A meeting of the federal cabinet in progress. — Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: In a landmark move, the federal cabinet decided on Wednesday to amend the 1964 Promotion and Service Rules requiring mandatory publication of details of assets of everyone drawing remunerations from public exchequer, including civil servants and people in armed forces and judiciary.

“While details of assets of parliamentarians are filed and published every year, the government has supported a private member’s bill to publish assets of civil servants, judiciary and armed forces so that the process of accountability is across the board and not only targeted at politicians,” Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan told a news conference after the cabinet meeting.

Presided over by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, the meeting also decided to release an additional subsidy of Rs15 billion to power companies in addition to the Rs10 billion provided to the power ministry last week for additional power generation of about 1200MW. It asked a ministerial committee to discuss with the people in Sindh how additional gas supplies could be diverted to Punjab to keep the wheel of industry moving in that province.

The minister said the cabinet considered a private member’s bill introduced by Dr Donya Aziz and seven other lawmakers and rejected a proposal seeking ratification by a 16-member parliamentary committee of promotions and appointments of Grade 16 employees and above because it was the prerogative of the prime minister.

The cabinet, however, agreed to the second part of the bill. “Whosoever is drawing the salary from public exchequer would be bound not only to declare assets but also to make it public, whether he/she belongs to the judiciary, armed forces or any other organisation,” she said, adding that the bill and other proposals had been forwarded to the relevant parliamentary committee.

She rejected a suggestion that the decision about declaration and publication of assets had been taken because of the current confrontation between the government and the establishment. She said seven members of parliament had introduced the bill and it was the responsibility of the government to support such legislation. She did not say why the cabinet rejected the first part of the bill.

“The objective is not to target any institution or individual, rather this is to ensure that the process of accountability is across the board and not limited to politicians alone,” she said, adding that civil servants even now filed details of their assets, but these were not made public.

ENERGY CRISIS: The minister said the cabinet discussed the energy crisis for over five hours and was of the view that no democratic government which had to go back to the public for votes could afford disruption of gas supplies to domestic consumers. Therefore, it decided to give top priority to domestic consumers during the entire month of January as the prime minister directed that ‘gas interruption to the domestic sector would not be acceptable’.

But gas supplies to industry, cement, fertilizer and thermal power sectors will remain suspended during the current month as gas demand in the domestic sector will rise from usual 670 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) to over 900mmcfd in coming days. The cabinet directed the petroleum ministry to implement an accord reached with the CNG sector about three-day weekly closure.

The minister said the cabinet was informed that Balochistan produced 17 per cent of the total gas supply and consumed seven per cent and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa produced nine per cent and consumed seven per cent. On the other hand, Sindh produced 69 per cent of gas and consumed 41 per cent while Punjab produced seven per cent and consumed 45 per cent. She said provinces had agreed on a formula about consumption of gas in the province where it was produced but the government also wanted to protect the industrial sector in Punjab.

Therefore, the cabinet directed a committee led by Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain to hold talks with stakeholders in Sindh to share some of the gas produced in Sindh with Punjab and submit a report within a week.

Secretary of Petroleum Muhammad Ejaz Chaudhry explained on the occasion that Article 158 of the Constitution required protection of existing gas commitments under which Sindh and Punjab consumed 41 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, and then allocation of fresh gas production in the province of its origin. He said out of 1880 mmcfd of gas in Sui Northern System, only 240 mmcfd could be shared among various sectors after meeting committed supplies.

The minister said the prime minister once again directed the cabinet committee on energy to introduce reforms in the energy sector as early as possible. The cabinet also directed speedy implementation of LNG import plan and formed a committee to examine reducing general sales tax on LPG import and an end to existing system of quota allocations for LPG. The cabinet noted with concern 12 per cent system losses by gas companies and desired steps to overcome the losses.

PAKISTAN RAILWAYS: Dr Awan said that the cabinet considered a summary on a longstanding issue for condonation of deviation from procurement rules in procurement of 75 locomotives from China in 2004. As some of the member of the cabinet raised objections, the cabinet constituted a committee to look into the matter to ensure transparency so that a final decision could be taken.

SUGAR PURCHASE: The minister said the cabinet also approved a decision of its Economic Coordination Committee to purchase sugar from mills at Rs46.25 per kg for sale through the Utility Stores Corporation in relaxation of procurement rules. She said the government had learnt a lesson from last year sugar situation and decided to procure sugar when prices were low.

Dr Awan said the cabinet rejected a decision of the ECC imposing 16 per cent GST on purchase of tractors and constituted a committee to examine how poor farmers could be facilitated.

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