Govt abolishes all discretionary funds of president, PM, MNAs

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad on August 24, 2018 (Photo courtesy: Press Information department photo)
Updated 25 August 2018

Govt abolishes all discretionary funds of president, PM, MNAs

ISLAMABAD: Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said a task force will be set up to resolve the problems of slums in order to bring them into the mainstream. 
Briefing media about cabinet decisions in Islamabad Friday evening, the Minister said the government wants to improve the living standard of people and resolve their issues.
The Minister said the cabinet took another important decision to ban the use of all discretionary funds of President, Prime Minister and MNAs as it is an insult to taxpayers.
He added from now onwards, the development projects will be discussed in parliament and their approval will be given after a detailed review.
Fawad Chaudhry the discretionary powers of all the ministers to grant funds have also been revoked.
The Information Minister said funds worth 21 billion rupees were spent by previous government last year. In addition, thirty billion rupees were allocated to MNAs for development projects, making it a huge amount of 51 billion rupees.
He said previous governments used national exchequer like their own property. 
Fawad Chaudhry said as part of austerity drive of Prime Minister, it has been decided that special plane of Prime Minister will not be used for foreign visits. Rather, he will travel in ordinary passenger planes and use the club class instead of business or first class.
This discretion has also been abolished for President, Chief Justice, and other senior officials.
The Minister said cabinet also took the decision to hold a forensic audit of all mass transport projects including Multan Metro bus project, Lahore Orange Train Project, and Peshawar Metro Bus. He said, if needed, FIA will investigate the issues.
The cabinet also decided to start urban tree plantation projects in Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and Lahore from next month. The purpose is to make these areas green and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change.
He said the cabinet decided that working hours will be changed from 9 am to 5 p.m. and the weekly holiday of Saturday will not be abolished. It will also be ensured that public servants dedicate full time to their jobs during the working hours. 
Commenting on an incident in Faisalabad, Fawad Chaudhry said it was a law and order situation matter between two groups and had no religious dimension.
Replying to a question, the Minister said it is being considered to abolish the Ministry of CADD and merge its employees into other departments.
On a question regarding information ministry, he said there will be visible changes in his ministry soon.
He said PTV and Radio Pakistan have been given directions to give equal coverage to all political parties and their leaders and there is no editorial censorship on both.
He said the duration of English transmissions on PTV and Radio Pakistan will be enhanced in order to give the world a picture of what is happening in the country.
He said PTV World will highlight the regional issues of the country.
Fawad Chaudhry told a questioner that task forces set up by the government are for short-term goals and long-term goals and they will work accordingly.
On another question, a mechanism is being evolved to hold a complete inquiry on Result Transmission System of Election Commission of Pakistan, so that such delays do not occur in future.


In Pakistan, timely help could save vision of 85% blind women

Updated 23 min 51 sec ago

In Pakistan, timely help could save vision of 85% blind women

  • Nearly 1 percent of Pakistan's 220 million population lives with blindness
  • Shaniera Akram says treating eye disease is directly related to women's empowerment in Pakistan

RAWALPINDI: For many Pakistani women, eye disease ensures a life of deepening destitution and dependency, while in 85 percent of cases timely help could prevent it, experts and activists say.

Nearly 1 percent of Pakistan's 220 million population lives with blindness, last year's survey National Committee for Prevention of Blindness (NCPB) shows. The majority of the cases are of preventable blindness, in which detection of diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or cataract.

Treatment, according to recent studies by NCPB's partner, Fred Hollows Foundation (FHF), could have saved the eyesight of over 85 percent of those who lost it, especially women. Having lost sight, they become a burden on their families, making eye disease a generational scourge among those who are often already vulnerable of the poor.

But as first symptoms occur, women rarely seek treatment due to dependency that tightens the more their vision is affected.

"They have to rely on husbands, fathers, children, a brother to move to any other place, whether it is a shopping area, or it is a clinic or a hospital," NCPB national coordinator Prof. Asad Aslam Khan told Arab News on Thursday.

A young girl gets a free exam provided by the Fred Hollows Foundation in Punjab, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: FHF)

"Most of the time they are deprived of getting to facilities at the proper time leading to a delay in detection and management of diseases. This unnecessary delay turns avoidable curable blindness into permanent blindness."

