Cabinet had decided to give certain relief to the commonman


Dec 16 - 22, 2002

The newly inducted civilian government under Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali PML(Q) held its first cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday expressing deep concern over the rising cost of utilities and drugs which had added to the miseries of the commonman. Announcing a cut of 12 paisa per unit in the electricity charges, the newly appointed information Minister, Sheikh Rashid told newsmen that the cabinet had decided to give certain relief to the commonman by reducing the prices of essential utilities like power, gas ghee, sugar, flour etc. and reduction in the electricity charges was just a beginning in that direction.

A past-master in the art of playing to the gallery, Sheikh Rashid of Rawalpindi fame who was briefing the newsmen after the first cabinet meeting of the fragile government of the king party however did not disclose, until pointedly asked that the cabinet chaired by Jamali has also decided to allocate Rs.5 million worth of development funds for every member of the parliament for work to be under taken in his or her constituency during the remaining six month of the current financial year. The amount will be raised to 10 million for each member from next financial year.

Districts Nazims (chief) under devolution plan were originally responsible for developmental work of their respective areas and law-makers were supposed to largely confine their policy inputs in law making and broad national strategy formation. The legal experts are of the opinion that the cabinet decision has virtually descended law markers to the role of district councilors as they would be now more indulge themselves in petty developmental work in stead of contributing to the mainstream policy making and legislation.

A comprehensive plan to cut drug prices could be discussed in the next cabinet meeting, Sheikh Rashid said adding that "We have already talked to pharmaceutical companies and prices of over 20 medicines of common use will be reduced soon while the full package will be presented by the Health Ministry in due course.

A statement outlining cabinet decision said support price of wheat would be maintained at the current level until a detailed mechanism to bring down price of flour.

In future support price of all crops would be announced two months ahead of the sowing session and Ministers of Agriculture, Industries, Production and Finance would furnish recommendations within one month to bring down prices of agricultural inputs as incentives to farmers to increase agricultural acreage through decreased cost of farming for which a package of incentive would be evolved, the statement concluded.

The 12 paisa per unit reduction in power tariffs would have a little impact on the general consumers as the relief is less then five per cent in any way and even lesser in case of commercial electricity consumption.

The reduction will be 1.7 per cent on the first one hundred units in case of commercial power consumption and the percentage would continue to fall with increase in the number of units used. When contacted, the relevant circles informed that the one hundred units user in domestic sector would have relief of just Rs.12 with 4.83 per cent reduction in electricity charges. "There will be relief of Rs.24 and Rs.36 for those utilising 200 and 300 units respectively but with just 3.5 and 2.11 per cent decrease in the charges what they were earlier paying," the sources maintained.

It is observed that a domestic consumer consuming 450 units in a month and paying nearly Rs.1,800, would merely have a relief of Rs.54 and thus would be now paying Rs.1,746 with a reduction of 3 per cent.

While addressing the editors and senior columnists, the Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali said that to provide some relief to the commonman was on the top priority of his agenda. The power tariff cut is merely the first step. This measure is across the board, but in future the less privileged would be given more attention". He said that after electricity, the cabinet would address other areas where the consumer was feeling pressure, and hopefully would be able to give some relief. Answering a question, he said that he would like to have given greater relief to the consumers, but after consultations with WAPDA, NEPRA and the Water & Power and Finance Ministries, the cut of 12 paisas per unit was the most possible at the moment. He also said that his government was also working on prices of other items and on price control mechanisms.

Responding to another question about the military's role in running WAPDA, he said that as a former Water and Power Minister he had an idea of where the tariff could be reduced. He added that he was going to visit KESC personally, to find out what had gone wrong with a once-profitable institution. He said that good governance was needed to turn them around.

Answering questions on foreign policy, he said he and his Cabinet had not appreciated the Indian attitude which had led to the postponement of the SAARC summit. He said that it had been thought that India might changes its attitude with the switch from a military to an elected government but it seemed that India's dispute was with Pakistani very name. However, he said, the government would see how things developed, and hoped for improvement.

Asked about the Iraq situation, he said that the government was monitoring it, but noted that if there was an attack, "no one will ask you or me first," however, he stressed that if anything happened he would like to ensure that the government and the nation stood together.

As for the role of the army, he said all citizens of Pakistan were equal, whether in uniform in suits or in shalwar-kurta like himself. He said all were equal partners with a role to play defined by the constitution, and so long as everyone remained within those limits, there would be no difficulty.

Asked about ending corruption, he said first self-constraints was needed at the top to set the trend, and it had to be recognised that corruption could only be minimized, not ended. He also noted that a major problem was that it had become difficult to get ones due rights. Therefore, corruption could be minimized by ensuring that wrong was not done, and that the right was not delayed or stopped.

Asked about the continuity of policies, he said that continuity is the name of the game, and basic polices had to remain stable, and be changed only when circumstances made it essential. He said that unlike the past, his government would commit only what it could deliver, and instead of making 10 promises and fulfilling none, would make only two or three, and deliver.