Cabinet divided over amnesty scheme


–PM calls special meeting for further discussions on scheme after ministers express reservations

–Fawad sees ‘foreign hand’ behind terror attacks

–Hopes cases against Sharifs and Zardari family will reach logical end 


ISLAMABAD: The prime minister has called a special meeting of the federal cabinet on Wednesday after differences emerged within the body over the government’s decision to introduce a fresh amnesty scheme for tax evaders.

According to sources, some ministers opposed the scheme, saying the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) used to oppose such schemes when it was not in power, but now it has resorted to same practices, which might draw masses’ ire.

The members said that the scheme goes against the party’s manifesto and if it is about declaration of assets then the public should be taken into confidence on the basis of the scheme’s merit.

Addressing a press conference after the meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the Assets Declaration and Amnesty Scheme would be formally cleared on April 17 after further discussions in a special meeting of the cabinet.

In the special meeting, the premier will discuss the strategy with respective ministers and deliberate on each and every provision of the proposed scheme.

On the other hand, sources told that Federal Board of Revenue did not prepare any media strategy to disseminate the message, as PM believed that there would no benefit of this amnesty if the message couldn’t reach relevant people. The FBR team will come up with a comprehensive media strategy on Wednesday then PM will give the approval.

The scheme was announced by the PTI government to facilitate benami accounts or assets holders to whiten their money, hoping it would generate around Rs250 billion in revenue.

Fawad also reiterated the government’s resolve to nip the corruption in the bud.

“Sharifs and Zardari are involved in financial malpractices. We hope cases against both families will be taken to their logical end and the law will take its course,” the minister said, adding [ex-chief minister] Shehbaz Sharif and his sons have no answer on money laundering allegations while Nawaz Sharif’s sons, Hasan and Hussein, were declared absconders by the court.

The minister said that Shehbaz Sharif’s family received funds through telegraphic transfers, adding that’s how Hamza made 97 per cent of his wealth.

 He said as per investigation, $ 26 million were received by Shahbaz Sharif family through TT whereas Nawaz Family got millions of dollars in Al-Azizia Steel Mills.

He said out of declared assets of Hamza Shebaz, 99 per cent were TT-based whereas his mother Nusrat Shehbaz had received 85 per cent money from abroad through telegraphic transfer.

He said that in just only one night, Rs 1.2 billion was transferred from Hill Metal to Nawaz Sharif account and similarly Rs 820 million were transferred in Mariam Nawaz account from which she used to buy properties and assets.

“Zardari even bought an entire bank. People will lose their sleep when they will come to know more details. It’s not restricted to their leadership, even the cabinet members of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were involved in the corrupt practices,” he added.

“Steel Mills used to be a profitable entity up until the Zardari government [came into power] — they were the ones who drove it into the ground,” he further added.

He said that similar to the Pakistan Television Corporation, the government intends to steer the Pakistan Steel Mills towards profit as well. “Six major international companies are interested in helping us run the project on the basis of public-private partnership,” he revealed.
“The mill’s current capacity is 1.1 million tonnes that will be brought up to 3m tonnes. The country’s total need is 9m tonnes at the moment, so there is still ample room for improvement. We will ensure that the business of private steel mill owners is not affected in any way,” he said.

Fawad also pinned terrorist attacks in the country on ‘foreign powers’. Referring to recent terror attacks, he said terror attacks inside Pakistan were carried out through foreign funding and it would take time to eliminate this foreign interference.

The minister further said that measures being taken under the National Action Plan (NAP) would ensure that the country is cleansed of terrorism very soon.

He said that the premier would also launch the first phase of Apna Ghar Housing Scheme on Wednesday. “The first phase will facilitate the creation of 135,000 houses,” he said.

He said that the issue of renewal of telecommunications licenses was also discussed in the Cabinet meeting.

Fawad said that the Cabinet gave three-month extension to CDA Chairman Amir Ali Ahmed. The cabinet also gave approval to the proposal of appointment of Dr Amir as chairman of the Evacuee Trust.

He said that the Cabinet gave green signal for the appointment of the new chairman of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC).

Later answering questions of media-persons, the minister said there was no plan to reshuffle the cabinet and when there would be any change in portfolios, the PM Office would make a formal announcement in that regard.

He said that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari may not know but during the PPP rule the incidents of terrorism were quite common which now had been controlled to a great extent. He said that the Quetta incident was tragic, but there should be no politics on the issue.

To a question, he said that amendment in Pakistan Penal Code was being done for bringing back the absconders like Altaf Hussian, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz and Ishaq Dar back to the country to face the law.