'Political projects' like Imran's PM House university on the chopping block: Ahsan Iqbal

Published May 20, 2022
Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal speaks to the media in Islamabad on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal speaks to the media in Islamabad on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Friday that the PML-N-led coalition government would put an end to projects started during the PTI's tenure that are "unimportant" and "political in nature" and described Imran Khan's plans to turn the PM House into a university as one of them.

Talking to the media in Islamabad, he said funds saved by scrapping those projects would be diverted to those of "national importance".

He said the Imran Khan-led government's plan of setting up a varsity in the Prime Minister's House was a "political project" and termed it a drama. Iqbal further claimed that Rs23 to 25 billion that were allocated to the project were spent "who knows where".

"These kind of senseless projects will be ended," he added.

Former prime minister Imran Khan had promised in his inaugural speech that a varsity would be set up at the PM House.

A National Assembly panel had approved "The University of Engineering and Emerging Technology Bill, 2020" in October last year and work on the project was to be completed in 72 months. However, a Senate panel had later rejected the bill.

Iqbal said today that nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is regarded as the "father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb", had sent him a feasibility report for establishing a science and technology university prior to his death last year.

"I have asked the HEC (Higher Education Commission) to start a project immediately. We will approve this immediately and start work on it in July. [The university] will be affiliated with Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan."

'Walking a tightrope'

Talking about the prevailing political situation in which the PML-N is expected to take tough decisions needed to right the listing economy, Iqbal said it was "unrealistic to expect from a government that came in the last year [before general elections] to pick up the basket of sins [accrued over] four years of the previous government".

He, however, said that the coalition government would take as many steps as it could to correct the previous government's actions.

"We will definitely do that as our responsibility. But we cannot be punished for the previous government's sins and [allow them to be] portrayed as victims. The burden of the previous government's sins cannot be put on us. We also cannot accept any burden that will make life harder for people who are already tired because of inflation and taxes."

The government is walking a tightrope, the minister said.

He said the government would try to strike a balance in its talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) between the economy and the people's benefit.

Editorial: Economic reforms or early elections? The hard choice that PML-N must make without delay

Development budget

The minister also criticised the previous government's performance on the development front, saying its "failures and inability to decrease the deficit" had led to a reduction in the uplift budget's size.

The federal development budget or Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) was initially allocated Rs900bn for current fiscal year 2021-22 which had now been reduced to Rs480bn, he said. He added that out of the allocated Rs480bn, around 42 per cent was for provincial projects which was "distributed among their (PTI's) own people to pay political bribery."

The National Highways Authority was given Rs319bn in the FY19 budget and they now require Rs460bn, Iqbal continued. But their budget had been reduced to Rs91bn and there were no funds for other projects that are the responsibility of the federal government, he claimed.

"The federal development budget has become a provincial development budget. And the sectors in which the federal government should allocate resources for developing infrastructure, [improve] human resources and bring technology ... they have no budget for that."

The planning minister said the government would have to restore targets from the previous fiscal year for reducing deficit in the new budget. He added that the government would also face other constraints, including conditions set by the IMF but it would try to increase the development budget as much as it could while maintaining financial discipline.

The coalition government would try to increase the development budget to Rs700bn, he said.

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