• Committee to address concerns of ECP
• Ex-JCP’s audio leak termed work of Maryam’s social media team
• Minister claims prices of food items have reduced significantly
ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday established a ministerial committee for holding the 2023 general elections through electronic voting machines (EVMs), in which over nine million overseas Pakistanis will exercise their right of franchise for the first time.
The committee comprises Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr. Babar Awan, Railways Minister Azam Swati, Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz, Minister for Information Technology Aminul Haq, and the attorney general.
It will also address the concerns of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The weekly cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, thoroughly discussed the issue of the recent audio leak of former Supreme Court chief justice Saqib Nisar. The meeting termed the audio “fake and fabricated”, claiming it to have been engineered by the “social media team of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz”.
An inquiry commission report on the 2020 oil crisis/hoarding of petroleum products was also presented before the cabinet which revealed that oil marketing companies had illegally earned Rs5.52 billion through hoarding.
According to the report, owners of over 2,000 petrol pumps had illegally benefited from the scam.
In his post-cabinet meeting press conference, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said: “The cabinet reiterated the government’s resolve to hold the next general elections through EVMs at all costs.”
He said a ministerial committee would keep in touch with the ECP to ensure the implementation of the recently-passed laws on electoral reforms.
“The committee will finalize the nitty-gritty on the use of EVMs in the next elections such as cost and numbers of machines,” he added.
Although the ECP had already raised questions over the use of EVMs, the minister said the entire nation, including the government, opposition, and public, wanted the existing electoral system to be reformed.
He said both the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were against the use of EVMs and giving voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.
On a lighter note, Fawad Chaudhry said both sons of Nawaz Sharif, who had never participated in an election in Pakistan, would be able to cast their votes.
The information minister blamed Maryam Nawaz for the fake leaks, saying, “she remained involved in producing fake videos and had formed a special team for the purpose.”
He said she might have also prepared videos of some PML-N leaders to keep them under her control.
He said the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) strongly condemned this act and hoped that the issue would reach its logical conclusion and the government would follow the court’s directives on the matter.
Prices of food items
Mr. Chaudhry claimed prices of food items had come down significantly but media was reporting otherwise.
“Sugar is being sold between Rs90 and Rs95 and the price is expected to come down to Rs80-85 per kg in the coming weeks,” he said, adding that prices of tomatoes, onions, and garlic had also decreased substantially.
He said the government had launched two programs to provide relief to people but prices of commodities in Sindh, especially Karachi, were still high.
Mr. Chaudhry said Sindh was asked to release wheat and start sugarcane crushing in time but it did not follow the directives, adding that 40 percent of the Sensitive Price Index’s inflation data consisted of Karachi’s figures.
He said in Lahore, a wheat flour bag of 20kg was available for Rs1,100 whereas in Karachi it was costing Rs1,460.
In the same way, the price of sugar in Karachi was Rs107 whereas, in major cities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the commodity was available for Rs90 per kg.
He said the federal government had been importing wheat worth $700 million, while on the other hand, the Sindh government was claiming that its wheat was being stolen.
The minister said a series of seminars were held in Lahore and Islamabad last week which had received funding from abroad. On the other hand, the Supreme Court Bar Association, in its press release, had distanced itself from the speeches made against the judiciary at a conference in Lahore, he added. The minister said the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Ordinance 2021 had also received approval to pave way for the holding of LG elections in the federal capital.
About cadastral mapping of state land, Mr. Chaudhry said the Sindh government had refused to share data in this regard.
“The reason for the refusal was that the state’s forest land worth over Rs5,000 billion was in illegal occupation in Sindh,” he said, adding that land worth Rs5.6 trillion had been retrieved and forests would be grown on it.
Responding to a query, the information minister said the PTI was the only party that had submitted a complete record of foreign funding to the ECP.
Likewise, PM Khan had also presented his money trail in the court, Mr. Chaudhry said, adding that the Election Commission should seek details of foreign funding from other political parties.
The minister said the federal cabinet allowed transportation of Indian food assistance to Afghanistan via Pakistan.