LAHORE - Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has said internal and external challenges facing the country at present can by dealt with only through collective wisdom and concerted efforts.

Leaders of all political parties and stakeholders need to sit together and evolve a new agenda to safeguard national interests. The new national agenda should aim at protecting Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity as well as the interests of every citizen of Pakistan, the CM said this while speaking to the members of executive committee of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) who, led by its President Sarmad Ali, Senior Vice-President Mehtab Khan and Vice-President Rameeza Majid Nizami called on him here Tuesday.

Senator Pervaiz Rashid, Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and Secretary Information Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani were also present on the occasion.

The CM said that unless terrorism and extremism completely obliterate, country cannot make progress. He said that a unanimous national policy would have to be adopted to deal with the menace of terrorism and for promoting economic activities and overcome power crisis. He said that energy problem has caused an irreparable loss to the national economy in general and Punjab’s economy in particular. He said that due to unjustified loadshedding, Punjab has suffered a loss of Rs.300 billion to its economy in one year and of one billion dollars in exports.

He said that instead of hankering after rental power projects, had the rulers paid attention to generating energy through coal, bagasse and other economical means over the last four years, the country would not have immersed in darkness today.

The APNS President informed the Chief Minister about the problems being faced by national and regional newspapers. Felicitating the newly-elected members of the executive committee of APNS, Shahbaz Sharif said that the press is the fourth pillar of the state and the persons associated with this sector are playing an important role in highlighting social and economic issues. He also issued instructions for the payment of the outstanding dues of advertising agencies and newspapers by May 20 and assured that the problems faced by newspapers and journalists would also be resolved at the earliest. Referring to power crisis, the CM said that it is due to non-serious attitude as well as corruption and inept policies of the rulers. He said that Pakistan’s overall exports are of about $26 billion per annum whereas it has to spend a huge amount of $ 10 billion annually on the import of oil. He said that due to non-availability of electricity and corruption of the rulers, foreign investment in Pakistan has declined. He said that the circular debt of rental power plants has reached Rs 400 billion due to which international investors are reluctant to invest in Pakistan. He said that Punjab is the main target of loadshedding and is a victim of economic exploitation. He said that it was lamentable that the decisions of Energy Conference had not been implemented. He said that the ratio of line losses is extremely low in Punjab whereas its rate of payment of dues is upto 99.8 percent. Still, he said, a discriminatory treatment is being meted out to Punjab with regard to loadshedding of power. He said that for the purpose of unanimous approval of NFC Award, Punjab, under the spirit of national integrity, surrendered rs 11 billion of its share but a uniform policy on loadshedding is not being adopted in the country. He said that the same spirit of sacrifice is needed today to resolve all issues being confronted by the nation.

Responding to the queries of APNS members, the CM said that creation of new provinces is a serious issue which should be tackled with a national thinking. He said that PML-N is in favour of new provinces, however, a national commission should be formed to formulate recommendations on the creation of new provinces on administrative, geographical and political basis in the light of which further progress should be made. He said that restoration of Bahawalpur division as a province is different from the creation of new provinces. In reply to a question about Balochistan situation, he said that Balochistan is smouldering and appreciating the ground realities, Balochi brethren should be approached and every effort should be made to pacify them.

 Replying to another question, he said that the PML-N leadership decided one year ago to renounce such assistance of Aghyaar which compromises national sovereignty and honour. He said that the federal government would also have to take some tough decisions in the interest of national survival and solidarity and move forward by relying on indigenous resources. Responding to a question about the powers given to the provinces for energy generation, Shahbaz said that the Punjab government took this matter to the Council of Common Interests in May 2011 and the other provinces also supported it. He said that Punjab government also evolved projects of generation of energy from coal, bagasse and other resources but due to the hurdles created by the federal government no progress could be made. Responding to a query about the dues against the provinces to get rid of circular debt, Shahbaz said that if the corrupt rulers bring back their looted money and return the amounts plundered from banks and National Insurance Corporation Limited (NICL), Punjab will be the first to contribute its share for the payment of the dues. Replying to another question, he said that if Zardari tried to influence next general elections, the nation will not accept their results. He said that the rulers have created a number of problems for the people and there is anger and resentment in the masses. He said that under such a situation, the rulers can hardly expect to win elections through rigging. He said that he is against parochialism but it is fact that 700 MW power is being supplied to Karachi Electricity Supply Company from PEPCO. He said that in the first national Energy Conference it was decided that 300 MW electricity would be reduced from this supply and KESC will operate its power plants but it has not happened. On the other hand, he said, there are outstanding due of Rs.400 billion against KESC. He said that it is time to show sanity and for the political leadership to major decisions.

The executive committee thanked the Chief Minister for the immediate solution of the problems of newspaper industry.