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  PM TRACKER

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Islamabad
Nov 21 - 27, 2005

AZIZ REMAINS BUSY IN RELIEF AFFAIRS, OPENS SARRC SUMMIT

Prime Minster Shaukat Aziz remained busy in supervising relief, rescue and rehabilitation operations for the earthquake victims including visits to affected areas in Azad Kashmir and NWFP.

The 13th SAARC Conference held in Dacca was the event of the week which the PM inaugurated as the current Chairman of the organization. While flying to Dacca he told the accompanying newsmen that the two-day summit was highly important for Pakistan as the country attaches utmost importance to the regional prosperity and economic growth. Unfortunately, the SAARC region despite having enormous economic potential is known for its poverty and growing population, he said and hoped that "the association would deliver and come up to the expectations of the people of the region".

Earlier the federal government decided to earmark Rs. 20 billion as compensation to mitigate the sufferings of earthquake victims in NWFP and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The decision was taken at a top level meeting chaired by President General Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and senior officials assigned the relief task in the quake-hit zone attended the meeting. The amount will be distributed as Rs 25,000 for each affected house, Rs 100,000 for families, which lost their member/members and Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 for each injured. A portion of the amount has already been released to the NWFP and Azad Kashmir governments.

The President and the Prime Minister took the decision in the light of their visits to the quake-ravaged areas and their interaction with the survivors and briefings by concerned authorities assisting in relief work. Prime Minister Aziz directed the governments of NWFP and Azad Kashmir to expedite the disbursement of money among the survivors and ensure transparency in the entire process.

The Prime Minister chaired a meeting of Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA) Council to review relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction work and approved reconstruction plan prepared by the Authority headed by Lt. Gen. Muhammad Zubair. AJK Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat, NWFP Chief Minister Akram Durrani, federal ministers, Chairman National Relief Commission Lt. Gen Farooq and ERRA Chairman Lt. Gen Muhammad Zubair, also attended the meeting.

Prime Minister said substantive part of payments to the legal heirs of those who lost their lives in October 8 earthquake would be made by November 30. Talking to newsmen at the Prime Minster House after presiding over different meetings to review relief and rehabilitation work in the quake-hit areas, the PM said all those who were affected and those who lost their relatives would be given cash compensation by the end of this year. In reply to a question he said that in the first round at least one heir of deceased persons would get cash compensation and added that in the next round all families would get compensation for their relatives who lost their lives in the earthquake.

Shaukat Aziz said a meeting of parliamentary leaders of all political parties in the National Assembly would be held next week to review and discuss relief and reconstruction work being carried out by the government. He said he offered to constitute "parliamentary committee" while addressing the National Assembly recently and now it had been decided he would convene the first meeting of the committee next week to take parliamentarians into confidence on relief and rehabilitation work being done in quake hit areas.

The Prime Minister said the government, United Nations, World Bank and other international organizations were doing the assessment, and the preliminary assessments were discussed at a meeting at the Prime Minister House. Final assessments would be provided to all participants of international donors conference scheduled for November 19. President General Pervez Musharraf, Secretary General United Nations and heads of international donors' agencies and delegates of participating countries would address the conference while he would present the welcome address, the PM added.

During the National Assembly session Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz held an informal meeting with opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman and President Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal Qazi Hussain Ahmad. Soon after adjournment of the session Shaukat Aziz met parliamentary leader of Pakistan People's Party Makhdoom Amin Fahim. During the meetings the opposition leaders were invited to a formal meeting to discuss rehabilitation process of quake devastated areas of the country. No formal date was decided for the proposed meeting. However, Prime Minister told the opposition leaders it was likely after his return from SAARC summit in Bangladesh.

At a meeting with the minister and high officials of Ministry of Housing and Works and the CDA, the Prime Minister directed the Housing and Works Ministry to submit revised building codes draft within one month to ensure quake-proof buildings. An experts committee headed by Nespak has been assigned the job. The Prime Minister said the government had no plan to ban the construction of multistoried buildings, however, he asked the CDA to improve enforcement of laws and improve its inspection and supervision mechanism to clamp a check on faulty and substandard constructions.

He directed the CDA to improve its system of checking of construction material, building designs, etc. The Prime Minister also directed the organization to hire professionally sound lawyers to ensure enforcement of laws. Aziz asked the CDA chairman to follow more interactive policy and continuously disseminate information to public about buildings and housing societies that do not fulfill the CDA requirements, enabling public to make correct decisions. The CDA Chairman submitted a proposal for the rehabilitation of slum dwellers in Zone IV of the capital. After intensive discussion, it was decided that the plan would be submitted and discussed in the cabinet meeting. The development of a modern slum near Kurri village was proposed by an NGO namely ACD.

In an interview to BBC, the Prime Minister said there was no shortage of food in the quake affected areas as the government and the people of Pakistan would never let anyone die due to hunger. Replying to question in BBC Programme, "Talking Point" broadcast live, the Prime minister said the government had also made extensive arrangements so that every affected person is provided winterized tent to protect them from harsh winters.

