Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday announced the slashing of petroleum products’ price by Rs10 per litre and electricity tariff by Rs5 per unit as part of a series of measures to bring some relief to the public.
The relief was announced by the premier as he addressed the nation about the country's economic situation, the government's performance over the last three-and-a-half years and the global challenges in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Relief measures announced:
- Rs10 and Rs5 decrease in petrol and electricity prices, respectively
- No increase in petrol and electricity prices until the next budget
- Tax exemption for companies and freelancers in IT sector; foreign exchange exemption
- Exemption from capital gain tax for IT startups
- Skills-based internships for graduates
- Ehsaas stipend increased to Rs14,000 from Rs12,000
"I received a summary from the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) and they recommended increasing the prices of petrol and diesel by Rs10 due to the price hike in global markets," he said.
"Today I want to tell you guys this good news that, instead of increasing it, we will decrease [petrol prices] by Rs10."
In the same way, he said that electricity was also being made from imported fuel which had caused prices to soar. Regretting the fact that past governments did not invest in building dams, he said the PTI government was constructing 10 dams which would save the country from global price fluctuations.
"We have also decided to decrease electricity prices by Rs5 per unit. This means that there will be a 20-50 per cent decrease in you electricity bills."
He said that there would be no increase in petrol and electricity prices until the next budget.
Talking about the cash handouts given to the people under the Ehsaas programme, the premier said that it had increased from Rs12,000 to Rs14,000. In addition, graduates would be given skills-based internships and paid Rs30,000, he added, without elaborating further.
He reiterated that the IT sector, which included companies and freelancers, had been exempted from paying taxes, adding that they would also not face any restrictions on foreign exchange. Further, IT startups would no longer have to pay capital gain tax, he said.
Talking about industries, the prime minister said that anyone wishing to set up an industry in Pakistan or invest in the sector would not be "asked any questions". He said that he would announce a complete package for this sector later.
Moreover, overseas Pakistanis who invest in industries or carry out a joint venture will get a five-year tax holiday, he said.
Under the Kamyab Jawan programme, he said that the country's youth and farmers would be given interest-free loans while low-income citizens would be given subsidised loans to build homes. "Loans worth Rs407 billion will be disbursed during two years."
The prime minister expressed satisfaction at the fact that banks had been persuaded to give loans to low-income citizens, noting that so far they had approved Rs150bn in loans.
Wrapping up his address, the premier said that he had informed the chief ministers of the provinces that health insurance was a big blessing for low-income families.
"When illness strikes, they should not have the fear that they cannot get treated at a hospital. Often times they go to government hospitals and there are no doctors and nurses."
PM Imran said that every household in Punjab would have the sehat card by the end of March, allowing them to avail medical treatment of up to Rs1 million at any hospital. "A health system is being created in Pakistan. Small hospitals are being constructed in the villages."
"Lastly, I want to say to the nation that I know that these are difficult times. I know that there have been many difficulties one after the year during the last three-and-a-half years [...] but my government is always thinking about how to lessen the burden on you," he said, ending his address by saying that the country and the economy were headed in the right direction.
PM stresses need for independent foreign policy
PM Imran began his speech by talking about the country's foreign policy, stating that the situation in the world was changing which subsequently had an effect on Pakistan.
He said that his parents were born in an "enslaved India" which made him realise how lucky he was to be born in a free country as he was growing up.
"From the day I entered politics, I wanted a free and independent foreign policy. This means that a nation drafts a policy that benefits the country and its people," he said.
Highlighting an example of the "wrong foreign policy", he said that Pakistan had participated in the American 'war on terror'. "From day one, I said that we should not have participated [in the US war]," he said, adding that it did not ultimately benefit the country as 80,000 Pakistanis were martyred.
"The most embarrassing part was that, for the first time in history, a country was fighting in support of a country that was bombing it."
He said that there were only 10 drone attacks during the government of former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, but almost 400 during the rule of democratic leaders such as Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari.
Circling back to the need for a free independent foreign policy, PM Imran said that these democratic leaders should have taken a stand against the US.
"Neither of them issued a single statement," he said, adding that an American journalist quoted Zardari as saying to America's army chief that he was not affected by the collateral damage from drone attacks.
He noted that the assets of Russian billionaires stashed abroad had been frozen by the West since the Kremlin began its invasion of Ukraine.
"I want to tell my nation that if you want an independent foreign policy, you should never vote for a party whose leaders have properties and assets abroad. They will never draft an independent foreign policy."
Talking about his recent visits to China and Russia, the prime minister said that these tours would have a far-reaching impact on the country's economy.
He said that Pakistan had received a lot of respect during the visit to China. About his trip to Russia, he said that the government had to go to Moscow as Pakistan needed to import wheat and gas.
PM defends Peca ordinance
The premier also defended the amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016, dismissing criticism that it was being used to curb media freedom. "The Peca law was made in 2016. We are only amending it."
He said that a leader of a country who was not corrupt or had not broken the law would never be in danger from media freedom. "Today, 70 per cent of the news is against us. This has no effect on us, but there is a reason why we have brought this law."
The premier said "filth", such as child pornography, was being shared on social media.
He regretted that he was also not being spared, recalling that a few years ago a journalist had reported that his wife had left him and that he had "done something illegal" at his Bani Gala residence.
"I filed a case in the courts. It has been three years, but the prime minister has not been able to get justice and the same journalist now writes that [my] wife has left the house. If this can happen with the country's prime minister ... imagine what would happen with the rest of the people."
PM Imran said that the same journalist was locked up and beaten for three days when he wrote about Nawaz's corruption during the PML-N government.
He said that mafias were doing blackmail under the guise of media freedom. "They have other agendas. There are journalists who are taking money, flinging filth and doing blackmail."
The premier reiterated that the amendment to the Peca law was not related to media freedom, adding that "good journalists would want fake news to be eradicated".
The premier's address was initially expected to begin at 6pm. However, around 6:30pm, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said that PM Imran's address would now be aired at 7:15pm.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had announced the news on Twitter earlier today, saying: "Prime Minister Imran Khan will address the nation this evening, taking the nation into confidence on the economy and global challenges after the Russia-Ukraine conflict".
Later, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in a media talk, shared the timing of the address, saying it would take place at 6pm.
"I think he (PM Imran) is going to make a very big announcement," the foreign minister said while talking to the media in Jacobabad. He advised people to "be ready" since the prime minister would "talk openly from the heart".
Qureshi said the premier realised the people's pain and what they were going through. He also said the prime minister was about to visit Sindh soon.
Planning Minister Asad Umar, while addressing a rally in Ratodero, also said that the premier would make an "important announcement" in his address tonight.
However, the mystery over what the announcement could be was already given away by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak a day before in Nowshera.
Addressing a gathering, Khattak had said that the prime minister would announce a reduction in petroleum prices by Rs10 per litre, for which a subsidy of Rs250 billion will be provided.
He further said that petroleum prices will not be hiked for the next four months, with there even being the possibility of further price reduction if the international situation improves, reduction in electricity prices by Rs5 per unit and allowances of Rs10,000 per month to be paid to unemployed graduates.
PM's address a 'time-wasting exercise', says PML-N
Meanwhile, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb, in a series of tweets, said that the prime minister's address would be a "time-wasting exercise", saying "how would a person take the nation into confidence when he has already lost the trust of people".
She also questioned whether the prime minister would seek an apology for his "false promises to the nation and false accusations he leveled at his political opponents".
"I pray that this will be his last speech so that people get rid of the constant mental anguish linked to inflation and unemployment," she said.