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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday advised the nation to pray at home during the Ramazan and warned that if the coronavirus spread in a mosque, then it would be closed.
He was expressing these views while chairing a high level meeting here which discussed the coronavirus situation and the related matters.
Imran said like Pakistan, other Islamic countries had also asked their public to stay and pray at home. He said the lockdown restrictions would further relax gradually. “We are trying our best to ease difficulties being faced by the people during these difficult times,” he said.
“In an independent society we cannot stop people from going to mosques,” said the premier. The PM said the government has formed a strategy through consultation with Ulema for congregational prayers in Ramazan so that Muslims can say prayers in mosques. “But I will urge people to offer prayers at their homes,” he suggested.
“If the virus spreads, we will have no other option but to impose a ban on congregational prayers,” he explained. He maintained that 20 points had been agreed upon after a meeting of religious scholars with President Dr. Arif Alvi and the Ulema had agreed to abide by those points during the Ramazan.
“And if the virus spread due to violation of the safety precautions, then the mosques would have to be shut down, which none wanted. Earlier, he launched the Ehsaas Ration Portal to provide food to the families affected by the virus. Data on the deserving families would be collected and the process would be made transparent.
Imran said decisions about opening various sectors were being taken in mutual consultation with the provinces. He said first the cement industry and then the construction sector was opened after handing SOPs over to them to prevent the spread of the virus.
With the passage of time, he said the lockdown would be eased and more facilitation made for people in consultation with the provinces. He contended that questions were being raised by some sections that while the mosques were closed in other Islamic countries, why these had been opened in Pakistan.
“We are a free nation. It sounded bad to me when I saw police beating violators of the lockdown with batons. People have tendency for going to mosques for prayers during Ramazan. Should they be stopped by use of force?” he asked.
The prime minister continued that the police could not be used to bar people from going to mosques and asked if they still insisted to go, should they be put in jails by the police. In a free society, he said, people should decide with a free mind what is good for the country.
He emphasized that the ongoing war against the coronavirus could be won with a collective resolve and action of the nation and with their active participation in the drive.
Imran said the whole world was facing the negative impacts of the virus and several countries were witnessing higher number of mortalities due to the virus, but now they were also debating the economic impact of lockdown.
He said people across the globe now wanted their governments to ease the lockdown so that restart economic activity could restart. Imran said unfortunately 192 persons had lost their lives in Pakistan so far, while in US, 40,000 had died and 20,000 each in Italy and Spain.
“There are countries where 500 to 2,000 people are daily dying. However, their governments are now discussing about easing the lockdown, as it could not remain in force in any country for an indefinite period.
He pointed out again that Pakistan was facing the dual challenge of overcoming the virus pandemic and saving its people from hunger.
“Our government decided to relax the lockdown gradually by opening the cement sector first and then construction industry and the industries that are being opened will have to follow the SOPs given by the government,” he said.
The prime minister said the Corona Tiger Force was unduly being criticized and made controversial by the opposition.
He explained that the force comprised volunteers and would be working without any remuneration or political affiliation.
“They will disseminate information as well as deliver ration to the people on their doorstep and help the authorities in locating the deserving persons, as the government on its own can’t reach out to all,” he noted.
He again warned the hoarders and smugglers of a strong action under the related ordinance and called those exploiting people for their undue benefit as the nation’s criminals.
Minister Planning and Development Asad Umar said a consensus had been evolved among all the provinces on testing, tracking and isolation, and pilot tests in one or two districts of each province.
He said a smart lockdown would be implemented in high-risk areas and in next few days, it would be put in operation from district to tehsil and union council level.
He explained that the technology-based mechanism would have representation down to the union council level from the federal government and the civil and the military institutions would also be part of it.
He said India peddled a narrative that the virus was spread by pushing people into India through the AJK and then the Indian Muslims were blamed for it and now it was blaming Pakistan.
He made it clear that Pakistan had no interest in such things, as it always wanted an environment of peace and brotherhood. Focal person on Corona Dr. Faisal said Pakistan was relatively in a better position than many developed countries of the world.
However, he insisted, “We need to keep this by following the precautionary measures strictly. We hope that things would be better through the smart lockdown, ensuring protection of people and their livelihood”.
Special Assistant to the PM on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Dr. Sania Nishtar said more than Rs60 billion had been disbursed among the needy and deserving people under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme. She expressed optimism that the programme will be able to reach 120 million families.
She said the prime minister inaugurated the Ehsaas Ration Portal in which charities and philanthropic organizations could register themselves. “This program will help daily wagers, who are not able to work due to the lockdown, to get ration,” she said. Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar said a large package will be presented in a meeting of the National Coordination Committee on Wednesday (today).
