Information minister says federal cabinet also stressed ensuring justice for the family of Osama Satti, a 21-year-old shot dead by police in Islamabad
The federal cabinet on Tuesday formed a ministerial committee to identify and “expose” individuals involved in money-laundering as alleged by a U.K.-based assets recovery firm earlier this week, according to Information Minister Shibli Faraz.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he claimed that the allegations voiced by Broadsheet LLC’s CEO Kaveh Moussavi had validated Prime Minister Imran Khan’s longstanding claims of previous “corrupt” rulers looting the country. In an interview with a U.K.-based journalist, Moussavi alleged that a member of the Sharif family had offered him a bribe to drop the probe against them. Faraz claimed that that the government hoped to share the ministerial committee’s findings into his allegations with the public soon.
The committee, he said, would look into how the country’s wealth was looted, as well as whether a cousin of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had tried to get the assets recovery firm to drop its probe into his accounts. “We don’t deal with crooks,” the information minister quoted Moussavi as saying. He reiterated Moussavi’s claims that a list of 200 names had been given to the firm for investigation, but it was subsequently slashed without explanation.
According to Faraz, the cabinet approved a bill to enhance the powers of the auditor general of Pakistan to ensure transparency. He said the new bill would extend the auditor general’s purview to autonomous bodies, which had thus far been getting their accounts audited from private firms. He said the government was automating and digitizing the work of the auditor general’s office to prevent delays and curb fraud.
“Some of the audit paragraphs are about procedural issues, which when reported create unnecessary sensation,” he claimed, adding that the incumbent government was working on institutional reforms and would make these public shortly. He said Adviser on Institutional Reforms Ishrat Hussain had informed the cabinet that over 100 departments of the federal government had already been dissolved or merged with other departments to reduce the financial burden on the government and improve performance.
He said the cabinet was informed that about 71,000 posts from grade 1 to 16 that had remained vacant for over a year would be abolished. “After passage of the 18th Amendment, many ministries were devolved but the number of federal government employees increased,” he said.
The information minister also discussed the negative impacts of the sale of smuggled petrol in Pakistan, stressing that a crackdown had been launched against pumps selling substandard fuel that posed environmental hazards and damaged vehicles. He claimed the sale of smuggled petrol was inflicting losses of around Rs. 180 billion to the national exchequer, adding that 192 pumps had already been sealed for selling substandard, smuggled oil. He said 2,094 pumps had been identified across Pakistan that were selling smuggled petrol.
Faraz said the prime minister had directed authorities concerned to formulate a policy within 15 days to address the shortages of wheat and other food items nationwide. He said the cabinet had discussed legal means to prevent any province from aiding in edible shortages by not releasing shares in time, reiterating claims that the Sindh government had caused the wheat crisis.
According to sources, the government is also considering lifting a ban on export of wheat and flour to Afghanistan to curb smuggling. They said the cabinet was informed that 700,000 tons of wheat was smuggled to Afghanistan annually, adding that allowing exports would allow the commodity to be sent through proper channels.
The information minister said Planning Minister Asad Umar had raised the issue of 21-year-old Osama Satti’s killing by police, noting the prime minister had expressed his displeasure at the indiscriminate shooting. He said a Joint Investigation Committee formed to investigate Satti’s killing had already presented its report to the interior secretary, but P.M. Khan had said that if the family was not satisfied, a new probe would be arranged to assure them of justice.
Faraz said the cabinet had also approved the deployment of paramilitary Rangers in Sindh to maintain law and order during upcoming by-elections. He said the cabinet had also expressed concerns about forced disappearances, and decided to fast-track legislation against the practice.
According to sources, the cabinet was also briefed on the nationwide power outage from the weekend, with Energy Minister Omar Ayub claiming it was caused by human error and action was being taken against negligent employees. However, they said, the prime minister did not appear satisfied with this explanation.
As a matter of routine, the cabinet approved the terms of appointment of the director general under the Legal Aid and Justice Authority Act, 2020 to ensure financial and legal assistance was provided to the deserving and weaker sections of society. It also approved the status of FIA Commercial Bank Circle Lahore as a police station under the FIA Act, 1974.
The also cabinet authorized the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ma’arif Foundation Turkey and the Federal Ministry of Education for the promotion of education in Pakistan.