LAHORE - Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has said that interest-free loans worth Rs 3 billion are being provided to a total of 200,000 families under the Punjab government’s Self-Employment Scheme.

Addressing a ceremony arranged in connection with distribution of certificates to the students getting technical education under the Punjab Vocational Training Council at Alhamra on Tuesday, the chief minister said if the country got rid of Zar Baba Forty Thieves in the upcoming general elections, interest-free loans would be given in every corner of the country.

The chief minister announced to include the students of vocational training institutes, Tevta and registered institutions of vocational education in the laptop scheme and provision of free sewing machines to the skilled girl students.

He said it was unfortunate that according to the report of the Transparency International, Pakistan was making ‘unprecedented progress’ in the field of corruption and during tenure of Zar Baba Forty Thieves the country had gone up to the 33rd position from 42nd place in the list of corrupt countries.

Shahbaz said he would ask the elements responsible for the corruption of Rs7 billion daily how long the poor would continue to be exploited. He said the masses would hold the rulers accountable for every penny in the general elections.

The chief minister said limited resources of the country were being looted while the nation was divided on the basis of narrow religious differences. He said during his last tenure, his decision to spend the funds of Zakat and Ushr on vocational education sector was strongly criticised but the purpose was to make the poor people self-sufficient.

Punjab Vocational Training Council Chairman Faisal Ijaz Khan, Punjab Educational Endowment Fund Vice Chairman Dr Amjad Saqib, representative of German Institution GIZ in Pakistan Hans Boris, labour leader Khurshid Ahmad, Zakat and Ushr Committee Chairman and the successful graduates also spoke on the occasion.

Also, Shahbaz Sharif said the state-of-the-art Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology (RIC) would start functioning from December 25.

Presiding over a meeting held on Tuesday to review the RIC project, the chief minister said free of cost treatment would be provided to the poor patients at the RIC.

“The hospital will benefit people of Rawalpindi as well as Azad Kashmir and other provinces. The hospital will be totally autonomous for which legislation will be carried out,” he added.

Shahbaz also set up a committee headed by Special Assistant Khawaja Salman Rafique, for preparing the draft to legislate for granting autonomous status to the hospital.

“The Punjab government is spending billions of rupees on the development of health sector and to provide modern healthcare facilities to the people at their doorstep for which projects are being completed expeditiously,” the chief minister added.

He said in addition to construction of new hospitals, special attention was also being paid to the up-gradation of district and tehsil headquarter hospitals.