–Govt appoints Vice Air Marshal Arshad Khan as PIA chairman, Aoun Abbas as chief of Baitul Maal, Muhammad Mian Soomro as Privatisation Commission chairman
–Fawad Chaudhry says PIA incurring Rs2bn loss every month, restructuring plan submitted to Finance Ministry for review
–Parliament to grill NA Opp leader Shehbaz regarding NAB’s allegations
ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Thursday said that the private sector will build five million houses for the less privileged on state land, which would then be leased to people on low rates under the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme.
Announcing the decisions taken in the federal cabinet’s meeting earlier in the day, Fawad told reporters that the government had appointed Air Vice Marshal Arshad Khan as the new chairman of the Pakistan International Airline (PIA), Aoun Abbas Bappi as chairman of the Pakistan Baitul Maal and Mohammand Mian Soomro as the chairman of the Privatisation Commission.
“Air Vice Marshal Arshad Khan, who is a serving air vice marshal, has been appointed the new PIA chairman. He has been chosen because he is a considered a big figure in the air force and is a thorough professional,” the information minister.
“PIA is in debt of Rs406 billion. The new chairman of the national carrier has been directed to immediately fix the institution’s economic condition,” he said.
Chaudhry further said that advertisements will soon be issued regarding the appointment of a new CEO for the airline.
“We can no longer afford to sit by and watch PIA incur such massive losses. A loss of Rs2 billion each month translates to a daily loss of Rs70-80 million each day,” he said expressing the gravity of the situation.
He also said that a restructuring plan for the company had been submitted to the Finance Ministry, which will be reviewed by Finance Minister Asad Umar after he returns from Indonesia. He will then present the plan to the cabinet for its approval.
While announcing the name of Abbas as the chairman of Baitul Maal, the information minister said, “Pakistan’s condition is like that of a house looted by thieves. Those responsible for the country’s current state should be taken to court.”
About the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme launched by the prime minister on Wednesday, Fawad Chaudhry informed reporters that state land will be used as the collateral on which houses under this scheme will be constructed, enabling the banks to have a safety net to recover credit if need be.
“We will pledge land belonging to the state, a large proportion of which was recently recovered through various means, and the private sector will then undertake construction activities,” the minister said, adding that the government is not investing any money in this.
“It’s not like our predecessors left us any money anyway for us to be able to invest,” he remarked.
He said that the application form to apply for the scheme will be made available soon at a cost of Rs250.
Talking about the Islamabad airport, which saw at least two accidents this week, Chaudhry lamented that the project had crossed Rs100 billion in expenditure on its completion despite being a Rs38 billion project.
The minister said that the prime minister and the cabinet had ordered a thorough audit of the project, including a performance audit. He recalled the collapse of the passenger bridge recently and criticised the quality of construction that had taken place in the project.
“We all know which construction company was assigned the contract. Ishaq Dar, [Chaudhry] Munir — everywhere you look you find one of their people.”
Shifting the discussion to the former finance minister, he proceeded to say that the NAB chairman had been instructed to expedite an inquiry against Ishaq Dar for owning assets beyond known sources of income. He said that the bureau had also been urged to quicken its pace and wrap up other high profile cases.
“We have to face a lot of questions from people. We came into power under the slogan of accountability and so naturally feel responsible for this,” he said.
He said that the cabinet had also discussed placing and removing certain names from the Exit Control List (ECL), adding that “there are currently 3,000 names on the list”. The information minister said that prime minister has instructed the interior minister to see that no innocents have been targeted among these 3,000 people.
“If it is so, they will be removed from the ECL,” the information minister said, adding that State Minister for Interior Shehryar Afridi will be presenting a report on the matter in the next cabinet meeting.
“The National Assembly (NA) speaker issued Shehbaz Sharif’s production orders on the opposition’s request,” he said while adding, “the parliament will get a chance to question Shehbaz regarding the allegations against him”.
Hitting back at the Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) criticism of how the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is running things, Chaudhry said, “We are amazed that the PPP has the audacity to tell us what to do”.
On tax matters, the information minister said it had been found that 89 per cent of taxes levied on cigarettes — which amount to around Rs77 billion — are paid by two companies only. He said that the rest of the companies are selling cigarettes illegally and vowed a crackdown against those companies in the coming days.
Similarly, the tax collected from paint companies shows that it is only two or three companies that are paying tax and the rest were not, the information minister noted.
Talking about further matters discussed during the cabinet meeting, Fawad said that measures are being taken to crackdown against the smuggling of mobile phones.
“By this year’s end, smuggled phones will not be operational in the country,” he said.
Chaudhry also noted that remittances of $40 billion were received in Pakistan each year, but only $10 billion of these came in through legal channels.
“The PM has summoned representatives of the State Bank of Pakistan on Friday for a discussion on how we can go about increasing our remittances. If there is an increase of $10 billion even, it will go a long way to addressing our deficit issues,” he said.
Vowing that the government will complete whatever project it undertakes, the information minister said, “Details of our 100-day plan can be accessed through our website.”