Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain Tuesday said Pakistan would send coronavirus (COVID-19) and medical emergency relief assistance to Palestine on humanitarian grounds to mitigate sufferings of innocent people there. The decision to this effect was taken in the Federal Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, he said while briefing the media persons. He said the Cabinet thoroughly discussed the prevailing situation in Palestine and expressed deep concern and resentment over the plight of Palestinians. He said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had gone to Turkey where he held a meeting with his Turkish counterpart. He said foreign ministers of different Islamic countries including Pakistan, Turkey, Sudan and Palestine would leave for New York in a group-form to attend the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Palestine. He said there was extreme resentment in the Muslim countries due to the sufferings of Palestinian people, adding PM Imran Khan from the day one, did provide a leadership role to the Ummah on the issue of Palestine. Pakistan was the first country that took a strong, clear and unflinching stance on Palestine, he said. He pointed out that parameters of Pakistan’s policy on Palestine had been set by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, adding “today PM Imran Khan is the custodian of that policy.” He said Pakistan’s leading role in that regard was being acknowledged by the whole Ummah including the Palestinian leadership. The minister said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had said that whatever he had been thinking for Palestine in his heart and mind, it was exactly translated by PM Imran Khan in words. “It reflects that Imran Khan is playing a leading role for the betterment of the Ummah.” He said the Cabinet members had congratulated the PM on his recent successful visit to Saudi Arabia. The Information Minister said the cabinet was also briefed on the issue of Rawalpindi Ring Road project based on reports gathered from the Punjab Government. He said although the project had remained under discussion for the last several years, it was originally conceived in 2017 to provide a separate passage to the heavy traffic that entered or passed through the Rawalpindi city. In 2018, he said, the initial alignment of the road was approved. Giving background of the issue, he said Prime Minister Imran Khan had received an anonymous message by someone, who claimed to be an engineer associated with the Ring Road project, that the road’s alignment had been changed especially at the Sanjgani point, which had narrowed the passage making it dangerous for vehicular movement. Upon which, he said, the prime minister ordered an initial inquiry. When questioned the authorities concerned informed him (PM) that ‘no alignment had been changed’. The PM, he said, had decided to hold an independent investigation into the matter and initial probe confirmed that not only the road alignment had been changed, but a 29-kilometer additional stretch also included in the project towards Attock to get the housing societies in the loop. As a result of the investigation, Fawad said, billions of rupees’ embezzlement was avoided as under the new alignment additional land amounting to Rs 23 billion had to be acquired including a major portion in Attock. “Currently, Rs 2.3 billion has been paid for the land acquisition, but the amount will be taken back.” “According to the initial report, the alignment has been changed to give benefit to some individuals, while addition of a 29-kilomtere stretch was made to benefit to some housing societies directly,” he said while clarifying that there was no mention of Special Assistant to the PM Zulfikar Bukhari and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan in the inquiry report. He regretted that on social media names of the ministers were quoted for their involvement in the scam without any proof. He said Zulfikar Bukhari had already resigned as the SAPM to face the inquiry, while Ghulam Sarwar Khan had categorically denied his or any of his family members’ involvement in the issue. The minister said the inquiry revealed that the government had averted the loot of national wealth, and it was not as it was being propagated that the public money had sunk. He said the opposition leaders should correct themselves that the government had saved the national wealth by taking timely action. Fawad said the anti-corruption agencies and departments concerned were going to hold a thorough investigation in the matter. He said across the board accountability was the hallmark of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, and it had initiated inquiries against the allegations, no matter levelled against whoever. He said it was only possible in Imran Khan’s government that the allegations were probed, if levelled against whosoever. While contrary to it during the tenures of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party, the media had been highlighting wrongdoings loud and clear, but all went unheard. He said the principle of ‘answerability’ would be implemented on everyone facing any accusations. It was the change in the system that had been promised by the PTI before coming into power. Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the government was going to present the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Report 2019-20 in the Parliament as the proposed electoral reforms were crucial for free and fair elections. He said the government had already promulgated an ordinance to enable the ECP for use of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the next general elections. This week, he said, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs would invite the parliamentary reporters and leaders for examining the EVMs. It would help them to understand how those gadgets would prove effective in preventing rigging in the elections in future, he added. After the 2018 general elections, Fawad said, the opposition claimed that they were defeated due to the collapse of Result Transmission System (RTS) and thereafter, they asserted that the reason for their defeat was involvement of some institutions’ officials, who were issuing voting slips to voters in some areas. Finally, they made the claim that the non-availability of Form-46 led to their defeat in the elections, he added. After a lapse of two years, he said, they now maintained that there was no need for electoral reforms as only pre-poll rigging took place in the elections. It was a major deviation of the opposition from its earlier narrative over the rigging in elections. Explaining the reasons behind the opposition’s departure from its own narrative of rigging which they built after the last general elections, he said when the government asked them to point out collapse of RTS in some specific areas, they could not report any constituency and then came back with another excuse and said forms 45 and 46 were not given to them in their constituencies. When asked to mention the areas where they could not get the forms 45 and 46, he said they [opposition] came up with another story and claimed that they found some institutions’ officials stamping ballot papers, and claimed to have their videos. They could not provide even a single video when they were asked for it, he added. He said it was the PTI that filed 13 petitions, out of the total 25, with the ECP against rigging in Punjab. Had the PTI won seats in those constituencies where its candidates were defeated with a margin of 5,000 votes, it would have formed the government without coalition, he added. He stressed the need for a transparent election process in the country, citing examples of the by-polls held in Daska and Karachi, where, according to him, results were announced on the next day of polling Fawad termed the EVMs an ultimate solution to ensure transparent elections in the country, adding it would help announce election results of a constituency within 20 minutes of polling. He asked the opposition parties to suggest other solutions if they did not accept the use of EVMs to ensure free and fair elections in the country. The minister said the opposition’s narrative over the electoral reforms was not only ‘very non-serious’, but also proved that they did not believe in free and fair elections. He said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had never come into the power through transparent elections. The apex court in 1990 had declared that the party had done systematic rigging to win the elections. The PML-N, he said, did not believe in electoral reforms as it had a firm belief that they could not come into power without rigging. He also asked the two major opposition parties, the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party, to clear their position on giving the overseas Pakistanis their right to franchise. The PTI was ‘very clear’ on giving voting rights to the expats, he added. Fawad said as of the day, pouring in the foreign remittances had broken all the previous records that showed the overseas Pakistanis were the backbone of the national economy. Therefore, the government wanted to extend all-out facilities to them for which they were entitled for. He said the government would start a comprehensive debate in the Parliament on the electoral reforms by laying down the ECP report next week. The minister said the government would soon introduce an ordinance to make it mandatory for members of parliament to be sworn in within six months of their election. He said PML-N leader Ishaq Dar was still at large and did not take oath in the Senate even after the passage of three years. He [Dar] had deprived the people of Punjab of a seat in the Senate. It would be the last chance for those lawmakers who wanted to take oath for their seats in the Parliament, he added. The minister said the cabinet was told that the number of mobile users had increased to 184 million in April 2021, whereas the broadband users had touched the 100 millions benchmark. He termed it ‘very good news’ and said science, technology, knowledge and reasoning were crucial to national development. It was also imperative to note that the development was a sign of the online education expansion in the country. He said an amount of Rs 1,100 billion was spent in the rural economy that resulted in creation of hundreds and thousands of jobs in the agriculture sector. Sales of tractors had gone up by 55 per cent that manifested ‘visible’ improvement in the agriculture sector due to the prudent policies of the present government. He said the government was issuing ‘Kissan cards’ for the uplift of the agriculture sector and welfare of farmers. The Agriculture Ministry was bringing a new proposal, aimed at revolutionizing the agriculture sector