Information minister says federal cabinet has decided to table in Parliament details of sovereign guarantees as part of supplementary finance bill
Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain on Tuesday blamed Pakistan’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines—valued at $2 billion—for the hefty increase to the country’s import bill.
Addressing a press conference after a weekly meeting of the federal cabinet, he said that the federal government had been briefed on the Omicron variant of the coronavirus by Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan and Planning Minister Asad Umar. Noting that there was a visible increase to new infections nationwide, he urged citizens to strictly adhere to preventative measures such as mask compliance and social distancing to suppress the spread of the pandemic.
Targeting the Sindh government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, Fawad claimed it had not procured a single dose of vaccine—the provincial government claims it is not allowed to independently purchase the vaccines under law—and that the federal government had spent roughly Rs. 111 billion to procure vaccines for the people of Sindh and provide them relief under the Ehsaas Program. He also reiterated claims that the Sindh government was “depriving” the people of the province of the health card scheme currently underway in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab by refusing to contribute to the program. The Punjab government, he said, had Rs. 400 billion for the health cards.
Explaining the procedure to avail the health card, he said the heads of all families must register with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), following which they would be able to avail free medical treatment of up Rs. 1 million annually in case of hospitalization. He claimed it was inaccurate of the media to claim that the initiative was intended to encourage the private sector at the cost of public institutions despite such reports emerging from Prime Minister Imran Khan last week claiming the government wanted to shutter district headquarters hospitals and replace them with privately operated facilities for “quality” healthcare. “In fact, the opposite would happen and the scheme would further help in improving the performance of government hospitals,” claimed Fawad.
The minister said the cabinet had been briefed on the availability of essential commodities and claimed that a reduction in prices had led to a 0.5% decline to the Sensitive Price Index. The prices of tomatoes, potatoes and other food items all decreased, he maintained and urged the media to highlight this.
According to Fawad, the cabinet also agreed to make details of the government’s sovereign guarantees, or contingent liabilities, public and would present them in the National Assembly as part of the supplementary finance bill. This was one of the “prior actions” required by the International Monetary Fund to revive a stalled $6 billion loan facility.
The information minister said the Election Commission of Pakistan had written a letter to the Science and Technology Ministry to provide electronic voting machines, adding that the cabinet had directed it to finalize the procedure for purchase of EVMs so they could be used in local government elections in the federal capital.
He said the cabinet had approved an agreement between the CPEC Authority and the Chinese Ministry of Climate Change for the free provision of 3,000 solar power generation systems to households in Gwadar. It also lauded the performance of Adviser to the P.M. for Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam and his ministry for effectively highlighting Pakistan’s efforts for climate change mitigation.