The head of Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, Salman Sufi, on Thursday announced a series of reforms being undertaken by the incumbent government, including animal welfare, first aid training, banking sector reforms and measures to combat violence against women.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he said the government was launching several projects already being practiced worldwide, including establishing dedicated centers to address violence against women. He said a center had already been established in Multan and the initiative would soon be expanded to Sindh—with an inauguration on the death anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto—adding that he was grateful to Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah for allocating funds in the next year’s budget to achieve this.
Additionally, he said, three more centers would be set up in Punjab.
Referring to the women on wheels scheme that had been launched in the previous Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government, he said it would be expanded nationwide and provide “scooties” to working women at subsidized rates in addition to bike riding training. The principal beneficiaries of this, he said, would be students and working women, including female health workers, technicians and entrepreneurs. This initiative, he stressed, would ensure mobility for women, enabling them to contribute to national development.
Regretting that Pakistan’s transgender community had been neglected for decades, he said a nationwide hotline was being launched in collaboration with the Human Rights Ministry to register and resolve their complaints in an effective manner. This hotline, he said, would be connected with all provinces and a post of AIG Gender Crimes would be created to monitor all transgender persons’ complaints and directly report to the P.M. Office on steps taken to redress complaints. “This would be a revolutionary step for the transgender community, which has faced multiple issues, mainly related to violence,” he added.
On the harrowing sexual assault reported by a woman traveling via train from Multan to Karachi, he said the government had decided to launch a “Safar Saheli” application before Eidul Azha, adding it would give women passengers a panic button to seek aid in case of any untoward incident. He said every train bogey would have a contingent of female police to respond to any situation swiftly.
Sufi said the government had also decided to connect the railways’ seat reservation system with the provincial criminal database, adding this would—eventually—flag convicts who reserve seats. Such individuals, he said, would be submitted to extra checking prior to boarding, adding they would also be placed in a dedicated area of the train to keep them away from women and children.
The head of the Strategic Reforms Unit also detailed the government’s plans to upgrade the country’s archaic animal welfare laws, noting the country was still following legislation enacted in 1800. With the prime minister’s approval, he said, animal welfare laws in the federal capital had now been amended to ban live testing of animals in veterinary colleges; establish a hotline to report animal cruelty; impose fines and jail terms for animal cruelty; and regulate pet markets. A comprehensive law, he said, would be tabled in the next session of Parliament for implementation at the national level. He said the provincial governments would also be urged to enact the law.
Under the new law, anyone found guilty of animal cruelty would face fines ranging from Rs. 5,000-15,000 along with a jail term. He said pet markets that don’t ensure the welfare of animals would be fined and shuttered.
Sufi said the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had also notified new rules allowing duty-free personal luggage for international travelers. Pakistanis, he said, could carry duty-free luggage worth up to $400 if they return home after 30 days; $800 if 60 days; and $1,200 if the stay exceeds 60 days.
The head of the strategic reforms unit also detailed a recently announced initiative to launch first aid training for citizens, and urged citizens to register for it by calling 1166. All trainees, he said, would be taught basic lifesaving skills at public sector health facilities and Rescue 1122 centers. “They will be included in the P.M.’s life savers’ team,” he said.
On the banking sector, Sufi said a portal launched by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) would facilitate banks in expediting accounts for small and medium enterprises. “All required documents are available at the portal for online use of the banks for opening of the corporate accounts on just submission of identity card numbers of the companies’ directors and boards’ resolution,” he said, adding this would allow corporate accounts to be opened within 24-48 hours against the existing 7-14 days. Similarly, digital freelancers would now be able to open bank accounts using their CNICs, with their postal address designated their office address.
He said the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) would soon introduce a comprehensive system, in collaboration with other banks, to effectively deal with the issue of bogus/bounced cheques. He also said that the government was launching an online Directorate of Protectorate to facilitate emigrants, which would end the policy of them having to visit the directorate for documents required by immigration staff at airports.
On social service reforms, Sufi said the government was launching an online application within a month to provide assistance to citizens facing physiological issues. The free service, he said, would be staffed with physiologists and experts to provide assistance to affected individuals.
The strategic reforms unit head also discussed the data privacy of citizens, saying any unsolicited message from companies to cellphone users must have an unsubscribe option from July 1. “If a citizen receives such messages even after subscribing, the relevant company will be fined and banned,” he added.