ISLAMABAD - In his maiden speech yesterday, Prime Minister Imran Khan spelled out his priorities and roadmap to transform Pakistan into a welfare state – where the downtrodden will be taken care of.
He restated that Riasat-i-Madinah was the role model for the ‘Neya Pakistan’ and promised wide ranging reforms with a focus on safeguarding country’s resources and channelling of wealth from the rich to the disadvantaged.
The prime minister announced that he will lead a simple life and make frugality hallmark of his government so as to save as much public money as possible at a time when country is facing serious economic challenges.
Khan touched almost all important areas from institutional reform, corruption control, retrieval of looted money, and improvement in health and education sectors. He also expressed his desire to have good relations with the neighbouring countries.
The prime minster gave a five-point national agenda comprising the rule of law, progressive taxation, compassion [for fellow citizens], merit and focus on education.
He reflected on the gloomy state of affairs from which country is passing right now, with horrendous economic meltdown to institutional collapse and poor plight of the people where half the population of the country is living below the poverty line and 45 percent of children are facing malnutrition.
Khan said he will try to fix economy without external loans so that Pakistanis are not deemed as beggars by the world. He shed light on the measures he was going to adopt for it, and sought people’s help in meeting this major challenge.
The focal point of his speech remained the poor and weakest segments of society which he wanted to uplift and make them strength of the nation through provision of quality education and proper health cover.
In his speech Imran Khan assured his people several times that he would be the custodian of public money, while he also asked them to keep watch on him as well as his team.
He once again expressed his resolve to retrieve the looted money stashed outside the country and asked the people to be with him in this struggle, saying that he knows that when he would put hand on these looters and plunderers of national wealth, they would forcefully retaliate and even endanger the political dispensation.
The premier said that he was keeping the portfolio of Interior Ministry with him only to streamline the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other anti-graft institutions.
He expressed his intention to make National Accountability Bureau (NAB) more powerful and strong. He said he would be meeting NAB chairman in this connection and would meet their demands for making the institution more strong and powerful. He also hinted at doing legislation in this regard.
At the outset of his speech Imran Khan thanked his core team which had started this struggle with him some 22 years back when people used to laugh at them while they talked about bringing change. He especially remembered Hassan Rashid and Ms Saloni Bokhari who were no more there but had contributed a lot in his struggle.
Clarifying that he had stepped into politics not to pursue it as a career or profession, Khan said his only motivation was to help set Pakistan “on the path envisioned by [Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali] Jinnah and [Allama Mohammad] Iqbal.”
The prime minister moved on to identifying Pakistan’s economic challenges and later spoke about how he would go about fixing them.
Foremost on his mind was Pakistan’s debt liabilities.
He said, “Never in Pakistan’s history have we faced such difficult economic circumstances... Our debt burden is now at Rs28 trillion. We haven’t been as indebted in our entire history as we have become in the last ten years.
“The interest that we have to pay on our debt obligations too has reached levels where we have to take on more debt just to settle it.”
“Our human development index ranking is also in the doldrums,” he said. Quoting from a United Nations report, the Premier outlined deficiencies in Pakistan’s human development.
He noted with regret: “We are unfortunately among the five countries where infant mortality is highest because they do not have access to clean water. We also have the highest rates of mortality for pregnant women.”
Imran also spoke passionately about Pakistan suffering from the highest incidences of stunting in children.
“I have been saying this for ages and nobody took me seriously. We are talking about 45 percent of this nation’s children. They are not getting proper nutrition. They are not developing properly. They are automatically left behind, he said, and asked, “What must their parents go through seeing their children in such a state?”
Khan then pointed to the difference in the lifestyles of Pakistan’s rich and poor.
“I want to speak about how the rich and powerful live in this country,” he said. “The prime minister has 524 servants and 80 cars. The prime minister, which is me, also has 33 bulletproof cars. The prime ministers have [been having] helicopters and aeroplanes to fly them. We have massive governor houses and every conceivable luxury.”
How could it be, he asked, that “on one hand we don’t have money to spend on our people, and on the other we have people living like our colonial masters used to live?”
Exhorting the rich and the privileged to reassess their priorities, he urged: “We need to be compassionate towards our compatriots, towards those who cannot afford to eat twice a day. We need to ask what will happen to the 25 million children [who are] out of school. We need to ask what happens to our population. We need to ask how we are to grapple with climate change.
“This is the time that we decide to change our destiny.”
The prime minster then explained he will use the examples of governance set forth by the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) “to bring the nation out of its plight.”
“What did the Holy Prophet do to unite all the tribes living in the Arabian Peninsula? What did he do to mould them [the Arabs] into one of the most powerful nations on earth? I want to speak on those principles today. I want to speak about how we are going to lift ourselves based on that model.
The prime minster then proceeded to give a five-point agenda:
“The first thing is the supremacy of law,” he said. “The law has to be the same for everyone.”
