ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday directed the Ministry of Science and Technology to purchase electronic voting machines (EVMs) as per requirement of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for holding first-ever local government (LG) elections in the federal capital through EVMs.
The cabinet meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, was apprised that people of Sindh would remain deprived of universal health coverage through Sehat Card Scheme as the provincial government had refused to be a part of the scheme dreamt by the prime minister.
The meeting was also informed that the prices of essential food items had significantly declined.
“The cabinet was informed that the election commission has written a letter to the Ministry of Science and Technology for early purchase of EVMs,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a post-cabinet meeting press conference.
“The cabinet directed the ministry to take steps as per the ECP’s directives and finalise the procedure for purchase of EVMs to use it in local government elections in the federal capital,” he added.
Regarding increasing cases of new variant of coronavirus, Omicron, Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Faisal Sultan and Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar told the cabinet that its cases were increasing across the country and urged the people to strictly adhere to the standard operating procedures to suppress its spread.
Mr Chaudhry said the rise in import bill was due to procurement of the coronavirus vaccine from abroad. So far Rs2 billion was spent in that regard.
Again criticising the Sindh government, he said: “Sindh government has not procured even a single dose of vaccine. On the other hand, Centre has spent some Rs111 million to procure vaccine for the people of Sindh and provide them relief under the Ehsaas Programme.”
About Sehat Card, he said, the federal government had launched a countrywide National Health Card programme, but unfortunately the people of Sindh were deprived of the facility due to reluctance of the provincial government to make its contribution. The Punjab government, however, had allocated Rs400 billion for the purpose, he added.
The minister clarified that the heads of families should be registered with the National Database and Registration Authority to avail the facility. Initially, the programme was launched in Lahore, Sahiwal and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions of Punjab, while the people of whole Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were already its beneficiaries, the minister said.
Under the scheme, he said, a family could avail free medical treatment costing up to Rs1 million per year in case of hospitalisation. The government hospitals were already providing free medical treatment, he added.
He said some sections in the media were misinterpreting the initiative that it would encourage private sector hospitals at the cost of government institutions. The private sector was included to provide quality health facilities to the people, he insisted.
The minister said the cabinet was apprised about the availability of essential commodities and that a sharp decrease had been registered in the prices of essential food items during last week. “The Sensitive Price Index posted a decline of 0.50 per cent with food items contributing 33pc.
The prices of tomato, potato and other food items prices have decreased,” he added.
Giving comparison of tomato prices, he said on Dec 31 last year its price was Rs91 per kg against present rate of Rs55 per kg. Similarly, potato price was high last week, but it is now available at Rs41 per kg. Likewise, onion is selling now at Rs35 per kg against its previous price of Rs43 per kg.
He criticised the media for not highlighting pro-government stories and said: “The media, which always highlighted high inflation rate, should show decline in the prices of essential items.”
He also urged the media houses to stop splashing news about the cabinet’s agenda before its briefing to avoid embarrassment.
Mr Chaudhry said the cabinet accorded approval to table the Statement of Contingent Liabilities related to the Supplementary Finance Bill in the National Assembly.
The cabinet endorsed the appointment of Nadir Mumtaz Warraich as chairman of the Karachi Port Trust and restructuring of the Pakistan Tobacco Board.
It also approved an agreement between the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority and the Chinese Ministry of Climate Change for provision of 3,000 solar power generation systems to be provided to residents of Gwadar free of cost.
The cabinet approved the appointment of Brig Mohammad Asim Ishaq as managing director of the National Radio Telecommunication Corporation and Bilal Anwar as chief executive officer of the National Disaster Risk Management Fund.
The information minister said he wanted to bring major reforms in the media sector. “The media ownership should be separated from the editorial policy which is supposed to be overseen by working journalists,” he added.
Later, Prime Minister Imran Khan urged the nation to play their role in protecting the country’s environment for future generations as Pakistan, despite contributing less than 1pc in world carbon emissions, was unfortunately among the 10 most vulnerable countries. “It is very important for Pakistanis to think as a nation and protect our future generations,” he said.
He was speaking at an agreement signing ceremony between the Ministry of Climate Change and the World Bank for the launch of “Green Stimulus – Turning Concept into Reality” project.
Under the agreement, the World Bank will provide Rs22bn for 14 green initiatives across the country.
The prime minister mentioned the present government’s various initiatives including the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, 15 national parks, digital cadastral mapping to protect existing forests for tackling negative effects of climate change such as rising temperatures and pollution.
The prime minister said with the melting glaciers, rising temperatures and less rains in rural and urban areas, Pakistan was taking measures to tackle the challenges through nature-based solutions.
“We have to protect our forests, boost our tree plantation campaigns to enhance the forest cover and develop more national parks,” he stressed.
The prime minister said besides hiring people, technology like drones would also be utilised for surveillance and protection of 15 national parks to be established in different parts of the country.
He stressed the need for protecting green areas in and around urban areas and said even Margalla National Park was being encroached upon.
He said besides canals, rivers and water streams and channels air was also being polluted in cities like Lahore, which was threatening the lives of people, especially children and elderly.
The prime minister, however, added that with the ring-fencing of the cities, the government was working on the master plans of big cities to protect green areas and check encroachment.
Similarly, he said, mangroves cover along the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan was being enhanced and protected, which would help recharge ground water and protect wildlife.
South Punjab secretariat
In a separate meeting with Minister for Industries and Production Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, Prime Minister Khan directed the authorities concerned for early completion of ongoing development projects, particularly South Punjab secretariat, to ensure ease and facilitation of the people of the area.
He also directed the party leaders to further strengthen and operationalise the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in south Punjab.
During the meeting, views were exchanged about the matters relating to the PTI’s organisational structure in south Punjab as well as the development of area.
The prime minister expressed his commitment to personally monitor the progress of the matters relating to south Punjab on permanent basis.
Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2022