Gilani wins unanimous trust vote: •Student, trade unions restored •Minimum wage fixed at Rs6,000 •Concurrent List to go •Wheat support price raised •Ministers restricted to 1600cc cars
ISLAMABAD, March 29: Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Saturday secured a historic unanimous trust vote from the National Assembly and then unveiled his coalition government’s priorities, including war on terrorism, an austerity drive, increased electricity generation and repeal of some controversial laws.
But what was dubbed as the programme for the first 100 days of his administration contained no immediate relief from people’s hardships because of food inflation and acute shortages of electricity and water for which he said there was no immediate solution.
Still Mr Gilani’s speech, after becoming Pakistan’s first prime minister to receive a unanimous vote of confidence from the lower house, came as a breath of fresh air after eight and half years of an oppressive military-led regime as he announced his decisions to repeal the infamous British-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) applicable to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and of the Industrial Relations Order (IRO)-2002 that curbed trade union activities, and revive banned trade and student unions.
Some other decisions likely to receive popular acclaim included a 40 per cent cut in the budget of the Prime Minister’s House and a bar on the use of cars of more than 1600cc power by his cabinet ministers as part of an austerity drive, and plans to form a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to promote national reconciliation, particularly in references to excesses committed in Balochistan, and abolish, within a year, the Constitution’s concurrent legislative list to give provinces exclusive control over more subjects.
He said a new ‘freedom of information law’ would be brought to promote press freedom while the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) would be made a subsidiary of the Information Ministry and its law changed.
The National Accountability Bureau will be brought under the control of the judiciary, he said.
The prime minister also announced his government’s decision to increase the wheat support price to Rs625 per 40kg from the present Rs510, which is certain to be popular with the farming community but could lead to increased food inflation.
In brief remarks about foreign affairs, the prime minister said his government’s policy would be based on “peace, goodwill and peaceful co-existence” and it would seek relations with all countries on the basis of equality.
“We want strong and close relations also with America and Europe,” he said. “We will promote peace and brotherhood with neighbouring countries.”
But he stressed Pakistan’s close ties with the Muslim world and China and called for peace in Afghanistan.He said his government would carry forward talks with India for a solution to the Kashmir issue and assured the Kashmiri people that their sacrifices would not go in vain. “This should be clear that confidence-building measures will be useful only when this problem is seen being resolved in the light of the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and international principles.”
The unanimous vote came after the opposition parties of President Pervez Musharraf’s loyalists agreed to vote for him, leaving behind the bitterness of the general elections.
Parliamentary leaders of all opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), the PML-Functional (PML-F) of Pir Pagara, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the PPP-Sherpao, announced support for the move as a gesture of goodwill and a step towards national reconciliation before endorsing a resolution reposing confidence in the new prime minister was moved and declared adopted unanimously in the absence of any opposition.
The move did not appear to be sudden as Mr Gilani read out a speech in Urdu in which he thanked all members of the National Assembly, including members of the opposition, for reposing confidence in him, triggering speculation over whether the opposition parties had acted on their own or with the consent of President Musharraf whose will used to be the last word for them until recently.
Mr Gilani, who is due to name the first batch of his cabinet on Monday, said his government was not afraid of “innumerable challenges” facing the country and that “the restoration of law and order and total elimination of terrorism will be (its) first priority”.
“The war against terrorism is our own war because countless of our innocent children and jawans have fallen martyrs as a result of it,” he said.
OLIVE BRANCH: But the prime minister, who discussed the future of Pakistan’s key role in the American-led war against terrorism with two senior US diplomats this week, offered an olive branch to what he described as some people who had chosen the path of violence as a means of expressing their views, asking them to give up their approach and “join us in this journey of democracy”.
“We are ready to talk to all those people who will lay down arms and adopt the path of peace,” he said.
The prime minister promised that his government would give a new package for the tribal areas some time later as an “important pillar of our strategy in the war against terrorism” and to cure what he called social evils there caused by poverty and illiteracy.
He said unemployment, inflation and poverty was the second problem for his government that, he added, would not permit an “unjust distribution of wealth” and would provide new opportunities to people for progress and prosperity.
Mr Gilani welcomed the recent announcement by Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani to recall army personnel from civilian departments as a step that would enhance the prestige of the army and said he hoped it would be done within two weeks while the decision could be implemented later in some institutions where such personnel were needed now.
“It is necessary for the solidarity and progress of the country that every institution fulfils its specific responsibilities,” he said, adding: “Governance is the responsibility of only the people.”
NO IMMEDIATE SOLUTIONS: The prime minister said the country was now beset with crises, on the top of the list being the crises of electricity, water, atta (flour) and high prices.
“We don’t want to tell lies, we want to take our people into confidence,” he said. “I have to say with utmost regret that no immediate solution to these crises is possible.”
He said his government would seek more power generation and plants of 2,200-megawatt capacity would be set up within this year while 500 megawatts would be saved through a conservation drive to lessen power cuts. Pepco had been directed to provide 10 million energy-saver bulbs to consumers at reasonable rates.
The prime minister said his government would cement irrigation channels to conserve canal water and would also construct small dams on an emergency basis to meet both energy and irrigation demands.
Some of the measures announced by the prime minister are:
-Ministers to travel only in economy-plus class in domestic flights.
- No unnecessary illumination of government buildings.
- No amount from the national exchequer to be spent on the decoration of government offices and official residences.
- Special counters for parliament members at airports to be abolished and the largest Pakistan flag to be flown on the parliament house.
- A prime minister’s question hour in the National Assembly to be started on the pattern of other democratic countries during which the prime minister would directly answer questions from the house members.
- An employment commission to be set up with cabinet approval to plan for the creation of employment opportunities in the private and public sectors with a Literacy and Health Corporation under it to provide employment to young people for two years after graduation.
- A National Employment Scheme to be started in 50 per cent districts under which one person from every poor family will be provided job.
- A Madressah Welfare Authority to be set up to provide a uniform syllabus for Madressahs in consultation with all stake-holders and audit their funds.
- A million housing units to be built each year along with five-marla schemes in villages where state land is available and schemes to provide flats and 80 square yards plots in cities for the homeless.
- CNG buses to be made available.
- Sunflower cultivation to be promoted to meet cooking oil needs.
- Crop insurance for small land holders.
- Provision of cheap and good seeds and cheap fertilisers to farmers.
- Poor people to given free national identity cards.
* Frontier Crimes Regulations and Industrial Relations Order repealed
* A “truth and reconciliation commission” proposed
* PM House budget cut by 40 per cent
* Special counters at airports for parliamentarians to be removed
* No money to be spent on the renovation of government buildings and residences
* A freedom of information law to be framed, while Pemra will be made a subsidiary of the information ministry
* Talks will be initiated with extremists who lay down arms and ‘adopt the path of peace’
* A new package for tribal areas promised
* Employment commission to be set up
* Madressah authority to implement a uniform curriculum
* One million housing units to be built annually for low-income groups
* Irrigation channels to be bricklined.