• Oil, diesel prices down by Rs10 per litre, electricity by Rs5 per unit
• Interest-free loans, incentives for IT, industrial sectors unveiled
• Stands firm on Peca, says journalists should be happy with curbs on fake news
ISLAMABAD: In a much-hyped, 42-minute address to the nation, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday stunned his critics when he announced a ‘relief package’ for the inflation-hit citizens of Pakistan, reducing the prices of petrol and diesel by Rs10 per litre and electricity by Rs5 per unit with a pledge that they would not be increased until the next federal budget.
PM Khan also announced a major tax incentive for the information technology and industrial sectors, highlighted some of the major achievements of his government, provided a justification for the recently-promulgated ordinance that amended the cybercrime law and disclosed that federal minister Murad Saeed could file a defamation case in the UK.
The prime minister announced the ‘relief package’ at a time when Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is leading a long march to the federal capital in a bid to topple the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government. However, PM Khan did not talk about the long march in his televised address.
Mr Khan criticised the previous governments of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for continuing with the ‘wrong foreign policy’ of siding with the US in its war on terror. He appealed to the people not to elect those politicians who stashed their wealth and assets in offshore banks, as they were the ones who would compromise on foreign policy.
Giving a comparison between the state of the economy during his government and during the PPP and the PML-N rule, the PM painted a rosy picture and claimed that he had put the economy on the right track.
Oil, power tariff slashed
“I received a summary from Ogra to increase petrol price by Rs10 per litre. Instead of increasing it, I am reducing petrol price by Rs10,” the PM announced.
He added: “We are reducing electricity tariff by Rs5 per unit after which monthly bills of electricity will slash down by 20 to 50 per cent.”
“We are not enhancing the price of petrol and electricity till next federal budget,” he continued, while explaining that the government was bearing the subsidy of billion of rupees on both utilities despite difficult economic conditions.
For the unemployed graduates, the PM said, Rs30,000 per month internship programme was being launched. He said the money would be given through a transparent and merit-based system. He also announced 2.6 million educational scholarships for which Rs38 billion would be allocated. He said Rs460 billion would be earmarked for the provision of interest-free loans for youth for start-ups, farmers for agriculture and low-income groups to construct their own houses.
Besides, he said, there was Ehsaas programme under which a cash stipend between Rs12,000 and Rs14,000 was being provided to eight million deserving families.
The PM also announced incentives for the promotion of the information technology sector, including 100 per cent tax exemption for companies and freelancers, 100 per cent waiver on repatriation of capital and foreign exchange, and elimination of capital gains tax for startups. He said overseas Pakistanis would enjoy tax-holiday for five years for investments in the country.
Amid strong opposition to the recently amended Pakistan and Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) Ordinance-2022 by lawyers, journalist communities and human rights organisation, PM Khan said the law had been enacted six years ago while the incumbent PTI government had only amended it. “The leader who does not commit corruption and violate laws will never be afraid of free media,” Mr Khan reasoned.
The amendment was made to tackle the filth of child pornography and women harassment on social media, he said. “More than 94,000 cases related to women harassment, fake news and pictures were pending with the FIA and of those, only 38 cases have been disposed of so far,” he added.
A sitting prime minister and his family were not spared by fake news, he said, adding that despite being the PM he could not get justice during the past three years in a defamation case. “Recently, a woman was fined by a UK court over defamation,” he said, adding that Communications Minister Murad Saeed was also considering instituting a case there.
Without getting the official version, the media alleged that Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital’s funding landed into PTI account, he recalled. “The hospital is also going to file a case against Jang Group in the UK and the US, where it was registered as charity. It happens nowhere in the world.
“Here are the mafias blackmailing in name of the freedom of press. They have different agendas. They are blackmailing and involved in mudslinging against government,” the prime minister said.
Calling the Peca law essential for the country, Mr Khan said it had nothing to do with the freedom of press. “Instead, good journalists should be happy over the curb of fake news, as it would enhance their credibility,” he said.
Referring to fake news by three leading newspapers alleging the selection of the AJK prime minister through some sort of necromancy, he said had it happened in the West, they would have to sell out their companies to pay for the libel.
The prime minister said contrary to his desire for a Pakistan with an independent foreign policy, the country joined the US-led war on terror and suffered 80,000 casualties, displacement of 3.5 million and $150 billion economic loss while no Pakistani had anything to do with the 9/11.
In spite of getting its support, the US carried out around 400 drone attacks in Pakistan that he termed “most shameful”. He said only 10 drone attacks were made in Pervez Musharraf’s tenure while 400 drone attacks were carried out during the rule of the so-called democratic leaders who failed to speak against the killings of the innocent people.
“Leaders having money abroad and in offshore accounts can never take decisions in nation’s interest. Do not vote them as they can never make independent decisions,” he said.
Highlighting his recent visits to China and Russia, the prime minister said Pakistan would import around two million tonnes of wheat and gas from Russia, whereas the outcome of the government’s agreements with China regarding the second phase of CPEC would come to the fore soon.'
Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2022