ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Thursday accorded preliminary approval to proposed multi-billion rupees deal with Saudi Arabia for construction of an oil refinery near Gwadar Port and decided to remove all those officials illegally appointed by former finance minister Ishaq Dar at important posts. Briefing journalists on the decisions made by the federal cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that matters related to oil and gas sector were discussed with the visiting Saudi delegation and a big investment would be coming to Pakistan. Minister for Petroleum Ghulam Sarwar Khan, who was also present on the occasion, said both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will sign an MoU after the arrival of Saudi energy minister to Pakistan by the end of current month or in the beginning of next month. He said Saudi Arabia had expressed the desire to immediately invest in an oil refinery. Its cost, capacity and other modalities will be finalized soon. Saudi Arabia is also interested in Gwadar and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, he added. The minister dispelled the impression that China had shown any concern regarding the establishment of an oil refinery by Saudi Arabia. “We want to establish four to five new oil refineries and any country can invest,” he said. He said it had been agreed that it would be a government-to-government (G2G) agreement and Saudi Arabia’s minister of energy will visit Islamabad by the end of current month or next month to sign the document. The provincial governments will be taken into confidence at the time of the signing of agreements, he added. The minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan was given a warm welcome in Saudi Arabia and the leadership during the meeting had shown keen interest in investing in Pakistan. He dispelled the impression that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia was aimed at seeking financial assistance. “The prime minister asked Saudi Arabia for investment and not for any financial assistance. We have got positive response from the government of Saudi Arabia in this regard,” he said, and contradicted the news that Pakistan had requested Saudi Arabia to supply oil on deferred payment. “The issue of deferred payment was never discussed,” he said. The minister said that soon after the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia, a high-powered delegation visited Pakistan and held a series of meetings with various ministries. The delegation also visited Gwadar. The minister said that Saudi Arabia had also been offered investment in South-North Gas Pipeline and LNG projects besides rigging and exploration in oil and gas sectors. “We have total 46 blocks and have offered 10 blocks for open bidding and Saudi Arabia can benefit from this offer,” he said. Fawad Chaudhry said that during the past few days a section of media had been reporting about the Saudi delegation’s visit without verification and without knowing the background of the matter. He appealed to the media to be careful while reporting on such issues. He said that an important delegation of United Arab Emirates (UAE) was also due and it was expected that huge investment would come from there too. He said Turkey was going to establish a state-of-the-art university in Islamabad where people would be educated about hospitality services. The minister said the cabinet had decided to remove all those persons, illegally appointed by former finance minister Ishaq Dar in important departments. They include President National Bank Saeed Ahmad; President First Women Bank Tahira Raza, Chief Executive Officer of Zarai Taraqiati Bank Syed Talat Mahmood, President SME Bank Ehsanul Haq Khan; Jameel Ahmad and Shamsul Hassan of State Bank of Pakistan and three officials of the Competition Commission of Pakistan. He said the Supreme Court had termed the appointments made on the recommendations of Ishaq Dar as illegal. He said it was the prerogative of the federal cabinet to make those appointments and its powers could not be delegated to anyone. He said the cabinet gave approval to the initial framework for converting Prime Minister’s House into a centre of excellence and a cabinet forum headed by Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood and comprising Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, Adviser for Commerce and Textile Industry Razzaq Daud and the chairman of the Higher Education Commission would look after its affairs. He said when the PTI came into power, the Prime Minister’s House had 528 employees, over 100 vehicles and four helicopters. Moreover 33 more vehicles worth Rs 960 million were purchased and Rs 330 million was required for their maintenance. He said now only five persons are deputed at the Prime Minister’s House while the rest have been sent to surplus pool as the government was against sacking anyone. He said this was the reason why the PTI government was planning to restructure and reform the national institutions. Referring to Mushahidullah Khan, he said the PTI had no personal enmity with him but unfortunately the previous governments inducted their cronies in the national institutions making them financially unfeasible. The information minister said the federal cabinet has constituted a task force under the chairmanship of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to decide about the utilization of 2,467 government properties in the federal capital territory, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab being used by commissioners, deputy commissioners, etc. He said the country was under the burden of Rs 28 trillion loans and lacked health, education and drinking water facilities, so it could not afford such luxurious residences. Replying to the questions of the media persons, Fawad said that housing scheme and Green Pakistan were two big projects of the present government and within a couple of days dates about launch of PM’s Housing Scheme would be announced, which would change the country’s economy. Explaining increase in the recent gas tariff, Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said only 10 to 20 percent rate had been increased for the lowest slab, which forms 80 percent of the total population consuming gas in the country. He said 23 percent of the population uses gas as fuel, and the 143 percent increase in gas tariff will affect only two percent of the gas consumers. On the other side, the minister said LPG cylinder price had been reduced from about Rs 1600 to Rs 1400. The gas rate was increased a little to meet the Rs 158 billion deficit incurred by the last government. Sarwar said the government was also providing relief to the people on petroleum prices. The government would bear the burden of Rs 8 billion this month by not increasing the petroleum prices, he added. The minister also announced to conduct forensic audit of Islamabad International Airport, Pakistan Steel Mills, and Neelum-Jhelum Hydro Power projects as their cost had escalated manifold due to unusual delay in completion. Published in Daily Times, September 5th 2018.