In maiden meeting, PM Shehbaz asks 'war cabinet' to brace for tough days ahead

Published April 20, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses the federal cabinet on Wednesday.—DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses the federal cabinet on Wednesday.—DawnNewsTV

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday chaired his government's first cabinet meeting and instructed ministers to prepare for "war" against the challenges the previous government failed to counter — poverty, inflation, and unemployment.

The premier finally announced the federal cabinet yesterday after eight days of discussions. According to a notification issued by the Cabinet Division, the cabinet comprises 26 federal ministers and two ministers of state. Besides, the prime minister has also appointed three advisers.

In his address to the cabinet, which was aired by state media, Shehbaz stressed on providing ease to the nation, especially the poor segments of the society, through a "thorough and continuous" process of consultation.

"Today is an important day because we have successfully taken office by constitutionally and legally ousting the corrupt PTI government," he said, thanking his coalition members.

"This coalition is the most extensive one in the history of Pakistan.

"And I have no doubt that despite your political affiliation and struggle, this coalition will work for the people of Pakistan without any personal biases," he remarked.

The PM cautioned that there were a number of challenges facing the new government such as load shedding, shortage of gas and oil prices. "You will be briefed about all of them with facts so that we can, together, explore the most beneficial measures for the public."

He revealed that the country was "drowning" in debt and it was the government's job to "sail this ship ashore". "Dozens of warehouses and factories are closed due to lack of electricity and gas. We need to immediately find solutions," he urged, adding that growth, not politics, was the priority for his cabinet right now.

Meanwhile, speaking about provincial issues, the premier said that the focus of the cabinet should be Balochistan. “We need to pay full attention to the problems of the Baloch people and other provinces,” he asserted.

He also warned that there was toxic propaganda being run against the government but vowed to counter it with "real facts".

The prime minister, moreover, stated that the government's goal was to end corruption which had peaked during the PTI government. "We need to shed our blood and save this poor nation which is entangled in debt."

As he concluded his address, Shehbaz took his coalition members into confidence and said that the prime minister's post was theirs. "This is your struggle, your journey. You have to guide me, you have to advise me. This is the only way we can move forward," he added.

Miftah seeks three months to 'fix everything'

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, at a press conference alongside Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb after the cabinet meeting, recounted the economic "failures" of the PTI government that he said were the core reasons for hampering the growth of the country in the last three years.

The minister said the new government would revive an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, adding that his meeting with the IMF team would be held very soon. He hinted that the government could curtail spending on the public sector development programme to reinitiate the IMF programme.

He, however, pointed out that Pakistan could never become self-reliant until it kept approaching foreign countries for loans.

Ismail recalled that the PML-N government had left the country's GDP growth rate at 6.1 per cent which nosedived to 1.6pc in the first year of the PTI rule.

He said the average budget deficit stood at Rs1.6 trillion during the PML-N's government from 2013-2018, underlining that it had now risen to Rs5.5tr. The finance minister hit out at former premier Imran Khan, saying he took loans worth Rs20,000 billion in the three-and-a-half years of his rule.

He also called the relief to the general public in petrol rates a "landmine" for the new government, saying such a relief measure was not made part of the budget proposal.

Ismail said PM Shehbaz had also ordered an inquiry into the smuggling of urea to central Asian countries. He added that 27 power plants were rendered inoperational by the PTI government.

"I don't get whether the PTI government was incompetent or corrupt ... But without a doubt their incompetence had no limits," the minister said.

He vowed to present a "better" budget, assuring that the rupee would not slide further. "Our foreign reserves will increase. Pakistani markets will improve. We will employ better management and everything will improve organically," Ismail told the media.

The minister said the government would unveil its long-term plans that would steer the country out of crisis.

Earlier, Aurangzeb said the price of a 10-kilogramme wheat sack had been reduced to Rs400 from Rs550 for the month of Ramazan, while the price of sugar had been set at Rs70 per kg after a decrease of Rs10 at all utility stores.

She said the Punjab chief secretary had been directed to ensure the implementation of these prices by the provincial government. Aurangzeb said the premier would himself monitor the prices and take stern action in case of any violation of his directives.

The minister said PM Shehbaz had also issued directions to authorities to ensure the provision of sugar and flour across the country. She added that the Punjab government would supply flour to Azad Kashmir as a gift.

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