To address the situation, the NCPB has been establishing ophthalmologist facilities at district hospitals outside major cities and with the help of FHF providing surgery to those whose vision can be restored. 

Much work, however, is a matter of changing the mindset to make women seek medical treatment. 

Fred Hollows Foundation ambassador Shaniera Akram embraces a woman whose sight was restored following corrective surgery at Chichawatni hospital in Punjab, Pakistan on October 30, 2019. (Photo courtesy: FHF)

Shaniera Akram, the Pakistan ambassador of the Australian NGO and wife of cricket superstar Wasim Akram, believes that fighting blindness is directly related to women's empowerment in Pakistan.

"We are trying to hit the gender gap, and close it to help bring women back into the workforce, to school, into their community, and back into their families," Akram told Arab News.

"By restoring a woman sight, who is also almost shunned from her family or community because of the fact that she's unhelpful to them, by giving that back, you’re empowering that woman to be able to live a full life."


Pakistan’s election commission says political parties should learn to accept defeat

Updated 8 min 9 sec ago

Pakistan’s election commission says political parties should learn to accept defeat

  • The commission issued a hard-hitting statement after Prime Minister Imran Khan criticized it for ‘damaging democracy’ in Pakistan
  • The government calls the commission’s response ‘inappropriate’ while the opposition slams the PM for putting the ECP under pressure

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday responded to the criticism leveled against it by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in the wake of the recent Senate elections, saying it could not overlook the legal and constitutional requirements of the country while holding elections “to please anyone.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan had blamed the ECP on Thursday for “damaging democracy in the country” by holding Senate elections through secret ballot after one of his party candidates was defeated by an opposition alliance in a crucial contest on a general seat in Islamabad.
The outcome of the election was followed by demands for prime minister’s resignation since the opposition claimed that his administration had lost its majority in the National Assembly of Pakistan.
In an official statement issued on Friday, the ECP said it was an independent institution that always used legal and constitutional benchmarks while performing its duties.
“The election commission listens to everyone,” said the statement, “but fulfills its responsibilities within the legal and constitutional framework. It acts independently and takes decisions without getting under pressure to promote democracy among the people of Pakistan.”
The ECP criticized the government for only accepting favorable election outcomes while pointing out that “every individual and political party should have the ability to accept defeat.”
“Let us do our job,” added the statement, “and do not indulge in mudslinging against state institutions.”
Discussing the ECP’s statement in news conference, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry called the election commission’s “rebuttal” to the prime minister’s speech “inappropriate,” saying “it will be criticized.”
Chaudhry said that the government respected all institutions of the state and was willing to support them, but they should display “freedom and impartiality through their actions, not press releases.”
He reiterated the prime minister’s claim that the ECP could not hold fair and transparent Senate elections due to its refusal to make ballot papers traceable.
Khan had slammed the election commission for refusing to hold the Senate polls through open ballot during a Supreme Court hearing ahead of the elections.
The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Sharif, however, defended the ECP during a media briefing, saying that the election commission was not presenting its personal stance on the matter in front of the court but explaining its constitutional position.
“The ECP’s position was also upheld by the apex court,” she noted
The PML-N leader condemned Prime Minister Imran Khan for “targeting” the election commission in his address to the nation, claiming that the PTI administration was trying to put it under pressure by making it “politically controversial.”


COVID-19 cases surge in Pakistan after restrictions relaxed

Updated 05 March 2021

COVID-19 cases surge in Pakistan after restrictions relaxed

  • National Command and Operation Center on Feb. 24 relaxed most of coronavirus-related restrictions 
  • Pakistan Super League cricket series postponed after a number of players tested positive for COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday recorded the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in over a month, only days after it has relaxed a number of coronavirus restrictions.
Pakistan recorded 1,579 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday. The total number of infections rose to 587,014, with 13,128 deaths.
The increase comes after the National Command and Operation Center, which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, on Feb. 24 eased most of the restrictions, allowing commercial activities to resume with no time limits and offices and other workplaces to function at full strength, without the 50 percent work-from-home condition.
Regular five-day classes restarted at schools from March 1.
The NCOC also allowed Pakistan Super League pool matches with 50 percent spectators. On Thursday, however, the tournament was postponed after a number of players tested positive for the coronavirus.


