• Asad Umar, Zobaida Jalal to hold talks with Gwadar fishermen
• Visa process for officials of NGOs working in Afghanistan eased
• One year given to exchange discarded currency notes
• Minister says gas reserves depleting fast in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday said the federal cabinet welcomed the decision of the Election Commission Pakistan (ECP) to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) during the local government (LG) elections in Islamabad and asked the commission to issue tender (with required specifications) for purchasing the machines.
Presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the meeting was also informed that 20 million people in the country had received just one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
To resolve the grievances of the protesting fishermen in Gwadar, the cabinet formed a committee comprising federal ministers Asad Umar and Zobaida Jalal.
The meeting approved a proposal to facilitate the officials of international NGOs involved in humanitarian activities in Afghanistan in acquiring Pakistani visas.
In a significant decision, the cabinet gave one year to change currency notes that had been discarded five years ago. Earlier, the cut-off date for their replacement was December 2016.
Fawad Chaudhry said the meeting was briefed about the introduction of EVMs and granting of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.
“The cabinet welcomed the ECP’s decision to use electronic voting machines in the local bodies elections in Islamabad,” he said, adding that some 4,000 EVMs would be needed for LG polls in the federal capital.
“Getting 4,000 EVMs is not a big issue. Once the election commission invites tender, it will immediately get the machines of required specifications from the manufacturing companies,” he said.
The cabinet was also given a detailed briefing on the schedule of delivery and use of electronic voting machines at all polling stations in the country as well as training of staff.
The meeting expressed its firm resolve to hold the next elections through EVMs.
Gwadar fishermen issue
The information minister said the cabinet formed a two-member committee comprising Asad Umar and Zobaida Jalal, who would visit the port city of Gwadar on behalf of the prime minister and try to resolve the matter.
“They will talk to the protesters, as the prime minister has already taken notice and ordered the resolution of the issue,” Mr Chaudhry said.
According to Prime Minister Office, the meeting decided to make the process of obtaining Pakistani visas easier for officials of international NGOs.
The decision was made on humanitarian grounds and to help the people of Afghanistan.
The government will also facilitate the registration process of international NGOs working for the welfare of the Afghan people.
Similarly, the process of obtaining Pakistani visas for Afghans has been further eased and the necessary security clearance has been reduced to 15 days from 30 days.
The meeting decided to extend the facility for Afghans immigrating to other countries through Pakistan has been extended for another 60 days. The facility includes travel by land and air routes.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan gave a briefing to the cabinet members on preventive measures against Omicron — the latest Covid-19 variant affecting the entire world.
The cabinet emphasised the need to increase the pace of vaccinations, maintain social distance and wear masks.
It was also informed that at present 20 million people in the country had not received their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
“The cabinet appealed to all such citizens to take the second jab as soon as possible to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Mr Chaudhry said.
Change in currency notes
The minister said the State Bank of Pakistan had sought a six-year extension to replace currency notes of Rs10, Rs50, Rs100 and Rs1,000 denominations, but the cabinet granted a period of 12 months only.
“Those who want to get currency notes changed should get it done in a year,” he said.
Interestingly, the facility is being given to those who could not change the currency notes by the cut-off date of December 2016.
Justice Wajih’s allegations
Responding to a claim of retired Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, who resigned from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf reportedly over differences with Prime Minister Imran Khan in September 2016, Fawad Chaudhry called him a “buffoon” and dismissed Mr Wajih’s allegations against the premier.
“Such buffoons roam around trying to seek importance in media by making such allegations. These people are not even given respect in their own homes, therefore please do not give importance to them,” the minister told mediapersons.
Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed had claimed in a recent TV show that Imran Khan used to get Rs5 million from his political aides to run his palatial hilltop house in Banigala.
Mr Chaudhry warned of an impending gas crisis in the country, saying the natural resource was depleting fast and that “Pakistan will have no gas in years to come”.
He said people getting gas at cheaper rates in big cities should now change their habits. “This trend will not continue for long,” he added.
Meanwhile, the minister said the Sugar Sector Reform Committee’s report that was released on Tuesday contained several proposals, including its deregulation, to minimise the government’s role in fixing prices.
“The report will now be available for public debate before any final decision is taken,” he added.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Shaukat Tarin presented a comparative review of the prices of essential commodities to the federal cabinet and claimed that the weekly inflation rate had come down by 0.07 per cent as the cost of sugar, flour and other household items had decreased.
The cabinet was informed that apart from the prices of banaspati ghee and tea leaves in the region, rates of all other essential items were lower in Pakistan.
These items include flour, gram, dal mash, dal moong, tomato, onion, chicken and petrol.
The cabinet, however, expressed its concerns over the high prices of essential commodities in Sindh.
Among other decisions, the meeting approved an amendment to the bilateral air route between Pakistan and Tajikistan. This will reduce both air distance and travel costs.
Similarly, Kazakh Air Company was also allowed to start operations between Pakistan and Kazakhstan, with an aim to provide direct air travel between both countries and also boost bilateral trade.
To promote trade between Pakistan and the Central Asian countries, the cabinet directed the Aviation Division to finalise air travel agreements with these countries.
It also approved an amendment to air travel agreement between Pakistan and Iraq for increasing commercial flights between them.
Meanwhile, the cabinet was told that there was no shortage of urea in the country. However, to ensure its supply for the Rabi crop, the Sui Northern Gas Company will supply gas to plants by January 2022. Gas will also be supplied to Pak Arab and Fatima Fertiliser plants while the process of importing additional 50,000 tonnes of urea would be completed expeditiously, the meeting was informed.
The cabinet was told that a sack of urea in Pakistan was available for about Rs1,864 while in other countries it was being sold at Rs10,000 per sack.
The meeting was also informed that the country had petrol and diesel stock for 27 days.
Meanwhile, the information minister said 75 exploration licences had been awarded and revenue of Rs29 billion generated.
He said the meeting stressed the need to ensure safety standards of LPG cylinders and ordered action against those selling petrol at illegal pumps or in plastic containers.
Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2021