Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibil Faraz on Tuesday said the Federal Cabinet had decided to seek guidance from the Supreme Court on the constitutional amendment for ‘show of hands’ instead of ‘secret balloting’ in the Senate election.
Addressing a press briefing Shibli Faraz said various options for reforming the Senate election process, including a constitutional amendment, executive order and others, came under discussion in the Federal Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“It was decided that under Article 186 [of the Constitution], we will seek the Supreme Court’s guidance on introducing the ‘show of hands’ during the Senate elections,” he said.
The government had already tabled a bill in the National Assembly on the basis of the apex court’s short order in that regard, he added.
The minister expressed the hope that the government would manage to get SC’s guidance on the matter before the Senate elections, which were scheduled to be held next year. All out efforts would be made to get the bill passed from the National Assembly.
The opposition would hopefully support the legislation as it was beneficial for all the political parties, he added.
Shibli Faraz said the Senate elections had always remained controversial in the past with allegations of horse-trading hurled on all occasions, so reforms were much needed to abolish such practices in future.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, he said, fully believed in transparency as he had expelled his own party members for such activities.
Following the prime minister’s vision of ensuring transparent elections in the country, the government had already given some suggestion for electoral reforms, he added.
He said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was committed to bring more transparency in the electoral process and its government was the first in Pakistan’s history that had taken such initiatives. No other government had ever taken such steps, he added.
Shibli Faraz said the cabinet discussed merits and demerits of the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, aimed at distributing the funds among provinces in accordance with their population size.
The cabinet members, he said, pointed out a basic flaw in the NFC Award that did not let the provincial governments to generate more revenues. They called for improving the funds’ distribution mechanism to ensure transparency and accountability.
The provinces lacked motivation for raising the revenue locally for they received certain amount of funds [under the award], he maintained.
Shibli Faraz said the provinces did generate half of the funds they received under the NFC Award despite the fact that key departments from the federation were devolved to them after the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
The minister said Punjab received Rs1.441 trillion under the NFC Award of 2020-21 and generated own revenue of only Rs 306 billion. Likewise, Sindh received Rs 764 billion from the federation and Rs 314 billion from own sources.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got Rs. 602 billion under the award and around Rs. 50 billion from own sources, whereas Balochistan generated revenue of Rs 51 billion on its own and received Rs 282 billion from the federation.
Shibli Faraz said there was a need to introduce a mechanism that could hold the provinces accountable for their spending on salaries, development projects and luxuries from the federal fund. It would not only ensure transparency and accountability in the country, but also make sure judicious utilization of funds in all the localities.
Citing the example of former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, who spent more of the province’s development funds in Lahore, he said it was sine qua non to introduce a mechanism for rational allocation of funds for all the cities.
He said the cabinet members also suggested for linking the amount given to the provinces under NFC Award and the revenue they raised on their own so that the system could be improved further.
“Nevertheless, some provinces will get the advantage from this while other like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will be at disadvantage due to poverty and for lacking industry,” he noted
The minister regretted that such things were not discussed by the governments in the past. There was a need to improve the areas where reforms were required.
The Federal Government had to support the provinces in case of a natural calamity or debt servicing after which it was left with minimal funds that eventually forced it to take loans.
He also dispelled the impression that the government wanted to abolish the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
Shibli Faraz said the report of investigation, ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan into the petroleum products’ shortage occurred on the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, was presented before the cabinet.
He said the cabinet formed a committee under the chairmanship of Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, which would submit its recommendations for fixing the responsibility of petroleum products shortage in the light of report. Other federal ministers including Shafqat Mehmood, Shireen Mazari and Azam Swati were also part of the committee, he added.
To a query, he said legal action would be taken against those, who were found involved in creating such crises in the country.
As regards the Prime Minister’s Corona Relief Fund which was set in April this year, he said donations of Rs 3.8 billion were received from within the country and around Rs one billion from international donations.
Most of the fund’s amount was being disbursed among the poorest segments of the society under the Ehsaas Emergency Programme to mitigate their sufferings during the first and second waves of pandemic, he added.
Shibli Faraz said bogus beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme had been shunted out under the Ehsaas Programme that manifested the government’s strong commitment for transparency. A database was being developed under the programme, which would eventually help the government in taking targeted initiatives for the welfare of poor people, he added.
He said it was the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan to bring the downtrodden segments into national mainstream by taking pro-poor initiatives.
The minister said the cabinet also decided to allow the restaurants in Islamabad to offer food to their customers in the open in order to protect employment of low-earning workers such as waiters.
Free modern kiosks would also be provided to the poor people so that they could mitigate the impact of coronavirus, he added.
Commenting on the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s rally in Lahore, Shibli Faraz said the whole nation, including the media, had witnessed their flop show. It showed that people of Lahore were politically wise and did not bother to support those who prioritized their personal interests.
He said the opposition parties in the alliance were now passing the buck to one another for the flop show in Lahore. Everybody knew that they all joined the hands to protect their looted money and personal interests.
The minister said the people had seen how Nawaz Sharif spewed venom against the Pakistan Army during Gujranwala’s public gathering and Achakzai ridiculed the people of Lahore at the Minar-e-Pakistan meeting.
One of the PDM leaders had desecrated the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum on the occasion of their Karachi meeting and another spoke of breaking Pakistan in its Quetta rally, he added.
Referring to Maryam Safdar’s recent press conference, he strongly condemned her threat to the media. She liked only those television channels that praised her. Her comments reflected her undemocratic mindset which she had inherited from her father.
To another query, he said no hurdle were placed during the PDM rally in Lahore as the government did not want to give them an opportunity to create hype before the gathering.
He said the government and its allied parties had enough number of members to run the Parliament and hold the Senate elections if all the PDM parties resigned from the assemblies.
Shibli made it clear that Prime Minister Imran Khan would not resign, rejecting the ultimatum given by the PDM in its recent media briefing. “How can unelected people ask elected persons to resign from the Parliament?” he questioned.
He assured the media workers that he would raise their concerns regarding the provision of personal protecting equipment at appropriate forums.