PTI-led government claims it wants to engage with opposition on legislation but maintains P.M. Khan will not meet any opposition leaders
The federal cabinet on Tuesday asked the National Assembly and Senate secretariats to avoid nominating members to parliamentary committees if they have any conflicts of interest.
“It has been observed that contractors and builders became members of committees on communications, and those owning information technology firms joined the committees concerning I.T.,” Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said in a post-cabinet press conference. “This means that a member associated with a certain industry should not be included in standing committees pertaining to that particular industry,” he said, adding that the government was considering introducing legislation to ensure this directive was implemented.
Fawad was flanked by Energy Minister Hammad Azhar, who briefed journalists on a bill seeking greater autonomy for the State Bank of Pakistan, which is currently pending before the Senate. Accusing the opposition of “politicizing” the issue, he claimed an autonomous SBP would be able to reduce inflation through sustainable growth, and alleged previous governments had manipulated the central bank’s policies, endangering growth.
He stressed that even after the passage of the bill, the SBP and all its assets would remain under the control of the federal government and the only real change was replacing approval of the government on policy matters with approval of a Board of Directors.
The minister reiterated the PTI’s claims of increases to the electricity tariff under fuel adjustment charges being a result of power plants installed by the previous Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government, adding that around 60 percent of electricity was produced in plants running on imported fuel.
Azhar also blamed gas shortage in Sindh capital Karachi on industrial units securing a stay against their gas supplies being curtailed and claimed the government’s top priority was domestic consumers, followed by export-oriented industries and then non-export industries.
Opposition vs. government
The information minister, meanwhile, claimed that the government was still willing to engage with the opposition to evolve consensus on matters of national importance. “We want to engage the opposition on important national issues like electoral and judicial reforms and the appointment of the National Accountability Bureau chairman,” he said and lamented that the opposition was “more interested” in trying to topple the PTI-led government.
To a question, however, he said that P.M. Khan would not sit with any opposition leader to push through the reform agenda, contradicting his own claims of seeking “engagement.”
Responding to a question on his claims that there had been a massive boom in media revenue—which has been rejected as “fake news” by media bodies—he claimed journalists were being exploited because there was no legislation to guarantee their rights. He urged all media houses to share their financial details if they had any objection on his statement about increase in the media spend.
Fawad said the cabinet had also been briefed on the prevailing COVID-19 situation in Pakistan, noting that daily confirmed cases had crossed 5,000 and there had also been a noticeable uptick in ICU cases. Urging citizens to get vaccinated, he claimed Sindh capital Karachi was worst affected by the Omicron variant, as it was lagging behind other provinces in vaccinating its eligible population. He claimed the government had spent $2 billion on the import of vaccines and blamed this on the surge in the current account deficit.
Briefing media on other decisions taken by the cabinet, the minister said the government would comply with an Islamabad High Court decision to seal and raze the naval golf course located on Margalla Hills National Park land. He said the Ministry of Industries and Production had briefed the cabinet on urea production and its availability in the country, claiming that there were sufficient stocks available for local use.
Fawad said the cabinet had discussed establishment of special technology zones, as these would generate employment. It also approved the reconstitution of the board of directors of Railway Construction Pakistan Limited. The cabinet extended the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2005 Convention on protecting and promoting cultural diversity.
Per the minister, the cabinet also discussed green cover in large cities, adding the government’s plantation efforts had helped reclaim green cover since 2018. He said the prime minister had sought early finalization of the master plan of all major cities, adding this would focus on increasing the number of green areas and trees in urban spaces.