ISLAMABAD  -  The federal cabinet has decided to continue with austerity drive, hold audit of three metro bus projects and provide subsidy to farmers on urea fertiliser.

Informing about the decisions of cabinet’s Thursday meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said they have decided to abolish the Ministry for Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD).

CADD’s attached department, the Capital Development Authority, will now work under the ministry of interior, he told a press conference.

The minister said cabinet also gave approval to new eight-member Board of Governors of Pakistan Television Corporation which shall be chaired by him as the information minister.

The cabinet also gave approval to appointment of Haroon Sharif as Chairman Board of Investment, he added.

At the start of the meeting, the cabinet offered Fateha for the soul of former first lady Begum Kulsoom Nawaz and prayed for eternal peace of her soul.

Fawad rejected the news reports about revising tax rate for salaried class and increase in gas and electricity prices terming those as ‘baseless’.

“We see headlines in newspapers about these issues but I would suggest that media should report facts and correct information,” he said.

The minister said the government will offer fertilisers to farmers at subsided rates. A bag of urea costing Rs2,550 will be provided to farmers for Rs1,650, he added.

Fawad Chaudhry said increasing burden on salaried class and farmers was against the philosophy of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government.

The information minister said the government had started austerity drive keeping in view the economic condition of the country.

Fawad said that the expenditure of Prime Minister Secretariat during the past five years was Rs2.3 billion while the spending of Punjab Chief Minister Secretariat stood at Rs2.9 billion. The expenditures of Punjab and Sindh governors during past five years stood at Rs1.29 billion and Rs1.4 billion respectively.

The minister said the huge amounts spent by prime minister, chief minister and governors could be sufficient to provide clean water and health facilities to a large population of the country.

The minister said that the decision had been taken to utilise dead capital of 34,459 kanals state land under the guest houses for commercial purpose. He said out of this land, 17,035 kanals were located in urban areas.

Chaudhry said the federal cabinet had appreciated the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar’s step of establishing a fund for constructing dams. He said the dams fund will be exempted from income tax and withholding tax.

The minister said the drive against encroachments in Islamabad will continue. He said the government had so far recovered state land worth 7.5 billion rupees from illegal occupants.

“We have got vacated land worth billions of rupees and shall also be moving against officials involved in these scams,” Fawad Chaudhry said.

He said the federal cabinet decided to import 100, 000 tonnes of urea and government will spend about three to four billion rupees to provide it on subsidised rate to the farmers.

Fawad said the previous government did not supply gas to the fertiliser plants and also allowed export of urea, which created shortage of urea for the next crop. He said they will ensure provision of gas to fertiliser plants to meet urea requirement for the upcoming Rabi crop.

Giving detail of expenses and income of the ongoing metro bus projects, Chaudhry said the government had to pay a total of Rs8 billion subsidy annually on the metro bus services being run in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan.

He said Lahore Metro Bus project was completed at a cost of Rs30 billion. However, the cost of additional bridges was not included in the stated amount.

“As per calculations Lahore metro bus earns Rs917 million annually and the Punjab government has to pay Rs4.2 billion subsidy every year to run this project.”

Similarly, the minister said that Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro bus was completed at a cost of Rs45 billion. This service earns just Rs 660 million and the Punjab government pays Rs two billion subsidy annually to run that project.

In case of Multan metro, he said, its construction cost was Rs29 billion while this project earned just Rs54 million while Punjab government had to pay Rs 2.1 billion subsidy annually to run this project.

“In a country where people are crying for clean drinking water and health and education facilities, we are paying Rs8 billion subsidy just to run three metro bus projects. Therefore, the cabinet has decided to hold audit of these projects,” the minister stated.

About Peshawar metro bus project of PTI government, he said the project’s estimated cost was Rs67 billion out of which Rs41 billion have been spent so far. However, he said that there was no plan to pay subsidy to run this project as its buses have been purchased at a cost of Rs2 billion, whereas in Punjab buses have been taken on rent.

Fawad said Orange Line Metro Train project in Lahore would cost about Rs250 billion to make the trains run, while about 3.5 billion estimated subsidy will have to be given on it annually.

He pointed out that the entire rail track from Peshawar to Karachi could have been doubled, if Rs250 billion were spent on it.

Replying to questions, the minister said, subsidies were given in other countries too, but it was on the basis of revenue collected from respective areas, and it was not justified that revenue of the whole province was spent just in one city. Moreover, subsidies were given proportionately to ensure that financial situation did not deteriorate.

The minister said he had written a letter to Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) to ensure payment of salaries to employees asking them to suggest as to how the government could help them. “It is our duty to stand by the weak and deserving communities.”

He said the members of the PTV Board of Governors’ are volunteers and no position in BoG was paid while Ahmed Malik and Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar had been included in editorial board of Pakistan Television (PTV).

Asked about operation of metro buses, the minister said, it had to be decided by the Punjab Government. “If the provincial government would be able to spare that much subsidy money, it could continue with the operation.”

The minister said, instead of issuing Income Tax ordinance the matter of taxation was being sent to Parliament. He informed media that international forensic audit experts would be engaged to detect Pakistanis illegal money deposited abroad and bring back the same.

“We have to pay Rs500 billion daily for repayment of debts and everybody should keep in mind the prevailing economic situation of the country. Even though, the government is committed to provide relief to deserving poor in the country.”

When asked about future of the contract employees, the minister said the matter would be dealt with in accordance with the relevant laws.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday directed that a comprehensive plan for launching anti-encroachment drive and future utilisation of railways land for generating revenues should be formulated and submitted within 15 days. The PM gave this direction while chairing a briefing on the Ministry of Railways here.

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, secretary and Chairman Muhammad Javed Anwar and senior officers of the ministry and Pakistan Railways were present during the meeting.

Railways Secretary briefed the prime minister in detail about Pakistan Railways and various measures being taken for turnaround of the organisation into a sustainable and profitable venture. He also apprised the PM about the issue of thousands of acres of encroached land of Pakistan Railways worth billions of rupees.

 

 

Cabinet orders audit of metro bus projects

 

SHAFQAT ALI/Agencies