

It, however, expressed displeasure over what it noted as “the opposition’s lack of interest in carrying out electoral reforms due to vested interest”.

The cabinet meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, also approved a plan to send home 200 employees of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council through golden handshake and the funds for the purpose.

It also approved the formation of a Joint Security Commission of Pakistan and Uzbekistan for border security and curbing terrorism. Moreover, the establishment of a National Data Depository in the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to place important data of various departments under one roof for its effective utilisation was also approved.

Cabinet reiterates plan to use EVMs in 2023

The meeting also green-lighted a grant for holding the forthcoming cantonment board elections throughout the country.

“Bilawal and Maryam can win elections only through rigging. If free and fair elections are held in Pakistan, the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) will never win and the politics of the Sharif family will come to an end. This is why they have no interest in electoral reforms,” claimed federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

He said no government in the past, including those of the PML-N and PPP, had made efforts to improve the electoral system, adding that these parties were resisting the move even now when they were in the opposition.

“It is unfortunate that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government is dealing with the most non-serious, incapable and inefficient opposition in the history of the country. Their (opposition parties) only interest is to save their leaderships from accountability,” he added.

The minister claimed the government had made every effort to convince the opposition on electoral reforms, but they rejected each proposal without even reading a single word. They did not even submit their own drafts, he added.

He said PM Khan had a clear vision on reforms wherein the government was striving to transform all sectors, including the media and economy.

EVM briefing: Among other important decisions taken during the meeting, the minister said a detailed briefing was given to the forum on electoral reforms and EVMs by Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and Information Technology Minister Syed Aminul Haq.

While answering a query, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain called National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting Chairman Javed Latif a ‘political clown’, alleging that the latter’s sole aim was to seek attention of the establishment to get into the power corridors.

Plots for bureaucrats/judges/journalists: Referring to the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority audit report for 2018-19 submitted to the Public Accounts Committee recently, the minister said it was unfortunate that the poor were exploited in Islamabad, especially after acquiring their lands in suburban areas to oblige blue-eyed people, including bureaucrats, journalists and judges.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed serious reservations over the allotment of plots to government officers, including journalists and judges, after acquiring lands of the poor in the federal capital,” he stated. “It is unfair to acquire land of the poor forcefully to hand it over to influential people at cheaper rates,” he quoted the premier as saying.

The PM has constituted a committee, headed by federal minister Asad Umar, to formulate a comprehensive policy as per the principles laid down by the Islamabad High Court chief justice on the matter.

State-owned enterprises: The cabinet was told that the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) incurred losses of Rs286 billion in fiscal year 2017-18. However, all the SOEs, except the National Highway Authority (NHA), had been transformed into profitable organisations.

“All these organisations, except the NHA that was facing colossal losses worth Rs140bn, were registering profits worth Rs31bn,” Fawad said.

Security plan for cricket series: The minister confirmed the upcoming tour of the New Zealand cricket team and said the cabinet approved a security plan for it. He also remarked that the security provided to the team during its last tour was not up to the mark, adding that this time, extraordinary measures would be ensured.

Entry to UK’s chartered aircraft: Mr Chaudhry said the cabinet deferred the agenda regarding signing of a memorandum of understanding for readmission between Pakistan and the UK. Under the arrangement, he said, exemption was being sought for entry of a chartered plane into Pakistan from the UK.

About the UK retaining Pakistan on its travel red list, the minister said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan had held a detailed discussion with the UK’s chief medical scientists to remove their concerns about Pakistan’s Covid-19 data. He hoped the UK would review its policy.

Revival of cinema: The minister said the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting proposed to the cabinet to allow screening of non-Indian Punjabi films for the revival of the cinema industry. However, the forum sought expansion of the initiative to import all international movies except Indian. A summary would be presented before the cabinet again after making necessary amendments to allow foreign films in Pakistan. “In the ‘70s, the country had 780 cinemas that had now been reduced to 78,” he added.

“Steps for the revival of film and cinema industries are required on war footing,” he said, announcing roll out of the film package next week.

Remdesivir price reduced: The minister said the federal cabinet had fixed the price of Remdesivir, a life-saving injection for coronavirus patients, at Rs3,967 from Rs5,680.

The cabinet also approved the appointment of members for the National Council of Tibb as well as a voluntary and golden handshake scheme for Pakistan Medical Commission employees. He also announced that temporary charge for the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution had been given to Shakeel Ahmed Mangnejo with a direction to take steps for appointing a permanent head.

National depository: He said the federal cabinet approved a landmark initiative of Nadra – a data depository – aimed at centralising the scattered data of population and protecting the national database.

Mobile phone users: He also claimed Pakistan was the first country to issue computerised identity cards to over 200 million people and introduce machine-readable passports. It was also the only country that verified 160 million mobile SIMs through biometric verification.

The minister also said Pakistan had won the case on Roosevelt Hotel in the US and the cabinet approved allocation of funds to meet its liabilities. The cabinet also approved a 50 per cent reduction in port charges for exporters. Maryam Khawar, he said, had been appointed chief executive officer of the Pakistan Expo Centre Private Limited.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2021

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