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Last updated: Friday 23 Dec, 2005-12.30 P.M (PST)

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KARACHI         - 021 LAHORE          - 042 ISLAMABAD    - 051 FAISALABAD   - 041 MULTAN          - 061 PESHAWAR    - 0521 CANADA          - 1 KUWAIT           - 965 INDIA               - 91 IRAN                - 98 U.K                   - 44 U.A.E                - 971 U.S.A                - 1

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  PM TRACKER

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Islamabad
Dec 26 - Jan 01, 2006

SHAUKAT PRESIDES HISTORIC ECNEC MEETING

Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz presided over a historic meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) which approved 30 development projects worth Rs. 183 billion, which include a foreign exchange component worth Rs 91 billion. This is an all time high sanction earmarked for development expenditures of this magnitude in one sitting of the ECNEC last week.

The projects approved included 25 new (and 5 ongoing) projects with focus on the development of infrastructure, physical planning and housing, transport and communication sectors. A day earlier the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) had approved 12 projects involving a total expenditure of about Rs. 48 billion mainly pertaining to education and health sector.

The Prime Minister, during the week, also visited Sindh and Punjab and Azad Kashmir, besides having meetings with the President and PML party chief Ch. Shujaat Hussain, Sindh Chief Minster and Governor and discussed the issue of water reservoirs. He also had an important meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minster, besides meeting Princes Salima Agha Khan and Dutch Minister for State and thanked them for their help in rehabilitation and reconstruction of quake affected areas. He also approved the plan for privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills, besides addressing the Overseas Investment Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Karachi.

After the ECNEC meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Dr. Muhammad Akram Shaikh, flanked by Secretary Planning Humayun Farshori, briefed the newsmen about the decisions of the meeting. He informed that the 25 new projects have been approved at a cost of Rs. 157.3 billion including a foreign component of Rs. 87.8 billion. Besides, five old projects were approved with a revised cost of Rs. 26.3 billion, which also included a foreign component of Rs. 3.3 billion, he added.

The ECNEC also decided to make the disclosure clause as essential part of all future procurement contracts for the supply of goods and services at federal and provincial levels. This decision would not only ensure transparency in procurement process, but will also help reveal the real income of sellers and suppliers to the Central Board of Revenue for tax purposes, he told newsmen.

Dr. Akram Shaikh further informed that the ECNEC also gave a formal approval to a Rs. 1.7 billion pilot project of the Prime Minster's Initiative for Livestock. The project would be for the whole of Pakistan including Azad Kashmir, Northern Areas and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), he added. He said, livestock is an important sector of our economy, specially milk, which in terms of value is considered as more important than wheat. Pakistan is the fifth largest milk producing country in the world, which is a regular income item, and the development and growth of this rector will have impact on poverty alleviation, he added.

At a high level meeting held at the President House chaired by President Musharraf, the Prime Minister was asked to take all political parties into confidence about the bigger water reservoirs including Kalabagh dam through an in-camera detailed briefing on all aspects of the Kalabagh dam. The President also urged all federal ministers, provincial ministers and elected members of the ruling alliance to muster support for mega dams as their prime national duty. President also agreed to have a debate in both the houses of the parliament on water reservoirs while the meeting also decided to make public the reports of technical committee and water committee of the parliament.

Addressing the meeting, President once again underscored the need of constructing at least three bid dams by the year 2010. He cautioned the opponents not to play petty politics over highly critical and technical issue of Kalabagh dam. He said if work on three dams is not initiated the country would plunge into deep economic crisis including draught like situation in the next decade. The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Chief Minister Punjab Ch. Pervaiz Ellahi, the rebellious CM Sindh Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim, PML Chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, PML Secretary General Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed, Investment Minsiter Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, and MNA Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari.

Addressing a delegation of Overseas Investment Chamber of Commerce & Industry including the members of American Business Council at Governor House Karachi, the Prime Minister called upon the foreign investors, businessmen, industrialists and entrepreneurs to avail themselves of the tremendous opportunities of investment in Pakistan, created in the wake of rapidly growing middle class and the enabling environment provided by the government. "Pakistan of today is the Pakistan of opportunity, hope and promise" and it is a country on the rise, he said adding, "With the right kind of business environment, consistency, continuity and transparency of policies, the prospective investors will find themselves well placed to grow and prosper".

