ISLAMABAD - The federal cabinet yesterday extended the deadline for Afghan refugees to return home until December.

It also approved electoral reforms for presentation to the parliament which will make the Election Commission financially and administratively autonomous, and make it binding on the political parties to give at least five percent election tickets to women.

The cabinet however skipped the issue of Fata-KP merger once again, reportedly to secure consent of its two allies – JUI-F of Fazlur Rehman and PkMAP of Mehmood Achakzai – who are bitterly opposing the popular demand of the tribal people.

The cabinet also decided that 50 bunkers will be built along the Working Boundary (WB), the border with India near Sialkot area, to provide refuge to villagers living in border areas during the time of cross-border firing by the neighbouring hostile state.

“Those martyred in the Indian firing will be given Rs500,000 each and the wounded people will get Rs150,000 each as compensation,” State Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said while briefing journalists after the meeting.

She said the cabinet also approved, in principle, negotiations on a draft agreement between Russia and Pakistan for the training of military personnel.

“The cabinet meeting has extended the last date for the [return of Afghan] refugees from March to December. We are also introducing new visa regime to stop illegal entry in Pakistan,” said Marriyum, adding that the interior ministry had been asked to expedite the process of Afghan refugees’ registration.

Around one million unregistered Afghan refugees still live in Pakistan and despite efforts, the illegal movement across the Pak-Afghan border is commonplace.

To a question, Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the cabinet had approved to establish 46 modern hospitals in different parts of the country.

Electoral Reforms

Law Minister Zahid Hamid, who also accompanied the information minister during briefing to the media persons, said the cabinet approved electoral reforms and it is expected to be presented to the parliament next month for enactment.

He said the electoral reforms had been unanimously prepared by a parliamentary committee. He said the Sub-Committee of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms will discuss the required constitutional amendments before presentation of the draft in the parliament.

Hamid said the Election Commission of Pakistan will be financially and administratively autonomous under the reforms package. “It will function as an independent body with functional autonomy. The ECP will be empowered to take disciplinary action against officials deputed from other departments and ministries for the elections,” he said.

The law minister said the ECP will be required to prepare a comprehensive action plan for polls six months ahead of elections with input and objections from the stakeholders. He said the parties and candidates will be able to lodge complaints before elections against malpractices.

He added: “Now votes will be counted and result compiled at the polling station. Returning officer and the ECP will get the Form-14 containing results through a mobile application to ensure prompt transmission.”

Zahid Hamid said that if the victory margin was less than five percent or 10,000 votes, the losing candidate would be able to demand a recount, which would be mandatory.

He said that ballot papers would be printed under a uniformed system. He said with the issuance of the Computerised National Identity Card, the citizen will automatically be listed as a voter.

The minister said that the registration of the women voters will be encouraged and ensured. “The parties will also be asked to allot five percent tickets to the women,” he added.

The minister said the male and female voters’ difference will be checked in the constituencies to ensure the registration of the women voters.

The reforms package, he said, makes it mandatory to carry delimitation of constituencies after every 10 years. “The delimitation would be carried after the census (in March). If the census is delayed, electoral rolls would be the basis for delimitation,” he said.

Hamid said the political parties will also be registered with the ECP strictly following the prescribed rules.

He said the caretaker governments would only serve as a stopgap arrangement and will not be allowed to take long-term decisions.



Fata reforms skipped

The federal cabinet on Tuesday did not take up the issue of merger of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata) into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) under a reforms package amidst differences among the coalition partners, sources said.

A cabinet member told The Nation that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his team wanted to discuss the issue after calls from tribal parliamentarians and elders to integrate the semi-autonomous region into KP but the discussion was delayed to evolve a “consensus”.

In the previous meeting too, the cabinet had delayed implementation of the Fata reforms package for further consultations to evolve a consensus.

The government believes there has been enough discussion on the topic with the stakeholders and it was time to merge Fata into the KP province. But the prime minister cannot afford to lose two key allies in the process.

Coalition partners, the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (Fazal) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, have opposed the package and threatened to protest if it was implemented unilaterally.

A minister, who attended the meeting, said there were contacts last night with the allies to sort out the issue which remained unsuccessful.

“The PM has decided to hold meetings with JUI-F and PkMAP leaders before taking a final decision. We are hopeful it will be a unanimous decision (to merge Fata into KP),” he said.




Other agenda items

The cabinet also approved other agenda items including proposal for formation of an Ehtesab Commission, and construction of 500, 250 and 100 bed hospitals across Pakistan and establishment of health infrastructure development and management company.

Addressing the cabinet meeting, the prime minister said that previous governments paid no attention to hospitals and health-related facilities in the country. He said that the people were facing acute problems owing to shortage of quality hospitals.

The prime minister said: “We are taking initiatives in the crucially important health and education sectors. It is our commitment to the people of Pakistan to provide quality health facilities free of cost to the deserving.”

The cabinet also gave approval to foreign commercial loans, ratification of the supplementary grant of Rs389,770,000 for repair and purchase of spare parts for the helicopters of 6 Aviation Squadron and memorandum of understanding between trade development authority of Pakistan and Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh in the field of trade promotion.

The meeting approved in principle negotiations on the draft agreement between Pakistan and Russia for training of military personnel in Pakistan, and signing of MoU between Pakistan and China on cooperation on auditing in public sector.

It approved initiation of negotiations and signing of MoU between the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and the Bimeh Markazi-General Insurance of Iran on exchange of information in the field of insurance, granted ex-post approval for initiation of negotiations and approval for signing of MoU between Pakistan and Belarus in the field of anti-money laundering and combating terrorists financing.

The cabinet also approved host-country agreement with International Fund for Agriculture Development, MoU between Pakistan and Azerbaijan on cooperation in the field of agriculture, and ratification of protocol to amend the convention for avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income between Pakistan and Belarus.

The conventions between the Pakistan and the Senegal for the avoidance of double taxations and preventions of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income-approval to sign initialled draft was also approved, besides approval to initiate negotiations for signing of MoU between Pakistan’s board of investment and Kyrgyz investment promotion agency for promoting investment opportunities.

Approval of the cabinet was also granted for initiating negotiations for signing of MoU between the board of investment of Pakistan and Business France for promoting investment opportunities.

The Cabinet confirmed the decisions taken by cabinet committee on energy on 29-11-2016 and 19-2-2017; decisions of economic coordination committee taken in January; and the decisions of cabinet committee for disposal of legislative cases taken its meetings last month.

It also gave authorisation for expeditious disposal of certain procedural administrative and statutory cases, approval of foreign commercial loans and tax exemption on interest payments, and approval for signing of agreement between Bank Markazi Jomhouri Islamic Iran and State Bank of Pakistan on banking and payment arrangement.

The cabinet also approved enforcement of remaining provisions of corporate restructuring companies act, 2016 (xxxii of 2016), approval for negotiations and conclusion of agreement between government of the Turkey and Pakistan on technical cooperation in the field of health and framing of the national school of public policy rules, 2017.



Way paved for ‘independent’ ECP