Federal cabinet to devise comprehensive policy on Afghan refugees

Islamabad – The federal cabinet on Thursday decided to devise a comprehensive policy on Afghan refugees before next extension of their stay in Pakistan in June next year.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, briefing newsmen along with Minister for Energy Umar Ayub here, said that Prime Minister Imran Khan will be given a comprehensive briefing on the issue.

Out of 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, two million refugees were registered and 0.5 million were so far unregistered, he said. As many as 879,198 Afghan refugees had citizen cards of Afghanistan but reside in Pakistan and 13,94,000 had refugee cards.

Fawad said that the issues related to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) were being looked into and Mansoor Hussain Siddiqui had been appointed Director General Financial Monitoring Unit.

He said the cabinet gave approval for appointment of Justice (retd) Abdul Rauf as Chairman Wage Board Award which would finalize the award within 120 days to fulfill longstanding demand of the journalist community.

He said the cabinet was informed that next week a big operation would be launched against 100 big defaulters of Federal Board of Revenue. He said that an Islamabad-like anti-encroachment drive would also be launched in Karachi to clear the state land.

Karachi Port Trust and Pakistan Railways land was prime target of the encroachers, he informed. The Minister said that lands comprising thousands of kanals had been retrieved in Islamabad.

The Minister said the cabinet also decided to further strengthen the Right to Information Act in order to bring transparency in governance and ensure citizens'' right to know. He said that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) RTI law was strong and there was need to strengthen the federal law as well.

The cabinet also decided that tax exemptions for Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) would be retained till year 2023. Fawad said the prime minister directed all ministers to promote meritocracy and not give recommendations, or receive recommendations from others.

The prime minister also directed to increase the use of information technology to save precious resources and move towards paperless government.

He said that the prime minister told the cabinet that a vibrant tourism policy would be introduced and beaches, coastal areas and northern parts of the country would be the main focus of development for tourism.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister of Energy Umer Ayub said total debt of Pakistan increased from Rs 15,000 billion in 2013 to Rs 29,000 billion in 2018. The previous government left the energy sector in crisis and the circular debt rose to Rs 640 billion, he added.

He said the transmission system did not have the capacity to carry more than 19,000 megawatt of electricity and many areas faced load shedding and low voltage in the summer months.

The PML-N government had set up power projects, he said, but did not make investment in upgradation of transmission and distribution system and also did not arrange for the working capital for the energy projects set up by it leaving “landmines” for the new government.

The previous government lost election due to bad performance, he added. Fawad said the distribution companies failed to recover 29 percent of the bills and Rs 220 billion was pending because of delay in tariff adjustment.

When the oil prices fell in the international market, the benefit of fuel adjustment was not passed on to the industry and revision of tariff structure was delayed. Net hydel profit of provinces was also not declared by the last government for one and a half years, he revealed.

The minister said so the last government left an accumulated financial burden of Rs 1200 billion for the new government including circular debt and subsidies for tubewells among others. The circular debt in gas sector had risen to Rs 150 billion.

Umer said the government had to present the mini budget to offset the expenditure that was not reflected in the budget estimates. So the PTI government inherited a difficult situation created by the previous government, he remarked. He said policy of the government was to avoid putting burden on the working and labour classes and protect the small scale industry.

The minister said the government would take steps to reduce line losses, end power theft, recover unpaid bills and tackle the crises in the energy sector head on to decrease inefficiencies.

To a question, he said the government could not change agreements with independent power producers unilaterally as the companies could go to international court of arbitration just like it happened in the past.

The prime minister had instructed that a comprehensive package should be prepared for the people affected by dam projects, he added.

Replying to questions of media persons, Fawad said that the committee constituted regarding electronic media advertisements was meant to check content and it had nothing to do with release of advertisements.

He said that regarding issuance of advertisements, he had sought proposals from All Pakistan Newspaper Society and Council of Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and policy would be finalized after receiving their input.

Moreover, he said, details of advertisements released daily were being put on the Press Information Department''s (PID) website. The governments in the past ruined national institutions like Radio Pakistan, PTV, PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills by inducting their cronies, he added.

Fawad said that in the past a person driving a taxi in New York was appointed Director General of the Radio Pakistan and a former minister got his wife appointed as an anchor in PTV at a hefty package.

He said that things destroyed during past 30 years could not be corrected within 30 days, however the things were moving in the right direction and the government was committed to protect the poor, and force the wealthy to pay taxes.

He said that he had proposed to the prime minister that leader of the opposition should not be appointed Chairman of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as it would hold audit projects of the tenure of PML-N and if Shehbaz Sharif occupied that post it would become a futile exercise.

To a question, he said that the prime minister had issued directives to Punjab chief minister to remove the bureaucrats responsible for the Model Town carnage from important posts.

Moreover he had called for filing appeal against Lahore High Court verdict in the Pakistan Awami Tehrik petition. Before the start of the briefing, the minister said there was good news for the nation as Saudi Arabia had signed three agreements of grants with Pakistan.

He said the agreements were continuation of the prime minister''s visit to the Kingdom as the Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman had called for swift implementation of pledges.

He said that an important Saudi delegation would arrive on Sunday, which would comprise petroleum and energy ministers and the Kingdom would invest in China Pakistan Economic Corridor and other infrastructure projects.

"Monitoring Desk"

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