Tuesday, October 6, 2020

No plan to ban public meetings of opposition, says Shibli

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The federal government on Tuesday formally distanced itself from the sedition case recently registered against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders, including deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, after a number of ministers expressed resentment over the development during a weekly meeting of the federal cabinet.

The government also declared that it had no plan to block the opposition’s public meetings and rallies in the country.

“The government or the prime minister have nothing to do with it (sedition case) … We are not here to distribute certificates of treason,” said Information Minister Shibli Faraz in response to a question of a reporter during the media briefing after the federal cabinet meeting.

“You know how many FIRs (first information reports) are registered in this country in a day. Are all these FIRs registered on the orders and after approval of the prime minister?” he said. “Please do not put it in the government’s accounts.”

“This FIR can be lodged by anyone. You can do it against me. I will say that someone from them [opposition] must have done it,” the minister said.

However, he alleged that the opposition was using the language of the country’s enemies, including India, which wanted to push Pakistan to the black list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

“The same narrative is being used by certain political leaders which is used by our enemies. We will infer that you are speaking the enemy’s language,” he said, adding that the enemies wanted to create in Pakistan a situation like that of Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan.

When his attention was drawn towards a recent statement of the interior minister hinting that the opposition might not be allowed to hold public meetings and rallies, Mr Faraz said the government had no plan to ban the opposition’s programmes.

“The opposition has nothing to say in the public meetings,” he said.

He said the foreign powers could easily manipulate Nawaz Sharif as he had assets abroad.

According to sources, the issue of the FIRs against the opposition leaders came under discussion in the cabinet meeting while it reviewed the overall political situation in the country in the wake of the opposition’s announcement to hold public meetings and rallies as part of its anti-government campaign from the platform of the newly-formed Pakistan Democratic Movement.

Interior Minister retd Brig Ijaz Shah told the meeting that the registration of the FIR against Mr Sharif was a “non-political matter” and it had been filed by an individual. The sources said the prime minister himself clarified that he had nothing to do with the development.

Talking to Dawn, one of the participants of the cabinet meeting said a majority of the members were unhappy over the registration of sedition cases against the opposition politicians, but at the same time they stressed the need for making efforts to bring Mr Sharif back to the country.

Price hike

According to sources, during a discussion on the economic situation in the country, a number of ministers expressed resentment over the prevailing price hike in the country and called for taking immediate steps to bring down inflation to prevent the opposition from “exploiting the issue” during its anti-government campaign. The sources said some of the ministers criticised the unelected members of the prime minister’s economic team, saying that it was the elected representatives who had to face the public.

During the media briefing, the information minister also admitted that the cabinet and the prime minister had expressed concern over the prevailing inflation in the country.

“The prime minister has issued directives for making a strategy to bring down the prices to provide relief to the masses,” he said.

On the other hand, the ministers approved the decisions the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet made in its meeting on Sept 30, including an increase in gas tariff for specific commercial consumers and passing of fuel adjustment charges to end-consumers of electricity.

According to the ECC decision, the increase in gas tariff will be applicable to industries, CNG and power sectors, excluding domestic consumers and Tandoors.

The ECC had also decided to rationalise the tariff for the power sector’s fuel adjustment charges and quarterly adjustments, which were due for the period from November 2019 to June 2020. According to the decision, there would have been an increase in power tariff to Rs1.62 per unit, but the ECC also added subsidy to the price for end-consumers that comes to about Rs1.30 per unit. So the net increase to be passed on to the consumers using up to 200 units will be only Re0.32 (32 paisas).

Mr Faraz said Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar briefed the cabinet on the economic indicators. It was noted that the economic indicators were satisfactory as foreign exchange reserves were $20bn and the dollar to rupee exchange rate was stable.

The minister said the cabinet was told that wheat and sugar stocks were available in the country as per requirements. He said wheat prices were higher in Sindh as the PPP’s provincial government was not releasing its wheat stocks and it was also on the higher side in the PTI-ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because the crop had been damaged in the province due to recent rains and floods.

The minister also said the country would not be able to achieve the cotton crop target this year due to the damage caused by floods.

He said the cabinet was also briefed on the performance of Pakistan International Airlines, whose loans and liabilities stood at more than Rs400bn. Despite Covid-19, he said, the PIA had earned Rs7.8bn revenue.

Mr Faraz said the cabinet approved the security plan for the Chehlum of Imam Hussain (AS), which would be coordinated and implemented by the federal and provincial governments, armed forces and police.

Wheat, sugar stock

Later, the prime minister presided over a meeting to review wheat and sugar stocks, availability, demand and supply and import to meet future requirements and prices of essential commodities of life.

According to an official handout, the prime minister while resolving that the government would ensure abundant availability of wheat and sugar in the country, directed for a crackdown against those elements involved in hoarding of these essential commodities.

He also directed for submission of a detailed schedule over the imported wheat. The prime minister directed the provincial chief secretaries to conduct physical feasibility of the current sugar stock in the mills.

The Punjab chief secretary was directed to announce sugarcane crushing date at the earliest. The chief secretaries of Punjab and Sindh were also directed to announce the official price rate of the sugarcane as early as possible.

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