Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Monday
Rs10 per litre reduction in the prices of petrol and diesel as well as Rs5 per
unit cut in the electricity tariff, along with a bonanza of incentives in
several areas of the economy.

In a televised address to the nation, the
prime minister, while acknowledging the hue and cry made by the opposition
parties about the runaway inflation, among other things, said that there would
be no increase in the petrol, diesel and electricity charges until the next
budget.

Imran’s announcements are seen as clear
deviation from the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) bailout package, wherein
the government has already agreed to increase tax rates on the petroleum
products. The government has consistently increased power tariff since it
entered the IMF programme.

Imran’s address to the nation came at a time
when the opposition parties have mounted pressure on his government by
threatening to send it packing with the no-confidence motion amid speculations
that several members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were ready to
jump ship.

Though the government would not admit,
political pundits believed that the popular measures had been taken to
neutralise the opposition parties’ no-confidence move.

In his address, Imran also announced tax
exemptions, subsidies, amnesty for industrial sector, stipends, internships and
scholarships, while simultaneously making it clear that his government believed
in making “independent foreign policy”.

Surprisingly, Imran did not spend much time
on the opposition’s flurry of activities and its plan for a no-confidence
motion. Admitting high inflation, he only asked the opposition to present a
solution, if they had any, instead of just criticising the government and
making it a ground for its ouster.

In his speech, he also defended the
newly-promulgated amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA),
2016, saying the criticism was unwarranted because the amendments were not
aimed at curbing media freedom.

 

In a roughly half-an-hour address, the prime
minister, with the help of charts and graphs, also listed his government’s
achievements and compared its performance with the previous ones. He took
credit for achieving a 5.6% growth rate, $31 billion remittances; highest
exports and tax collections.

Incentives

Prime Minister Imran announced incentives for
information technology (IT) sector by giving 100% tax exemption to both
companies and freelancers; 100% foreign exchange exemption and 100% exemption
from capital gains tax for investments in start-ups.

Also, the prime minister announced Rs407
billion subsidised loans to be provided in next two years under the Kamyab
Pakistan Programme, saying that the loans would be given to youth, farmers and
for low-cost housing.

Announcing an amnesty scheme for the industrial
sector, Imran said that no question would be asked for industrial investment
and efforts would be made for the revival of sick units through tax benefits.
Besides, he declared five-year tax holiday to attract overseas investment in
joint ventures.

Under the government’s flagship Ehsaas
programme, Imran increased stipend from Rs12,000 to Rs14,000 per month,
announced a graduate internship stipend of Rs30,000 per month and allocated
Rs2.6 million scholarships with Rs38 billion.

Additionally, he said that Rs1 million free
medical cover to all citizens by end of March, 2022, except Sindh, adding that
the health insurance under the Qaumi Sehat Card would help private medical
hospitals to boost services in the rural areas.

PECA amendment

The prime minister emphasised on making
foreign policy independent, keeping the country’s interest supreme and not to
take dictation from others. He defended the PECA Ordinance, saying that the
amendments were brought because social media was filled with filth such as
child pornography.

He said the content being shared on social
media was causing a threat to the institution of family. He regretted that even
he was not being spared, recalling that a few years ago a journalist had
reported that his wife had left him and that he had done something illegal at
his Bani Gala residence.

Lamenting that he filed a case but hasn’t got
relief in three years, he said the same journalist had now written that his
wife has left the house. “If this can happen with the country’s prime minister
… imagine what would happen to the rest of the people,” he wondered.

 

Shocking as it may seem, Imran revealed that
the same journalist was locked up and beaten for three days when he wrote about
former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s corruption during the PML-N government.

The prime minister charged that there were
journalists who were spreading filth in exchange for money, adding that the
good journalists had no issue with PECA and would want fake news to be
eliminated.

Imran recalled that three leading newspapers
had carried stories, stating that the selection of AJK’s PM was based on some
magic and movement of stars. He said one can’t even think about saying such
things under a democracy in any other country.

Following the speech, social media was abuzz
with different interpretations of the address but the two most common takeaways
were that Imran was apparently readying himself and the party for the elections
and, maybe, the government was thinking to say goodbye to the IMF programme.

Some others questioned how would the
government pay for all the measures that the prime minister had announced. A
PML-N spokesperson termed the address an attempt to “save his job and the
sinking government boat”.

 



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2022-03-01

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