After its approval by the National Coordination Committee (NCC) and the federal cabinet, it would be advertised in the media. This package aims at helping people who have lost their jobs due to lockdown, he explained.
He said another package was being brought for electricity and it would be launched later this month. He said small and medium businesses with commercial meters will benefit from this package.
The minister said the government was working with the Ministry of Finance and the State Bank of Pakistan to introduce a scheme of loans for people having no collateral to offer.
Special Assistant to the PM on National Security Dr. Moeed Yusuf said Torkham and Chaman crossings had been opened and a specified number of Pakistanis had started returning from Afghanistan. He said the border with India was closed but some Pakistanis had returned while the Foreign Office was on it for the return of the rest.
He said as soon as border with India opened, more Pakistanis will be able to return home. APP adds: Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar Tuesday said the cabinet had formally approved making the power sector inquiry report public with an official ownership.
Addressing a televised media briefing, he said the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan had approved recommendations about the inquiry report presented by the CCOE.
He said the government and prime minister believed in transparency across the board and by embarking on this policy, the prime minister had decided to present all the inquiries and investigations before the nation to root out corruption from the country.
Asad Umar, who is also Chairman of the CCOE, made it clear that the power projects and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) against whom the inquiries were conducted had been initiated in the previous governments.
“No contract on these projects was made by the current government,” he said, adding that the government was committed to taking these inquiries to a logical conclusion by bringing all the culprits to justice.
A number of such irregularities had been found in an inquiry where many government departments were also involved, he said, adding that no one would be spared this time whosoever the culprit might be, and the government was strict in its stance to deal with them according to the law.
He assured the nation that unlike the past, this time justice would be done and all those who had looted the precious public money would be brought to justice. He further informed the media that the cabinet had also decided to form a commission of inquiry to propose further recommendations based on the inquiry report.
The terms of reference (ToRs) of the commission are being complied and the person who will lead the commission would be selected by the prime minister and he or she would not be from the government side.
He said the commission would be authorized to do forensic audit and other investigations of the report. He said the government will provide all support to the commission including budget and other facilities.
The commission would submit its recommendations within 90 days, he added. Asad Umar said the committee also recommended some amendments to or reforms in policies and for this another committee under Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Minerals Shahzad Qasim was already working and the policy recommendations would be prepared by the committee.
Meanwhile, the federal cabinet decided to waive off various taxes on services relating to the construction industry.
Five percent tax was being charged to property dealers, property developers and other services related to the construction industry, which has been abolished, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said.
Briefing the media about the decisions taken by the cabinet, Dr Firdous said tax on low cost housing units to be constructed under the Naya Pakistan Housing Project had also been made zero rated.
She said zero tax incentive to the construction industry would help provide employment opportunities to the poor labourers and workers in 40 other industries related to the sector.
Tax exemption would protect rights of daily-wagers, plumbers, carpenters, developers and other stakeholders of the construction industry, she added.
The SAPM said the cabinet had decided to make public the inquiry report regarding the agreements signed by the previous governments with Independent Power Producers (IPPs).
Dr Firdous said Prime Minister Imran Khan told the cabinet that the nation would simultaneously fight the coronavirus and the virus of corruption.
She quoted the prime minister as saying that there was no holy cow in the country and the government would ensure that all those involved in corruption and illegal practices were taken to task.
She said Chunian Power Plant was one of the IPP agreements, which was approved by Shahbaz Sharif as the Punjab chief minister in favour of the company owned by his son Salman Shahbaz.
An independent commission of inquiry would be constituted to probe the issues pertaining to the IPPs, and its report and recommendations would be made public, she added.
The SAPM said the federal cabinet gave approval to the proposal for reforming and restructuring the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP).
The objective behind the establishment of CCP, she said, was to discourage cartelization and monopolies, and take action against those indulging in such illegal practices, but unfortunately in the past, the CCP was used by the powerful mafia as a tool to protect their interests at the cost of the rights of poor people. The PM decided to remove its chairperson but she got a stay order from the court.
The CCP would now be restructured with the use of modern technology and digitalization, she added. Dr Firdous said the cabinet was informed that 27 petitions had been filed against the CCP and dues of Rs27 billion were outstanding against the powerful mill owners.
Some cases had been pending for over a decade, and the elements in CCP were facilitating the powerful mafia in prolonging the litigation process, she added. She said the prime minister expressed his strong displeasure at the CCP’s state of affairs and reiterated his firm resolve to foil any attempts to damage the interests of the masses.
The cabinet also gave approval for filling the vacant vacancies of the appellate tribunal within a week. It also approved abolition of a law of 1991 under which the government employees, who took retirement on completion of 30-year service, could keep the official accommodation till 60 years of age.
The cabinet approved a proposal for restructuring the National Commission for Minorities with its chairman and majority of members to be nominated from the minority community.
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