The federal cabinet has constituted a ministerial committee for holding 2023 general elections through electronic voting machines in which at least nine million overseas Pakistanis will exercise their right to vote.
Addressing media after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said, "A ministerial committee has been constituted to liaise with the Election Commission of Pakistan for ensuring implementation of the recently passed laws on electoral reforms."
The committee would finalize all the nitty-gritty on use of the EVMs in the next election such as cost, numbers of machines and others, he added.
The federal minister said the committee would comprise Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan, Minister for Railway Azam Swati, Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz, Minister for Information Technology Aminul Haq and Attorney General.
"It is imperative that next general election should be and will be held with help of EVMs at all the cost and nine million overseas Pakistanis would exercise their right of franchise," he added.
In response to a question, the federal minister said the government had reached out to the opposition many times and asked them to share their suggestions on the electoral reforms as it wanted consensus on the matter.
"The entire nation including government, opposition and public have consensus over reforming the existing electoral system," he said, stressing the need for use of the EVMs to end rigging for once and all.
He also used the opportunity to discuss the Asma Jahangir conference held over the weekend in Lahore, saying the event was sponsored using foreign funds.
He said the issue of conferences also came under discussion during the cabinet meeting and the Foreign Office would finalize a policy to take up the issue under the Geneva Convention.
Giving reference to the press release issued by the Supreme Court Bar Association after the conference, he said the body "distanced itself from the speeches made against judiciary" at a conference at Lahore.
The federal minister welcomed the step taken by the bar association and said he had already advised them to show impartiality in this matter, besides playing their role as defined in the Constitution.
Responding to a question, the federal minister said Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan had informed the State Bank of Pakistan through a letter that funding of the programme recently held in a local hotel in Islamabad was ‘illegal’.
He reiterated that a thorough investigation would be conducted in the funding of that programme.
During the briefing, he lauded a news channel for releasing a video which exposed the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) ploy against judiciary. "It is not the first time that the PML-N has released such video which solely aimed at pressurizing the judiciary," he said.
"Whenever the courts took up cases against the Sharif family, such tactics were opted to pressurize the government and courts," he said, expressing the hope that judiciary would reject such pressure.
“This issue should not stop here and those involved in this activity should be taken to task,” he added.
Taking a jibe at the PML-N, he said its leadership should thank the government that now sons of Nawaz Sharif would be able to cast their votes in Pakistan’s elections.
In his media briefing, he said sugar was being sold at Rs90 to 95 and it was expected that in coming weeks, the price of sweetener might came down to Rs80 to 85 per kg.
He said prices of tomato, onion and garlic had decreased substantially with the food basket witnessed balance.
The minister informed the government had launched two programmes to provide relief to the masses. However, he said currently the biggest issue was high prices of commodities in Sindh, especially in Karachi.
Fawad said after 18th amendment, the federal government could only give policy on certain matters which the provinces had to implement.
"Sindh government was asked to release wheat and start sugarcane crushing in time but they did not follow the directives," he said, adding 40 per cent of inflation data of Sensitive Price Index issued consisted of Karachi figures.
Comparing prices of flour bags in Punjab and Sindh, Fawad said price of a 20kg wheat flour bag was Rs1,100 in Lahore, whereas the same was available in Karachi at Rs1460.
He added sugar price in Karachi was Rs107, whereas in major cities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the commodity was being sold at Rs90 per kg.
The federal minister urged the media to pressurize the Sindh government so that it could take action for providing relief to the people.
He added the federal government had been importing wheat worth $700 million, while the Sindh government was accusing the Centre of stealing wheat from the province.
During his address, Fawad said the federal cabinet has also given approval for establishing Gems and Jewelry Development Authority to earn foreign exchange by boosting its export.
The federal cabinet had also accorded approval for a framework between Civil Aviation Authorities of Pakistan and the United Kingdom, he said, adding the agreement would be for three years to improve standards of commercial air lines.
In the meeting, the federal cabinet also approved appointments of the Electronic Certification Accreditation Council’s members for a period of three years.
"Shehzad Sami Abdul Wahid Khan and Advocate Ghulam Mustafa have been appointed members of the National Telecom Corporation, while Mian Muhammad Ahmed has been appointed member of the Port Qasim Authority on temporary basis," said Fawad.
He added the cabinet had given approval for inclusion of Pakistan into Riyadh MoU on Port State Control which would enable direct communication between Karachi and Riyadh ports.
The cabinet also gave approval for determining prices of 38 new medicines. The country's pharma sector had posted substantial growth after price adjustments in medicine prices, said the federal minister.
Meanwhile, the federal cabinet approved appointment of Saeed Ahmed as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sukkur Electric Power Company for three years. The government had dismissed CEO of Hyderabad Electric Supply Company and replaced him with Noor Ahmed Soomro.
Fawad said Jameel Akhtar had been appointed as member power of the WAPDA, whereas approval for Javed Akhtar Latif as its member had been given by the cabinet.
The federal cabinet had also approved the decisions taken by the Cabinet Committee on Energy (CCoE) on November 4 and 11, said Fawad, adding the government had ordered two inquiries. One would be against sugar, while the other on hoarding of fuel products by some Oil marketing companies (OMCs).
He apprised the inquiry against OMCs had been concluded and the details would be shared shortly.
Sharing brief detail of the inquiry committee, he said the OMCs had illegally earned Rs5.52 billion by hoarding the oil. After the inquiry, he said, CEO of an OMC had been apprehended, while four senior officers including Director General OGRA were in jail.
"OMCs assets worth Rs1 billion had been frozen," he said, adding, the cases of seven OMC would be taken to logical conclusion in the second phase.
Fawad said the cabinet also approved the decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Committee on November 15 as the body okayed payment of Rs134 billion to Independent Power Producers as second installment.
Likewise, it had been decided to release funds worth Rs10 billion for completing sustainable development goals initiatives, he added.
In the meeting, the federal cabinet also approved release of funds for establishing ‘Rehmatulil Alamin’ Authority in the country.
Besides, the cabinet had relaxed rules of Public Procurement Regulatory Authority to avoid creating any dearth of fertilizer in the country, he added.
A sum of Rs4.7 billion was being released to the ECP for conducting Local Government elections in the country, he said, adding the government has also approved Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Ordinance 2021 to pave way for holding LG elections in federal capital.
The cabinet, in the meeting, approved appointment of members for the board of governor of Federal Government Properties Management Authority’s (FGPMA), including BOI Chairman, Naya Pakistan Housing Authority Chairman, Finance Secretary and Secretary Housing or their representatives.
About cadastral mapping of the state land, he said, the Sindh government had refused to share data in that regard as the "state’s forest land worth over Rs5,000 billion was in illegal occupation in Sindh", he added.
The state land worth Rs5.6 trillion had been retrieved and forest would be grown on that land, he said.
Fawad said the federal cabinet had allowed transportation of Indian food assistance to Afghanistan via Pakistan.