PM TRACKER
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SHAUKAT ASSURES NSC TO BRING DOWN INFLATION RATE

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From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad

June 20 - 26, 2005
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Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz spent most of his time in the National Assembly and the Senate participating in the marathon discussions on the federal budget 2005-06, listing to critical speeches from the members of the opposite side of the table last week.

On the sidelines he, however, addressed a press conference as the current chairman of the SAARC to announce that the 13th Summit of the SAARC will be held on November 12-13 in Dhaka, while the standing and programming committees will be meeting from 9 to 11 November.

The much awaited meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was one of his significant preoccupations, where members apart from other items expressed concern over rising inflation. The meeting urged the Prime Minister to take effective measures to bring down the prices of essential commodities and provide some relief to the common man.

The Prime Minister assured the NSC that the government was fully cognizant of the issue and the inflation rate would be brought down to 5 percent during the coming financial year from 10 percent of the out going fiscal year.

Besides having a meeting with the Secretary General World Muslim League, the Prime Minister also held an important meeting with the Chief Minister NWFP in view of the threatening stand of the provincial government that they were finding it difficult to make next year's budget without enhanced financial resources under the proposed 6th NFC award or substantial special grant from the federal government.

Members of the National Assembly and the Senators belonging to the opposition as well as some from the ruling party including former Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali blasted the budget terming it pro-rich, pro-business, elite-oriented, and not pro-poor as claimed by the government during the five-day budget session.

"It will make rich richer and poor poorer. Majority of the people were already suffering from the tortures of unemployment and rising prices of essential commodities.

The opposition members also criticized what they called the delay in the announcement of the NFC award, accusing the government of creating a sense of deprivation among smaller provinces by avoiding announcement of distribution of resources according to the constitution.

Describing the salary increase for government servants as too little the opposition members resented exemption of tax on the real state business. Some saw a hidden hand which forced the government to withdraw this proposed tax in the budget".

"Which was the secret hand and how did it work and influenced the draft speech of the Minister of State for Finance," they questioned the government to which no reply has come so far.

Immediately after the meeting of the NSC, in which the Prime Minister was directed to take some immediate measures to bring down the prices of essential food items, Shaukat Aziz announced sale of wheat flour at Rs. 11.50 per kg. through utility stores. Briefing newsmen after presiding over Price Control Committee in Islamabad, Aziz said Utility Stores Corporation has also been allowed to add more mobile vans for supply of Atta to the areas not covered by its outlets.

Prime Minister said there was absolutely no justification for increasing flour prices especially when the country is expected to produce more than 21.6 million tons of wheat this year. The federal government and provinces have already procured 4.2 million tons of the commodity.

The federal government would release wheat from its stocks to the flour mills for distribution of Atta through utility stores at reduced prices, the PM said and added, the provinces have also been asked to ensure liberal supplies from their stocks and the federal government would meet their shortages if any.

Shaukat Aziz pointed out that the prices were rising because of our deficient agriculture marketing system. It has been decided to allow two international chains of wholesale companies - Macros and Matros - to establish their stores in Pakistan for distribution of agricultural products locally as well as arrange their export.

 

 

He was confident that with the elimination of middle man, the consumer would not only get agricultural products on reasonable rates but the quality would also be maintained. Similarly the government is contemplating opening of more than one fruit and vegetable markets to forestall against the possibility of cartels manipulating the demand and supply in the prices.

The meeting also decided to launch a comprehensive program to bring about a white revolution in the country. PM said in view of the fact that Pakistan stands at number six in the world in respect of milk production; it has been decided to establish dairy farms through public private partnership.

In the fist phase, hundred model farms would be set up by the end of 2006. The government would provide technical assistance and subsidy on equipment for the purpose.

Under the package, farmers would be provided soft loans for live stock farming.

He said during President Pervez Musharraf's visit to Australia and New Zealand Pakistan would be seeking technical assistance from these countries for improvement of agricultural and dairy sector. Pakistan will ask these countries to invest in agro and meat processing and dairy sectors as the government has already allowed duty-free import of machinery for these sectors.

During his meeting with NWFP Chief Minister Mohammad Akram Durrani, the Prime Minster assured him that his government will provide all necessary funds for speedy development of the province. Durrani, before going to meet the PM, had indicated that he needed at least Rs 14 billion for the province to enable it to present a meaningful budget otherwise he will not be able to spare funds for development program and raise salaries of public sector employees.

While talking to Muslim World League delegation led by Dr. Abdullah Ibu Abdul Mohsin Al Turky, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that the Muslim Ummah has to unite and work hard with determination to project Islam in its true spirit. "Islam is a complete code of life and we need to seek guidance from the Holy Quraan to resolve all our issues," Aziz said. Islam is a religion of peace, harmony and understanding but unfortunately, the Prime Minister noted, Islam is misunderstood in the world. "We need to work collectively as an Ummah to remove misunderstandings about Islam and project its true image," the PM emphasized.

Today's world is global world where all faiths have to learn to live with peace, harmony and tolerance, he said. Islam abhors extremism or violence. However, the world community should also look towards the root causes that lead to such extreme behaviors, he said. "Inshallah, we will work together with the Muslim Ummah and Muslim organizations like yours, to raise the flag of Islam higher with hard work and determination," the PM added.

The PM said that the Muslim countries have a lot of resources and strength and have the capacity to meet all challenges. "We must not miss any opportunity in projecting our views at international forums and interact with political leaders, opinion leaders, and the intellectuals will be visiting international universities to present the true image of Islam and remove misconception about Islam.

"We have to recognize our shortcomings and that we have not done enough for the purpose. What we need is unity and understanding and plan for the world of today and tomorrow as well as learning from the past," the premier observed.

The delegation thanked the government for the hospitality extended to it and said that they fully support Pakistan and believe that Pakistan can play a leading role in resolving various issues and challenges confronting the Muslim Ummah. The delegation informed the Prime Minster that they had very useful discussions with Pakistani officials and intellectuals on various issues.

Announcing the new dates for 6th SAARC Summit, Mr. Shaukat Aziz said the Summit in Dhaka will build on in the various initiatives launched during the highly successful 12th Summit in Islamabad in January 2004 and review progress in SAFTA, the SAARC Social Charter and SAARC development goals for poverty alleviation, education, health and environment.

In addition, the leaders of SAARC member states would also discuss ways and means to give further impetus to the SAARC process and make the organization more effective as it enters the 3rd decade since its inception. The Prime Minister said Pakistan believes that regional cooperation is an important vehicle for faster economic growth and development. It attaches high priority to the effective functioning of the SAARC to promote greater cooperation in diverse fields and look forward to meeting South Asian partners for a constructive and fruitful Summit in Dhaka in November.

Commenting on the rumors about his resignation which caused a mini crash at the Karachi Stock Exchange, the Prime Minister said that he had directed to hold an inquiry to probe the source and purpose of spreading rumors. "You should dismiss rumors of my resignation and move on, Aziz said in a press conference at his National Assembly chamber. He had already ordered an enquiry into the whole episode. "I have asked the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and other agencies to investigate the whole affair and report back," he said.