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Nation special report
ISLAMABAD: In a major step to end nepotism and corruption, PTI Government has decided
to remove the officials “illegally appointed” by former finance minister Ishaq Dar from service. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad after a meeting of the federal cabinet on Thursday, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said it had been decided to remove several high-level officials in banks and government departments as according to a Supreme Court decision, only the cabinet could appoint directors and heads of departments. This role had been unlawfully delegated to Dar by the previous PML-N government, the minister said.

The officials dismissed from their posts include Saeed Ahmed, the president of National Bank of Pakistan; Tahira Raza, the president of First Women Bank; Syed Talat Mehmood, the president of Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited; and Ehsanul Haq Khan, the president of SME Bank.

In addition, four regulators appointed during the previous government’s tenure have also been removed including: Jameel Ahmed, the deputy governor of State Bank; Shamsul Hassan, the deputy governor of State Bank; M.S Vadiya Khalil, the chairperson of the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP); Dr Mohammad Saleem of CCP; and Shahzad Ansar of CCP.

Saudi refinery

Pending decision to participate in CPEC as third partner, Saudi Arabia has agreed in principle to set up a major refinery at Gwadar and showed serious commitment to make investments in other areas of energy sector. It was formally announced by Fawad Choudhry and another Federal Minister Ghulam Sarwar during the press conference.

The new development emerged amidst reports that Riyadh has not decided yet to be third investor in China Pakistan Economic Corridor and it has also been confirmed by Pakistan Government.  The two sides had agreed to set up an oil refinery at Gwadar the Federal Cabinet has approved the plan after discussing a summary in its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

It is learnt that the Saudi minister for energy was expected to visit Islamabad later this month for signing of the MoU. The visiting Saudi delegation was offered to participate in the $2bn North-South Gas Pipeline and bid for the upcoming 10 petroleum exploration blocks to be offered for auction soon. China, the major investor, is being taken on board on development.

The proposed 500,000 barrels per day refinery is estimated to be completed with an investment of about $8-9bn.

On the sidelines, Pakistan updated China about the progress on engagements with Saudi delegation.  An official said that Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing on Wednesday called on Minister for Planning and Development Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar who is also focal person on CPEC.

Mr Bakhtiar told the ambassador that development of refinery would be more important for Pakistan than Saudi Arabia because it would significantly reduce Islamabad’s oil import bill estimated for current year at $18bn. This would also ensure that Pakistan’s requirement for financial support from the International Monetary Fund is minimised.

The planning minister and the ambassador also finalised plans for creation of a new joint working group on social sector and upcoming visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Beijing to attend an industry conference with a business delegation. The two sides viewed it as an opportunity to reduce the China-Pakistan trade gap.

A statement issued by the petroleum division quoted the Saudi delegation as telling the minister that they had visited Gwadar site allocated for the purpose and would like the hosts to provide a suitable piece of land for the refinery.

A senior official who was part of the consultative process said the two sides shared a ‘wish list’ of around eight to nine items for Saudi investment and hoped three to four of those items would materialise over the next few months. “Our priority is to focus on smaller deliverable projects of $1-2bn each in the first phase before getting into mega projects,” he said.

University at PM House

Chaudhry disclosed that the preliminary framework of a “high-profile” university that the government intends to build in the Prime Minister House was presented during today’s cabinet meeting.

A cabinet group led by Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood has been formed to move the plan forward. The panel will also include Dr Shireen Mazari, Abdul Razzak Dawood, Dr Ishrat Hussain, the chairman of the Higher Education Commission and experts in the field.

Recalling the steps taken by the government to reduce the expenses of the Prime Minister House, the minister said 62 cars at the office had been auctioned off, earning the government Rs180 million in revenue. Rs2.3m had been earned by selling off eight buffaloes owned by the PM House, while the number of employees of the premier’s residence had been reduced from 528 to four of five. The rest of the employees have gone into the government pool and have not been removed from service, Chaudhry announced.

2,467 govt properties

Chaudhry announced that a total of 2,467 properties belonging to the federal government and the governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have been identified to be utilised for alternate purposes.

A task force led by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak has been formed to determine how the properties could be alternatively utilised, the minister said.

He revealed that the residence of a commissioner in Punjab is spread over 35 kanals on average, and that of a deputy commissioner is as large as 32 kanals.

“When the commissioners and their deputies live in 35 kanal houses in a country that is buried in Rs28 trillion in debts, how will we move forward about austerity?” the minister asked.

Separately, he announced that a delegation from the United Arab Emirates will arrive in Pakistan in coming days to sign various investment agreements.