ISLAMABAD: Amid fiscal challenges, the government has increased development funds for parliamentarians by almost 30 per cent from budgetary allocations to Rs90 billion and is set to distribute about Rs8.4bn to farmers through database of the Sindh government.

This was the crux of a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Wednesday that also approved almost Rs1bn in additional funding for the maintenance of rest houses and residences of the judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in various cities across the country.

Presided over by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the ECC meeting also approved about 25pc increase in the price of a vial used in pregnancy tests and an assistance package to families of persons who lost lives during a recent political march. The meeting deferred a decision on a proposal for an increase in the prices of 54 other medicines.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had a day earlier said that Pakistan faced fiscal and economic challenges and wanted the IMF support to sail through these difficult times.

ECC okays Rs1bn for maintenance of apex court judges’ residences

A day later, the ECC was told that Rs70bn had been allocated for Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Programme (SAP) in the FY23 budget while another Rs17bn was diverted a couple of months ago on the orders of the SAP Steering Committee led by Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal.

Informed sources said Rs87bn is being utilised at the rate of Rs500 million each in the 174 constituencies of members of the National Assembly supporting Prime Minister Sharif. However, some more funds were required for schemes in “deprived areas/communities” and hence Rs3bn additional funds were arranged through diversion from other heads. The total funds under SAP schemes thus amounted to Rs90bn for the current fiscal year, the ECC was told. Of these about Rs47bn would be used in Punjab, Rs28bn in Sindh and about Rs7bn each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The ECC also approved a summary of the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation & Social Safety for the diversion of Rs8.4bn to the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) for cash subsidy to farmers affected by floods instead of subsidy for wheat seed (Rabi 2022-23). Further, the ECC directed BISP to initiate cash disbursement through its partner banks as per eligibility criteria and the amount to be disbursed to each eligible person identified by the Government of Sindh.

The ECC also approved another supplementary grant of Rs845m to the Ministry of Housing and Works for the repair and maintenance of the Supreme Court Building in Islamabad and judges’ residences, rest houses and sub-offices in various cities.

Adam X-1 lease extended

The meeting also approved a summary of the Ministry of Energy (Petroleum Division) for extension in Adam X-1 development and production lease for five years from 10-02-2022 to increase domestic oil and gas production and reduce the burden of imported energy.

Adam X-1 Development and Production lease was granted for seven years from 10-02-2015, covering an area of 19.42 sq. km and located in the district Sanghar. The field still has potential for further commercial production.

The ECC also approved another summary of the Ministry of Energy for one-year Extended Well Testing (EWT) over Umair SE-1 Discovery Guddu from the start of production under EWT arrangements. It was informed that an exploration licence was granted over Guddu Block in 1999, operated by OGDCL. Based on the results of seismic data, OGDCL has made a discovery in the Guddu block from the Habib Rahi Limestone and Pirkoh Limestone by drilling a well namely Umair SE-1.

On the request of the Ministry of Commerce, the ECC allowed the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) to carry on pre-shipment inspection of imported wheat at load ports by its already pre-qualified six International Pre-shipment inspection agencies (PSIAs) to ensure the quality of imported wheat as per approved specifications. It was informed that several wheat consignments were due in the coming months.

The ECC also approved two summaries of the Ministry of Interior regarding the grant of financial aid of Rs10m to the legal heirs of the deceased who died during the recent suicide blast at I-10 Markaz, Islamabad and Rs20m for the legal heirs of the deceased who died in the recent long march of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

The ECC discussed a summary of the Ministry of National Food Security & Research for a Rs667m supplementary grant for pay and pension of Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (PCCC) Employees and formed a committee consisting of Secretaries of MNFSR and Commerce headed by SAPM on Government Effectiveness Dr Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan to evaluate viable options for the financial sustainability of PCCC and to submit a report in 15 days.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023

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