The Prime Minster said the country this year was expecting foreign direct investment to the tune of US$2-3 billion. A stable exchange rate, low inflation, strategic location and availability of inexpensive but hard working labour make Pakistan a country suited ideally for investment. He said that the process of reforms, which lies at the core of our economic turn-around, would continue. "We are constantly reviewing and improving our policies in line with that of our philosophy to restrict the government's role to a facilitator and enabler only, for promoting business activities all over the country", he said and added, "we are committed to promote investment and provide a level playing field to all investors local as well as foreign.

Talking to the delegation of bankers who called on him at Governor House Karachi, Prime Minster stressed upon bankers to be more innovative and lay focus on the under served areas, i.e. SMEs, agriculture and consumer. He said the banking sector performance has significantly improved during the last six years. He also asked them to benchmark to international practices and focus more on product portfolios, corporate financing, asset management, leveraging distribution, human capital development, etc. "Global paradigm is changing. Innovate accordingly; focus on under served areas and on setting up of call centers and processing centers to bring more development; and for creating job opportunities here," the Prime Minister said. He asked them to outsource processing, so that a critical mass of processing silos can be established. In a wakeup call to bankers, the prime minister asked them to come out of comfort zone.

The delegation apprised the Prime Minister of reforms undertaken in their respective banks. They said reforms introduced by the government; continuity and consistency of policies and the process of de regulations, privatisation, and liberalization have brought significant improvement in the banking sector.

Speaking at the inaugural session of the 17th Biennical Congress of Pakistan Cardiac Society (PCS), the Prime Minister called upon the philanthropists as well as private sector to extend substantial assistance towards establishment and proper running of health care infrastructure in rural parts of the country. Appreciating the assistance offered by local philanthropists and private sector in strengthening urban-based health facilities, he said this needed to be replicated in rural sector, comprising 60 percent of the country's total population. He stressed that the government was fully conscious of its responsibility towards providing healthcare. "Sticking to our commitment we have raised the health budget of Rs. 19 billion in 2000-01 to Rs. 33 billion in the current fiscal year," the Prime Minster said, adding that substantial increase would be made in the coming years, too.

Acknowledging significance of the submissions forwarded by senior cardiologists attending the Congress, Shaukat Aziz announced that the government will provide maximum possible funding along with land for construction of "Heart House", in Karachi. Reiterating the government's keenness to improve the living standard of all people of Pakistan without distinction, the Prime Minster said that a series of measures are underway to achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs) adopted by the UN.

The Prime Minister said Pakistan is pleased and satisfied with the response of international community to the Oct 8 tragedy, which had struck the country in the form of earthquake. The prime minister said the world has stood by Pakistan, which is a sign of their confidence in the credibility and transparent procedures adopted by the government. He was talking to Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Agnes Van Ardenne and Irish Minster of State for Development Cooperation Conor Lenihan, who called on him at the Prime Minster's House. The two ministers expressed sympathy and support over the loss of life and property as a result of earthquake of October 8.

The prime minister briefed the visiting ministers on the ongoing reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in the earthquake affected areas. Shaukat Aziz said the entire work is being done by the civil administration, Army and elected representatives with close coordination. He said NGOs have also been contributing in government's relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. The prime minister said the government was focusing on evolving transparent methods for funds collection and utilization. He said the government has laid down a procedure for double audits and constituted a committee comprising people from different sections of society for monitoring.

After his meeting with Pir of Pagara at Kingri House Karachi, the Prime Minster said that the need for water reservoirs cannot be overlooked for the progress and development of agriculture sector which encompasses two third of the country's overall economy. The agriculture sector will progress only when abundant water resources are available in the country to cater to the growing water requirements of this sector.

