No axe to fall on defence budget, decides cabinet

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ISLAMABAD: The government has decided not to make any cuts in the country’s defence budget, preferring instead to intend to increase it through the generation of more revenue.

“The country’s defence budget is already low as compared to other states in the region, and therefore it should be increased,” said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in a post-cabinet meeting press conference on Thursday.

Asked about the government’s austerity measures to reduce running expenditures by 10 per cent, he commented, “Some people have problems about the defence budget and try to make it an issue.

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“However, they don’t know that our defence budget is already lower than that of other states in the region, including India.”

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Further, he elaborated, “We want to increase our defence and security; therefore we need to increase our defence budget and for that purpose we want to generate more revenue.”

Mr Chaudhry said that the government and army were enjoying a period of unprecedented coordination.

Balancing act

The information minister said that the cabinet meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, lamented the arrest of PTI Punjab provincial minister Abdul Aleem Khan, terming it a “balancing act” on the part of the National Accounta­bility Bureau (NAB) to justify its actions against leaders of opposition parties.

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“NAB should act on the basis of facts and justice and should avoid balancing acts under which innocent PTI leaders are being targeted,” he added.

Public accounts committee

The information minister said the federal cabinet reiterated that the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, who is also the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), was using the committee as a shield against the corruption cases against him. The cabinet was of the view that ethically, Mr Sharif was not entitled to head the PAC and must step down.

Mr Chaudhry presented the information that Prime Minister Khan took notice of the complaints of consumers regarding ‘inflated’ gas bills and ordered an external audit of bills over the last two months. Asked why the prime minister ordered an audit despite the fact that he himself [PM Imran Khan] approved new slabs of gas consumption price, being the head of the federal cabinet, the minister said that the government had decided to revise these.

Read more: Cabinet wants Shahbaz Sharif to resign from PAC chairmanship

According to the current price slabs, those who consume 5 Hm3 (500 cubic metres) and more will have to pay Rs1,480 for per cubic metre and this will apply to total consumption. “The gas slab price system will be revised to limit gas-price increase for the vulnerable 70pc of the population,” the minister explained. (On Sunday, the premier took notice of increased gas prices for domestic consumers and ordered the petroleum minister to conduct an inquiry into the matter.)

The information minister noted that only 23pc of the population was using natural gas for domestic needs, with the rest using liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), wood or other fuel sources. He added that the government was providing a subsidy on costlier gas that is being imported since the tenure of the PML-N regime.

Earlier, Mr Chaudhry claimed that the prices of consumer items have been reduced. “When the PML-N came to power in Nov 2013, prices rose by 5.8pc in the first six months, while during the ruling PTI’s first six months prices rose by a much lower 1.4pc,” he said. The prices of chicken, garlic, onion, potatoes, chickpeas, lentils and potatoes had actually gone down, the minister maintained, while those of eggs, cabbage, high-speed diesel, and petrol had also seen a downward trend. Nevertheless, he conceded that the cost of tomatoes, inter-city bus fares, cement, diesel, electricity, mutton and tea prices had increased.

Mr Chaudhry provided the information that a committee has been formed under the leadership of Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak to monitor the prices of various goods. The committee will look into the matter along with Minister for Planning Khusro Bakhtiar.

Prime Minister Khan, he said, had ordered the housing minister to deal with those occupying properties illegally. Mr Chaudhry claimed that former Senate chairman and PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani and Senator Mushahidullah Khan were illegally occupying official houses at the Minister’s Enclave.

Dual nationals

The information minister informed that the government wanted to provide opportunities to overseas Pakistanis to work in government departments. He, however, added the rider that “While the prime minister acknowledges that overseas Pakistanis are an asset, the law ministry is drawing up a list of government positions in which dual nationals will not be entitled to work.”

Lastly, talking about development activities regarding the Sikh community’s holy places at Kartarpur, which lies on the border of Pakistan and India, the Mr Chaudhry said that a committee headed by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar had been formed to oversee the work. (PM Khan performed the groundbreaking ceremony of a long-awaited corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in the Kartarpur area of Narowal district to Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district on Nov 28.)

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2019

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