KARACHI - The federal govt is fully cognizant of its constitutional obligations towards the provincial governments, and when and where required it has and would extend the needed support, said Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in an interview with the state-run television on Friday.
Dar said it was only very recently that advance payments were made to the Sindh government to facilitate in meeting the routine expenditure and that if requested all assistance would also be provided to the provincial government in its efforts towards revival of economic activity in Karachi.
In reply to a question, the minister said be it the issue of economic revival or law and order situation or curtailment of electricity loadshedding, Karachi under all conditions was among top priorities of the federal government.
“Any assistance sought by the Sindh government would be extended while remaining within the constitutional ambit,” reiterated the minister.
He clarified that there was absolutely no hitch, under the 18th amendment to the Constitution vis-a-vis addressing the matters related to Karachi, that also happened to be the financial hub of the country. “Restoration of peace is also among the top agenda of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,” said Dar and reminded of the recent statement of the premier that all proposals for solving the problems faced by Karachi would be sincerely looked into.
He also referred to formation of a cabinet committee on National Security; replaced by Defence Committee, with due representation of all the provincial governments to address the issue of law and order.
In reply to another question, the minister said transparency, good governance and zero tolerance to corruption were among the top priorities of the PML-N government. He said the PML-N was committed to implementation of its manifesto presented during the May general elections. “We did come across certain obstacles including those related to court decisions and hence had to review our initial approach,” he said in reply to another query.
“Unfortunately there is an extreme dearth of honest individuals. Yet, we have made every effort to assign top positions to professionals of immaculate and honest reputation in institutions and organizations, including the Federal Board of Revenue,” said Dar.
He negated the impression being created about government’s inability to broaden the tax net mentioning that the government had come forward with a pragmatic approach to address the issues of fiscal deficit that was registered to be above eight percent, public debt no less than 63.5 per cent of GDP, and 14 per cent investment (that is the lowest in region and should have been at least 20 per cent). “We are in process to reduce our public debt by two percent every year during the next three years bringing the 63.5 per cent debt to 61.5 per cent this year and to 59 per cent next year and 57 per cent in the following year,” he said.
The minister said meaningful and realistic approach had also been adopted to restore confidence of the investors, and claimed that recent signing of agreement with International Monetary Fund IMF was a major step towards the goal. “Micro-economic indicators have also to be improved,” he said in reply to another question.
About increase in electricity cost for domestic consumers, the minister said no change had been made in the rates for those using 200 or less units and this category of power users constituted 67 per cent to 68 per cent of the domestic category.
“In a nutshell the government is paying a subsidy of Rs200billion to these consumers each month and yet, despite a huge gap is bearing it,” claimed the minister.
To a query about wide range of massive development projects being launched in the country, amid immense resource constraints and government efforts towards financial disciplining, Dar said employment opportunities and resource generation were equally important. He also referred to allocation of additional amount to schemes related to income support and micro-financing.
About the federal government decision to import coal for running coal-based power generators in a scenario when much projection was being made of Thar Coal Power Project, he said the coal was not of good quality and could be more expensive compared to the imported coal.
To a question about revival of sick industries and organisations such as Pakistan Steel Mills and that government was losing a net Rs500million in retention, Dar agreed that there was need to revisit legislation and adoption of a pragmatic approach without any political consideration, that is its impact on any party’s vote bank.
“We, however, are not insensitive to the plight of workers of PSM who could not get their salaries during past few months and urgent steps are being taken to ensure release of their salary,” he added.
PIA only, the minister said, was losing Rs3.3billion per month due to overstaffing and unrealistic flight routes in a situation, when out of its fleet of 34 airplanes 21 were operational.
Answering a questioner about granting of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, Dar said this was not yet on the table as the country’s own interests had to be defended first.
The minister said the government was fully committed to promoting cordial relations with all the neighbouring countries, including India, and this was particularly meant to develop a meaningful economic cooperation and trade development.