The Premier said construction of water reservoirs also came under discussion during meeting with Pir Pagara who told him that whatever is in the country's interest must be undertaken. Emphasizing that every province and growers should get their due share of water, the Prime Minister said everyone would be taken along for the construction of water reservoirs which will bring great progress in the country in future. Presently, he said, huge quantity of water is lost when it flows into the sea and not saved for our needs.

When asked about Kalabagh dam, Shaukat Aziz said the construction of water reservoirs in general, was discussed with Pir Pagara who expressed his support to the government. He said Pir Pagara suggested a debate on the issue of construction of new dams and appreciated the government's decision to make public the reports of parliamentary technical committee as well as report on the study of water downstream Kotri. He said highlights of these reports would also be published in Urdu, Sindhi and English languages. He said decision on the construction of new dams will be taken after taking the people into confidence. The government, at present, is focusing on constructing water reservoirs to meet the country's growing water requirement over the next 20-25 years.

Talking to Young Global Leaders delegation at the PM House, the Prime Minster said that Pakistan was in the midst of an economic upturn owing to its wide ranging structural reforms, prudent macro economic policies, fiscal discipline and consistency and continuity in policies. The country has a sense of direction, political stability, an active parliament and vociferous press. "We want peace with all neighbours, which is critical for sustainable peace in region," the Prime Minster said.

He said the government's policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatisation coupled with transparency have increased investors' confidence and investments were highest in the history of Pakistan. He said last year the real GDP grew by 8.4 percent and this was the third year in a row when Pakistan achieved strong GDP growth. The growth was board based and sub sectors recorded strong growth particularly in large-scale manufacturing, agriculture and the services sector. He said Pakistan emerged as a second fastest growing economy of Asia after China after 2004-05. The government has been pushing the reforms agenda relentlessly with passion, he added. Referring to expansion in the telecom sector, the Prime Minster said Pakistan is the second highest in Asia. Pakistan has 19 million cellular phone customers. Tele density is 17 percent and the coverage is increasing a million a month.

During his meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, Shaukat Aziz reiterated that Pakistan would continue to advocate the legitimate rights that Tehran enjoys as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). He also told him that it would continue to fully support the Iran-European Union (EU) dialogue, hoping for its early resumption so that Iran's nuclear issue could be settled within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Prime Minister said there was a great potential for stronger economic and trade ties between Pakistan and Iran and both countries were committed to further strengthen these relations. Owing to the vast opportunities available in Pakistan, he said there was a vast scope for Iranian investments and joint ventures. This would benefit both the countries and the two peoples would gain from increased economic activity. He referred to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project and described it as an excellent example of regional cooperation creating win-win situation for all.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has stressed the need for urgent psychological counseling of the children traumatized by the horrific earthquake of October 8, which killed over 80,000 people. "If not treated at early stages, it can have an impact that can last for life," he said while talking to volunteers providing counseling services to children at the H-11 relief camp.

The Prime Minister who visited the camp to meet children from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and NWFP studying at the recently set up schools in the tent village, said the government has constituted a special task force to deal with the psychological impact of the earthquake. He said volunteers were required for helping the children, who have lost their parents, loved ones and homes, to lead normal lives again. Talking to newsmen after visiting schools of tent village in Islamabad, he said the government intends to speed up rehabilitation and reconstruction activities with the cooperation of people and international community so that the affectees could go back to their homes in the minimum possible time.

The Prime Minister appreciated unprecedented spirit of unity and harmony of the people of Pakistan and generous support of international community for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. He described the appointment of former US President Bush Senior as special envoy of the UN Secretary General for earthquake relief as a good step and expressed the confidence that he would expedite fund raising activities for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

The Prime Minister also approved the Ministry of Industries and Production (MoI&P) and Privatisation Commission's report of Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation (PSMC) land controversy and directed finalization of its sell-off plan within the stipulated period. The Privatisation Commission is targeting the deadline of January 15, 2006 for PSMC sell-off. The Privatisation Commission prepared PSMC sell-off plan on fast track basis and invited expressions of interest (EOIs) from interested parties. The investors showed great interest for procurement of this prime industrial unit. This was an encouraging indication for those who are pushing forward the privatisation programme.

 
 

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