ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday made it clear that electronic voting machines (EVMs) and I-voting facility for overseas Pakistanis are imperative part of electoral reforms.
Speaking at a press conference after a federal cabinet meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed his adviser on parliamentary affairs Dr Babar Awan and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan to hold talks with the opposition on the two fundamental issues linked with electoral reforms.
Mr Chaudhry said the government was also ready to discuss these issues in a joint session of the parliament.
He welcomed the talks between the government and the opposition in the parliament and said these should move forward. “…. we welcome talks with the opposition, but these must not be to waste or gain time but should make a headway. These matters should be concluded”.
The information minister said the remittances sent by the overseas Pakistanis played a significant role in the country’s economy as these enabled the government to cope with a difficult situation. “It would be a great injustice if they (overseas Pakistanis) are excluded from the country’s political system,” he said.
Mega corruption of Rs1,000bn in 2013 road contracts unearthed, says Fawad
About EVMs, he said that 70 per cent election-related disputes cropped up after conclusion of polling. “EVMs offer a solution to it,” he stressed.
Mr Chaudhry said 20 EVMs were being acquired from a private company and hoped that after a month these machines would be used in major elections.
Replying to a question, the information minister said if the case against PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif was heard on a daily basis and on merit, he could get a 25-year jail term in six months.
The minister hoped that the case against Mr Sharif would be wrapped up soon. “People of Pakistan want recovery of looted money from the Sharifs,” he remarked.
He disclosed that a mega corruption case involving a loss of Rs1,000 billion had been unearthed. He said the contracts for construction of roads awarded in 2013 were twice in cost than the expenditure on similar projects in 2021, despite an increase in the prices of material. He said the National Highway Authority was now building roads by spending Rs100 million per kilometre less than it cost in 2013.
He said Communications Minister Murad Saeed had briefed the relevant committee on the scam and action had been planned against those involved in the corruption.
Mr Chaudhry said the cabinet observed that the condition of seeking no objection certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority for construction of high rise buildings near airports in big cities should be done away with.
Observing that the policy of encouraging vertical spread of buildings had not been implemented as desired, a cabinet committee had been formed to look into difficulties in this regard.
The committee headed by Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar would give its findings within a week.
Private moon sighting
According to the information minister, the cabinet approved a new legislation on the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee under which it would now ban private announcements regarding moon sighting.
A proposal for five-year jail term for violators floated by the Ministry of Religious Affairs was rejected by the cabinet which decided to confine the punishment to imposition of fine.
Besides federal level, Ruet-i-Hilal committees would be formed at provincial and district level and for the first time, the Ministry of Science, Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Met Department and Suparco have been given representation in the committees.
The minister said the cabinet was told that there had been an increase of $5.4 billion in foreign remittances and the revenue collection had risen to Rs858bn in the first two months of the current fiscal, showing an increase of 42.3pc.
Likewise, he said, during a briefing given to the cabinet on economic indicators, it was noted that there had been an encouraging growth in agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors. Similarly, the foreign exchange reserves have reached a record level of $27.2bn, an increase of 36pc.
The minister said an increase of $4.6bn or 35pc had been seen in exports as well. However, he conceded that there had been increase in the prices of imported items. There was an upward trend in oil prices in the international market hence the increase in prices of imported commodities.
He said the income levels, particularly in agriculture sector, had increased. Cotton crop was better this year than the last year and other crops were also good leading to a visible improvement in rural economy, he said.
However, the minister noted that in cities, where imported items were used, prices had gone up.
He said the control of the Telephone Industries of Pakistan had been transferred to the National Radio and Telecommunication Corporation and the jobs of its 158 employees had been protected.
According to the information minister, the cabinet also approved expansion of E-visa facility to citizens of 191 countries. Earlier, it was available to only 50 countries, he said and added that the move was aimed at encouraging investment and tourism.
He said the cabinet approved resignation of Mehmood Molvi of the board of Karachi Port Trust and appointed Saud Alam Hashmi in his place for the remaining term. The cabinet approved new prices of 34 drugs.
The cabinet also approved Business and Human Rights Action Plan aimed to address adverse human right impacts resulting from business, including child labour, making Pakistan the first South Asian country to have this plan.
He said the plan would apply to all businesses, binding them to respect human rights by ensuring equal opportunities and doing away with discrimination.
The minister said the cabinet approved grant of humanitarian aid to Indonesia in connection with Covid-19 pandemic as a goodwill gesture from the people of Pakistan for the friendly nation.
The decisions recently made by the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet and the agenda of the committee on institutional reforms were also ratified by the cabinet.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2021