Election commission 'damaged' democracy by allowing secret ballot, says PM Khan

Updated 05 March 2021

Election commission 'damaged' democracy by allowing secret ballot, says PM Khan

  • The prime minister blames the regulatory body for providing space to 'criminals' by not making votes traceable during the Senate polls
  • Khan made the statement while addressing the nation after his preferred candidate lost a general seat to an opposition politician in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan bitterly criticized the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) during his address to the nation on Thursday, accusing it of "damaging democracy in the country" by holding Senate elections through secret ballot.

Khan and his ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party believe that lawmakers in national and provincial assemblies sold their votes ahead of the Senate polls on Wednesday.

While the PTI managed to win 25 seats in the upper house of parliament, it lost a major contest in Islamabad where Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was defeated by the joint candidate of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance.

The outcome of the election was followed by demand for the prime minister's resignation since the opposition claimed that his administration had lost its majority in the assembly.

After the government's announcement that Khan would seek vote of confidence on Saturday, he decided to address the nation in which he reminded the election commission that its foremost duty was to hold free and fair elections.

"I could not understand why you went to the [apex] court and said that Senate polls should be held through secret ballot," he said while referring to recent Supreme Court proceedings focusing on the mode of Senate elections in response to a presidential reference.

In response to the commission's argument in front of the court that it was not possible to allow open ballot under the constitution, Khan asked: "Tell me, does any constitution permits anyone to steal or bribe which has been happening [in Pakistan] for the past 30 years?"

He said that the Supreme Court had allowed the ECP to continue with secret balloting but make all votes traceable to prevent corrupt practices.

"I kept saying before the election that people were putting themselves up for sale," Khan continued. "Why couldn't you barcode 1500 ballot papers even after getting the opportunity from the Supreme Court? You gave full opportunity [to politicians] to discredit democracy in the country."

"You protected criminals through secret balloting," he added. "You have damaged our democracy. Tell me, what kind of a democracy is this where people become senators by using money?"

The prime minister also accused the ECP of "damaging the morality of the country."

Khan also told his party members that he recognized their right to say no to his leadership during the vote of confidence on Saturday, saying he would respect their decision and "sit in the opposition."


Pakistan welcomes talks with India on all issues including Kashmir — foreign office

Updated 05 March 2021

Pakistan welcomes talks with India on all issues including Kashmir — foreign office

  • The recent communication between the two countries over a military hotline was in line with Pakistan’s desire for peace, says the foreign ministry
  • Foreign policy experts believe 'third party mediation' is necessary for dialogue between Pakistan and India

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has always believed in dialogue and diplomacy, the foreign office maintained on Thursday, adding it was imperative for the two South Asian nuclear-armed neighbors to address their differences through peaceful negotiations.

"Pakistan has always welcomed the idea of talks with India," Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, the ministry's spokesperson, told a weekly press briefing in Islamabad. "We believe that all issues, including the Kashmir dispute, must be resolved through dialogue."

Chaudhri added the recent communication between the Indian and Pakistani director generals of military operations over a hotline "should be seen in the same context."

In rare development last week, India and Pakistan agreed on "strict observance" of all ceasefire agreements and understandings along the Line of Control separating the two sides of the disputed Kashmir region, the military's public relations wing, ISPR, said in a statement.

"The principle of negotiations states that anyone who runs away has a weak position on the negotiating table," the foreign office spokesperson said. "The way we have been articulating our position shows that we have a position of strength."

Pakistan's former high commissioner to India Abdul Basit said that "third party mediation" was important for any meaningful dialogue between the two countries. 

"Pakistan is always willing to resolve this longstanding dispute [of Kashmir] through dialogue and one hopes that India would realize that its actions [on August 5, 2019] were unconstitutional and would never be acceptable to Pakistan or the people of Kashmir," he told Arab News, adding that It was now up to India to reach out to Pakistan and amicably address all outstanding problems.

"The government has taken a position that it will not restore diplomatic relations with India until the administration in New Delhi revokes its illegal actions of August 5, 2019,” he continued. “For this, I feel that third party mediation is absolutely necessarily since there is no mutual trust between the two countries even at a very low level."