by spending Rs 110 billion. He said it was also meant to enhance milk production five-fold by revolutionizing the livestock sector. The minister said efforts were being made to change banking culture so that the poor people could get loans easily. “Our foremost priority is to uplift the lower-middle class as done in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the PTI during its previous tenure.” He said the entire nation would express solidarity with the Palestinians by observing Palestine Day on the forthcoming Friday. To a query, he said Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar had already cleared his position over the Rawalpindi Ring Road project the other day in a press conference, as well as, in the Federal Cabinet meeting. Sarwar had not only welcomed the investigation process into the issue but also expressed willingness to face any accusation, if made against him, he added. Commenting on the case of PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif, he said both the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and judiciary were fully independent in the country, adding the government was supposed to facilitate them. The case of Shehbaz, he said, was simple. A proper investigation had been conducted into it and there was documentary evidence of his money laundering amounting to Rs 7 billion money that illustrated the mechanism opted by the Sharif family for sending money abroad through their front-men and their onward repatriation into Pakistan. He recalled that some media anchors had played their part to create an environment in order to help Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif escape abroad. As regards violations of anti-coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) committed by the PML-N the other day in Sheikhupura , he said the civil administration was taking actions against the violators across the country, indiscriminately. It was the responsibility of everyone to demonstrate seriousness towards the anti-coronavirus SOPs, he asserted. As regards the Palestine issue, he said Pakistan desired unity of the Muslim Ummah, expressing hope that the entire Muslim nations would raise unanimous voice for the Palestine issue at the United Nations General Assembly. To a query, Fawad said the Competition Commission of Pakistan had been made more functional, institutions being strengthened and cartelization dismantled. To another query, he said discussions with the British authorities were underway to ease quarantine restrictions over the overseas Pakistanis. He added that the Pakistan Foreign office also took up the issue of travel restrictions on Pakistanis with the Saudi government. He said Prime Minister Imran Khan had a clear stance on Kashmir, if India wanted dialogue it would have to take back unilateral action of August 5, 2019. “Pakistanis’ hearts beat with those of their Kashmiri brothers and the country will continue to extend political, diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiris,” he remarked. Briefing the media on other cabinet’s decisions, he said the meeting had given approval of Regular Public Transport License to Ms/ Fly Jinnah Services (private) Limited. He said the cabinet had given the green light for transshipment of a container of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) from Karachi to Kabul. He said it gave approval for issuing a commemorative coin on the occasion of 70 years of Pakistan-China diplomatic relations. The Peoples Bank of China would also issue two commemorative coins, one of gold and other of silver, to commemorate the everlasting friendship between the two countries, he added. Earlier, in the years 2009, 2011 and 2015, he said, Pakistan Mint had also issued commemorative coins to promote Pak-China friendship. He said the cabinet had accorded approval to the appointment of Dr Muhammd Raheem Awan as Director-General Legal Aid and Justice Authority. He said it was worth mentioning that the Federal Government had established the authority after introducing Legal Aid and Justice Authority law during 2020 to help the poor and vulnerable to get justice. Fawad said the cabinet deferred the agenda regarding appointments of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Pakistan Housing Authority Foundation and the member of Electronic Certification Accreditation Council. The cabinet deferred the appointment of officers for the post of Community Welfare Attaché in Pakistani missions abroad, he added. He said the cabinet, while reviewing the decision made on November 05, 2019, had decided to close the National Power Parks Management Company as the privatization of Haveli Bahadar Shah, Jhang district and Baloki district Kasoor power plants were under way, so until then the project director of Haveli Bahadar Shah would continue to perform his duties as CEO National Power Parks Management Company with additional charge. He said the cabinet had also sent a summary regarding expansion in Pakistan Railways police jurisdiction to its Committee on Legislation. It also sent a summary about relaxation in Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules for Kartarpur Sahab shrine to its board. The cabinet also ratified the decisions of a meeting of its Committee on Institutional Reforms, held on April 21, 2021. It also approved the decisions of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) held on May, 05, 2021.