• Minister says only one polio case recorded in seven months
• Screening of movies of regional countries, except India, allowed
ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved a 44 per cent increase in the house rent allowance ceiling of government employees in view of high rents of residences in major cities, especially Islamabad.
It also decided to remove legislators from parliamentary committees who have any conflict of interest with the panels.
The meeting, which was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, was informed that Pakistan had almost become a polio-free country as only a single case of the crippling disease was reported in the last seven months.
“The initiative has been taken after reviewing the increase in house rents in major cities,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said during his post-cabinet meeting press conference. “This practice will be repeated every three years,” he said, adding that the increase would be applicable to federal government employees from grades 1 to 22.
The minister said the cabinet had shown concern over giving membership of parliamentary committees to those senators and MNAs who had any conflict of interest with the bodies.
Mr Chaudhry said the National Assembly speaker and the Senate chairman would be requested to ask those members to tender resignations or else legislation would be made to remove them from the committees. He expressed the hope that the members having a conflict of interest in some parliamentary bodies would resign themselves.
The information minister said the cabinet accorded its approval to include Uzbekistan in the business visa list.
“The move is aimed at strengthening ties with the Central Asian state as well as providing relief to the business community of the two countries,” he added.
The cabinet also gave a go-ahead to importing films from regional countries, except India, in order to revive cinema.
The minister said the meeting approved the Jammu and Kashmir State Property budget amounting to Rs190.383 million for the fiscal year 2021-22 and also agreed to hire services of M/s KPMG Taseer Hadi and Co. to carry out audit of the National Database and Registration Authority’s financial accounts.
Appointment of Asif Rauf as chief executive officer of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) for the next three months was also approved.
The minister said the cabinet members congratulated the Ministry of National Health Services after they were told that the country had achieved a milestone against polio.
“Only one case of the crippling disease has emerged in the last seven months which is the lowest figure reported in the country after a long time,” he said, adding that any nation that wanted to get a polio-free status had to be remain polio-free for three consecutive years.
He said on the request of the World Food Programme, the federal cabinet granted a one-time permission to make concessions in the port policy orders for the release of shipments from Saudi Arabia.
About inclusion of Uzbekistan in the business visa list, he said the initiative would ensure availability of a five-year multi-visa facility at the relevant Pakistani consulate.
The minister said Pakistan and Uzbekistan, especially their political leadership including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, enjoyed good ties particularly in the context of Afghanistan and trans Mazar-i-Sharif train which would connect Karachi and Gwadar with Tashkent via the landlocked country.
Mr Chaudhry said the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) presented a policy directive to the meeting on a judgement referred by the Islamabad High Court to the federal cabinet regarding blocking of social media companies and inappropriate content on social media sites.
The policy directive was meant to inform the court that the government was fully empowered to take action for removal of unlawful content from social media.
About contemporary social media rules and regulations, he said the government was working on a two-pronged strategy to address social media-related issues through new policy initiatives.
The strategy was not only aimed at tightening noose around those companies that were delaying action against producers of pornographic content, but also taking legal action against individuals involved in making objectionable material in Pakistan, he added.
He said issues related to social media had become a major problem in the country which was why a new policy debate on the matter was being initiated that would be led by Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari.
“The debate would help evolve new laws for the purpose,” he added.
On the revival of the film industry, the minister said since Covid-19 cases had seen a sharp decline and the cabinet decided to allow screening of movies of regional countries, including Iran and Turkey, negotiations with the National Command and Operation Centre to open cinemas were underway.
He said the government had already given various incentives to the film industry and announced that concession in electricity tariff would be offered to cinema houses to boost business activity.
Fawad Chaudhry said in a first, a new alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism had been put in place in Islamabad.
In the first phase, he said, family issues would be referred to the alternative dispute resolution centres to resolve matters through mediation and reduce burden on the judicial system.
The minister said for the first time, modern technology would be utilised to complete the upcoming census within 540 days.
PM Khan had formed a committee as some details of the census were yet to be determined, he added.
Mr Chaudhry said the next general elections would be held under the new census and after delimitation of constituencies, adding that this news might hurt some people who were desperate to see fresh elections in the next few months.
He said carrying out reforms in the electoral system was imperative before the next elections and the opposition was being approached for the purpose.
To a query, Mr Chaudhry said a calculator had been added to the ballot box which would automatically calculate the number of votes polled for all candidates.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2021