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PM Imran gives ministers 6 months to get their houses in order

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned his ministers to improve their performance in six months, saying that in case of failure the situation could slip out of hand, reported The News.

Sources privy to the proceedings of the cabinet meeting said a heated debate took place on an interview given by Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry to a foreign media outlet.

According to sources two senior cabinet members – Asad Umar and Shah Mehmood Qureshi — objected to the interview, saying Chaudhry had acted very irresponsibly while speaking to the media. Chaudhry defended himself by telling ministers to listen to the complete interview before raising any objection.

He said that journalist Suhail Warraich had sought his political analysis, and he told him that infighting between Jahangir Khan Tareen, Umar and Qureshi had damaged Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) a lot, especially the political element in the party. However, the prime minister stopped Chaudhry from speaking further; saying cabinet members should be careful in their discussions and should not spoil unity in the party ranks.

Faisal Vawda lashes out at cabinet members

During the cabinet meeting, Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda came down hard on Umar and Qureshi, alleging that they both wanted to become the prime minister. “There is no doubt in it at all,” he claimed. He said their internal rift had damaged the government.

Vawda said that always it was claimed in the cabinet meeting that “all is well”, but ground realities are different. The prime minister stopped Vawda from speaking further and asked all ministers to improve their performance in six months.

Sources added, the premier also sought details of double nationality of his advisors and special assistants. A heated debate was also held on the performance of some ministers, prime minister’s advisors and special assistants. Vawda severely criticised the policies of Umar, Abdul Razzak Dawood and Nadeem Babar, and alleged that some cabinet members were hatching conspiracies. He claimed that a game was going on in the cabinet and he would not stay silent over it.

Sources said when Vawda got emotional while criticising the cabinet members, PM Imran said: “Calm down, Faisal.”

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Shibli Faraz briefs media about cabinet meeting

Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz held a press conference to brief the media about the cabinet meeting. He said the cabinet welcomed the verdict of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the sugar inquiry case and reiterated the government’s commitment to bring to book all sugar barons who earned undue profits, irrespective of their background. Faraz said the cabinet decided that recommendations of the inquiry commission regarding the actions should be carried out within the stipulated timeline given to relevant institutions.

He was confident that the step would bring improvement and transparency in the whole value chain of sugar production from sugarcane purchase to marketing of the commodity. He said the process of determining the prices of sugar would be visible in the next three months, as the government had revamped the entire network of the institutions responsible for monitoring and regulation of the sugar industry. The minister said it would result in the provision of the commodity to people at reasonable rates and help make recoveries from those who had been exploiting the system for minting money at the cost of the consumers.

Faraz said that the cabinet expressed concerns over the rising price of flour and it endorsed the instructions of prime minister for rectification of the situation by taking corrective steps including the release of nine million tons of wheat by the Punjab government and control of smuggling of the commodity.

A committee under Advisor to PM Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh had been constituted to monitor and supervise the situation to streamline the process and make it more transparent. Faraz noted that the prime minister has issued directives to determine the demand and supply of flour on a scientific basis with a collection of complete data. He said 27 million tons of flour was the country’s requirement, whereas 25 million tons of wheat was available and its import was allowed to keep its prices stable.

The minister said the cabinet appreciated the performance of the education ministry for introducing a uniform curriculum in the country for all educational institutions including religious seminaries. The cabinet discussed the use of online education by utilising modern technologies in the post-coronavirus situation. The prime minister, he said, emphasised making the facility available in far-flung areas of the country, especially Balochistan, where the availability of internet was an issue. He directed that IT funds should be utilised for the benefit of the people of Balochistan, as they deserved similar facilities enjoyed by the rest of Pakistan.

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The minister said the premier was determined to improving the health system in the country and the cabinet approved the establishment of a new teaching hospital in the federal capital, which would be built on modern lines. Faraz said that Umar and Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza gave a detailed briefing on prevalent COVID-19 situation.

The information minister said that in a short period, the laboratories in the country for corona testing had reached 129 from a mere two at the start of the pandemic. He said the testing capacity had increased to 50,000 tests daily from initial 472 and it would reach 150,000 per day by end of July.

The minister said overall 770 hospitals in the country were catering to the needs of patients of coronavirus, adding the number of oxygenated beds available in the country was 8,886, out of which 2,671 were occupied. He said 2,150 more oxygenated beds would be available by the next month.

Faraz said the federal government was very clear from day one on how to take steps to overcome the challenge of coronavirus. He said that PM Imran had the vision from the beginning to run the economy to save vulnerable segments of society from hunger and starvation as well as protect the lives of people.

He said that the opposition finds fault with the handling of the virus and calls for strict lockdown as they had billions of rupees in their accounts abroad, but Imran Khan had no foreign accounts and properties and was leading the nation from the front.

Shibli Faraz on accountability for cabinet members and Zartaj Gul’s COVID-19 remarks

Faraz said it would make no difference if anyone belonged to the party or otherwise when it comes to the investigation of any wrongdoings. The minister, while responding to questions, said that the prime minister knew within the party, who was involved in sugar or flour business before he ordered investigations into the wheat and sugar crises. The minister emphasised that no attempt was made to save the skin of anyone belonging to the ruling party. He added the outcome of the probes was a great government achievement, which was never done ever before.

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When asked by a reporter, had PTI leader Tareen informed the prime minister about his foreign trip and that whether he would be back, as his name was among the alleged characters behind sugar crisis and money-making. The minister said that people had voted PTI to tackle the deep-rooted mafias and it was for the first time, any government had taken them head-on.

About certain remarks by Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul on some matters, going viral on the social and print and electronic media, including the nature of coronavirus and climate change, Faraz said that it was a slip of tongue. However, he said that the minister for climate change was outstanding and was doing well and was respected duly in the cabinet.

About some alleged discrepancies in the Ehsaas Cash Programme, he explained that the entire exercise was based on Nadra data and there was no discrimination or political element involved in cash disbursement. “For qualification of any applicant, there are certain parameters to be taken into account,” he noted.

Even if beds were increased up to 10 million, he said there would not be enough, given Pakistan’s population and the key was to follow the SOPs and adopt social distancing. He added that the government was doing its best to strike a balance between ensuring economic activity and prevention of the spread of the virus. He cautioned that the cabinet was informed that the coming weeks would be very tough. Prime minister, he noted, would talk to ministers with timelines concerning tasks and targets. Using technology, the government, he said, was resorting to smart lockdowns and sealing of hotspots.

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