• Committee formed to strengthen PAC
• Cabinet condemns lynching incident
• Ration programme to be started for those earning below Rs31,000

ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday said the government wanted the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the opposition to first understand the working of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and then criticise it.

“The ECP and anyone else first need to understand what the [EVMs] system is and avoid criticising it without having any knowledge about it,” Mr Chaudhry said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

The meeting, which was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, formed a high-powered committee to strengthen the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee is presently headed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Rana Tanvir.

“If they [ECP and the opposition] criticise the EVM system without understanding it, we will have objections then,” the information minister said.

He said the government wanted to give time to the Election Commission for its satisfaction over the use of EVMs [in the next general elections in 2023].

“But it should not be that long; the process, which started in 2012, has still not concluded,” he added.

The minister said an awareness campaign on EVMs would be launched to make people understand its benefits, adding that the ECP had already given 27 recommendations for EVMs and should therefore issue tenders to manufacture the voting machines under the same conditions and ask manufacturers to do the same.

Mr Chaudhry said the objective of introducing EVMs was to make the election process free and fair, adding that the PTI had promised in its election manifesto to give overseas Pakistanis the right to vote.

About the recent legislation that bestowed voting rights to expats, the minister said the opposition was committing ‘political suicide’ by participating in a campaign launched by some elements against provision of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.

“It appears as if only the PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf] is responsible for the welfare of overseas Pakistanis, but the fact is that the entire diaspora is not associated with the party,” Mr Chaudhry said.

It was beyond the minister’s comprehension that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PML-N were taking part in a campaign launched to deny right of vote to 10 million expats whose families were living in Pakistan.

He said almost the entire family of the PML-N supremo, Nawaz Sharif, was abroad and his two sons – Hassan and Husain Nawaz – might have even torn their Pakistani passports, but still they would get the opportunity to vote for their father’s party if voting rights were given to expats.

Mr Chaudhry said Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s objection on the use of EVMs in the elections was also beyond understanding as he had lived abroad for many years.

PAC strengthening

The minister said PTI members in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) met the prime minister recently and it was decided that all institutions would be strengthened to bring transparency in governance.

He said the committee had been constituted comprising Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Shaukat Tarin, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar and PTI Chief Whip Amir Dogar to suggest steps for strengthening the PAC.

Food inflation

Mr Chaudhry said the cabinet was given a comparative study of the prices of essential commodities and it transpired that during the past two weeks Sensitive Price Index (SPI) had shown a downward trend.

From January, he said a ration programme would be started under which 30pc subsidy would be given to those earning less than Rs31,000 per month.

He said those benefiting from this scheme would get flour at a price even less than the cost in 2018.

The information minister appreciated the Sindh government for taking some steps to control prices of daily-use items in Karachi and Hyderabad.

“Now a bag of 20kg wheat flour is being sold at Rs1,456 in Karachi and at Rs1,316 in Hyderabad whereas it was available for Rs1,100 in the rest of the country,” he added.

The minister said per kilogram sugar was available for Rs90 across the country except Karachi and Islamabad where the commodity was being sold at Rs97 per kg.

A reduction of up to Rs4 per kg in the price of sugar was also expected in the coming days, he claimed, adding that vegetable oil was available for Rs399 per kg across the country.

He said it was ridiculous to criticise the government on drawing comparison of inflation in Pakistan with regional countries.

“We are not drawing comparison of the country with France and UK; it is being compared with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India,” he added.

Except tea, Mr Chaudhry said, every commodity including wheat flour, lentils, sugar, onion, tomato, chicken, eggs, fresh milk and even petrol was cheaper in Pakistan as compared to other regional countries.

He agreed that there had been inflation in the country for the salaried class, “but there is a need to adjust with the situation”.

There has been an additional income of Rs400 billion in the agriculture sector this year, he said, adding that the comparison could be done in contemporary times instead of the past.

Cabinet condemns lynching

Fawad Chaudhry said the cabinet strongly condemned the lynching of a Sri Lankan manager by a mob in Sialkot, adding that it was against Islamic teachings and was tantamount to distorting the image of Pakistan.

The prime minister and the cabinet directed the Punjab government to start the trial of the arrested accused as soon as possible and take steps to punish them, Mr Chaudhry said, adding that “the way Pakistan’s society and government have reacted to this tragedy shows that we are very different from India and some other countries”.

He said in India, such incidents against Muslims occurred on a daily basis but its government was reluctant to take any action against the culprits.

“The whole nation was united on the Sialkot incident just like it was at the time of the APS tragedy and every citizen was condemning this act,” he added.

In a separate decision, the federal cabinet refused to meet the family of a missing journalist, Mudassar Mehmood, and decided to file an appeal against the Islamabad High Court’s Dec 1 decision, which stated that the prime minister and cabinet members were responsible for the recovery of missing persons. The journalist went missing on Aug, 19, 2018.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2021

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