The Prime Minister said despite scattered population and other problems, there will be no shortage of food. He said supply of tents has been increased and out of 30,000 tents from Saudi Arabia 10,000 have reached Pakistan. He said coordination for relief goods distribution has been improved. He said entire world extended help to Pakistan in its relief and rehabilitation efforts but there was still a long way to cover the whole lot of earthquake affectees.

Talking to newsmen while leaving for Dacca on Friday to inaugurate the 13th Saarc Summit, the Prime Minister said it was our responsibility to transform pledges of funds for earthquake relief by donor countries into actual cash. His statement clarifies a debate in the country, which focuses on why pledges worth more than $2 billion have only led to a cash flow of not more than $ 500 million. The United Nations has been harshly critical of the amount of cash coming in for the rescue, relief and rehabilitation of earthquake victims. The top Pakistani leadership has also expressed dissatisfaction over the assistance pledged and received so far. The prime minister said it was important to understand how countries budgeted their disaster relief operations. He said the financial amount of relief pledged by a country did not necessarily have to be in cash, it could be in the shape of goods or services.

The prime minister also said that the seismic survey by Turkish experts was underway in quake-affected areas. He said the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had told him during his telephonic conversation that he had ordered more equipment and machinery to be sent to Pakistan to expedite the seismic survey. He said the government would take some decisions about reconstruction on the basis of the final results of this survey. Aziz also disclosed that the reconstruction may take 3-5 years depending on enough money being mobilized through internal and external sources.

Addressing the 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka on Saturday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the association has to be enabled to deliver on the promise of its charter. He called for making the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation a goal-oriented, dynamic and pragmatic organization, focusing on the implementation of its decisions and translating into tangible terms the worth and value for the regional enterprise.

In this perspective, he suggested that SAARC may set for itself the following broad priorities:

* Expansion and intensification of economic and commercial cooperation.

* Promoting cooperation in the field of energy.

* Cooperation for environmental protection and sustainable development with particular focus on conservation and management of water and natural resources.

* Cooperation for joint projects to alleviate poverty and promote health, education and agriculture.

In this context our proposal of a SAARC Poverty Alleviation Fund of $300 million has been welcomed.

* Improvement of infrastructure, especially, region-wide transportation and communication links.

* Greater Cooperation and Coordination in the monetary and fiscal policies of SAARC member states. Pakistan is ready to host the next meeting of finance ministers before the end of the year.

* Strengthening of the SAARC Secretariat.

Referring to the SAARC's Social Charter, approved in the 12th summit held in Islamabad, the Prime Minister said it would provide a clear vision for the socio-cultural development of South Asia. He said implementation of its objectives in priority areas, including health, education, human development, poverty alleviation, empowerment of women and protection of children, would have far reaching impact on the lives of the peoples.

Shaukat Aziz said Pakistan took the lead in setting up of a National Coordination Committee to prepare a National Strategy and Action Plan to implement the Charter and launched its National Plan of Action last September.

On the sidelines of SAARC Summit the Prime Minister availed the opportunity to meet all the heads of the state or government of member states participating in the summit besides calling on the Prime Minister of the host country, Bangladesh, and supported the idea of expanding the SAARC by including Afghanistan and China as members. However, China was included as an observer while Afghanistan was inducted as a full member.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had a long meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed the ongoing peace process between the two countries and the recent opening of crossing points on the Line of Control (LoC) to facilitate the Kashmiri people living on either side share their grief and help each other in the relief and reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of October 8 earthquake.

Indian Prime Minister told Shaukat Aziz that his country supported the opening of crossing points on the Loc. He also assured that India wanted the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project to proceed and progress. The Prime Minister also thanked him for the Indian assistance for the quake stricken people. The two leaders reviewed the ongoing peace process between the two countries, whose third round would begin from January 2006 to discuss various issues including Sir Creek, Siachen and arrest of fishermen etc.

Prime Minister Aziz said Pakistan desires resolution of Kashmir dispute in line with the wishes of the Kashmiri people and, added, it would help improve ties between the two countries. He told his Indian counterpart that Pakistan believed in free trade but added, the same was not possible with India unless there was a progress on the decades old Kashmir issue. The Prime Minister reiterated that progress in economic relations should be in tandem with the progress on the Kashmir dispute. In the context of restricted trade, Prime Minister Aziz told him that some Pakistani traders complained about non-tariff barriers they faced in India, to which the Indian Premier assured him that he would look into it.

Briefing newsmen on the return flight from the 13th SAARC summit, the Prime Minister described the Dhaka Summit as historic. He said for the first time since SAARC's creation, a new member is being inducted into the body. "We are proud that the desire from Afghanistan was received on our watch. Secondly, giving observer status to the Asian economic giants-China and Japan (who are not members of Asean, but have the observer status) is a very important development."

 
 

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