“The second thing is Zakat. What does Zakat mean? It means that I spend based on what I have on those who do not have enough. This is called progressive taxation. The rich pay more to subsidise the poor. This happens in Scandinavian countries, where there is good healthcare, good education and justice for all. The disabled, the orphans and widows have support.”
“The third is compassion. In the west, they care for animals in ways that would put us to shame. They have shelters for animals. Animals fare better there than humans do here [in Pakistan]. We need to incorporate those lessons.”
“The fourth is merit. Without merit you cannot do anything. The responsibilities of the ruler entail that they are Sadiq [truthful] and Ameen [honest]. They have to be truthful. They can have no conflict of interest. The west has these laws; in our country, you see people amassing untold riches during their tenure in power.
“The fifth is education. The Holy Prophet stressed education above everything else. After the Battle of Badr he made it incumbent on his people to attain education. Look at us today, we are nowhere because we have not followed his instructions.”
Perhaps realising that he was placing a tall order for his supporters, he said: “You should not feel overwhelmed. We are in this together and we will find a way out together.”
He then proceeded to explain what he himself was doing towards that goal.
Premier Khan detailed how he planned on cutting down his own as well the country’s expenditure, saying: “I will keep only two servants out of the [prime minister’s staff of] 524. I will be staying in a three-bedroom house that served as the military secretary’s house. I will have to keep two of the cars out of a fleet of 80.”
He wished to live in his own Bani Gala residence but again security concern came in his way, he added.
As many as 33 of the 80 cars at PM’s disposal are bullet-proof and Imran said the two cars he will keep with him will be from the bullet-proof fleet because of the security reasons.
“We will be auctioning all the other bullet proof cars,” he promised. “I invite businesses to come and buy them. We will put the proceeds of that auction in the state treasury.
“I also wish that all the governor houses are kept as simply as possible,” he said. “I further wish that the PM House will be turned into a university. It is in a great location to be one.
“I am forming a committee under Dr Ishrat Husain to figure out how to cut expenses nationwide,” he revealed.
Imran also urged his people to adopt austerity measures.
“I want you to understand that the money we lavish on ourselves could be spent on those who our state has left behind. Naya Pakistan also requires a ‘nayi soch’. We have to think about those who we have left behind.”
Khan explained that instead of trying to rebuild the economy via external loans, his government will try and fulfil its needs from within.
“No country can succeed by taking on debt again and again,” he said. “Debts are taken for brief periods of time. We cannot go on the way we have. And you need to realise that when these people give us money, they attach conditions to it.
“I will be ashamed to go abroad and ask for money. If the leader of the nation has to go and ask for debt, what will my nation be?
“We also need to pay our taxes. I am going to fix FBR on a priority basis. It has lost its credibility and that is why people don’t pay taxes. I promise my people that I will protect your tax money and spend it on you. We will keep our end of the bargain, but I want you to pay your taxes too. That is your responsibility. Pay your taxes so that we can lift our destitute out of poverty.
“I promise you, if I can assure you that your tax money will be spent on you, we will not face these deficits in the future. God willing, this will not happen again.”
“We are also creating a task force to repatriate wealth looted from this country. We need to put an end to money laundering. It is our biggest problem right now.
“We also need to boost our exports. How will that happen? We will need to help export industries. We have made a business advisory council to help address their challenges.
“Then we need to boost investment. We need to bring in money from abroad. There is going to be an office in the prime minister’s secretariat dedicated to this purpose.
“We need to help our small and medium businesses. They are the backbone of our economy. We need to reduce the cost and difficulties of doing business for them.”
PM Khan invited overseas Pakistanis to come back and invest in the country, saying: “We need to facilitate overseas Pakistanis. Our embassies need to facilitate them in every way we can.
“I have a special message for overseas Pakistanis. We are trying our best to create a good investment environment for you. We want that you bring your money to Pakistan and park it in Pakistani banks.
“We are short of foreign exchange, and I hope you will park your money in Pakistani bank accounts. Send your money through official accounts. We need your help and I hope you will help us.”
The prime minister said that rooting out corruption will also be a high priority for his government.
“I will meet the NAB chairman and facilitate him with whatever he needs,” he said. “We will also enact a law for whistleblowers like we did in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Whoever helps identify corruption will get a share of the money that we recover. The SECP will be fixed on a priority basis. The FIA will also be fixed.
“I have kept the FIA and the interior ministry under me because I want to personally oversee our efforts to eradicate corruption.
“I want you all to understand that the moment we start going after corrupt people, they will start raising a hue and cry. They are everywhere. They will come out on the streets. They will say that democracy is in danger. I want you all to continue standing with me. We will save this country or these corrupt people will save themselves.”
PM Khan said that he will seek Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar’s help to revamp the judicial system.
“The next focus will be on revamping our judiciary,” he said. “We have a massive backlog of cases. We will sit with the chief justice and discuss how we can ensure that cases can be wrapped up within a year. We have to do this for our people.
“I want to make a special request to the chief justice. There are quite a few widowers who have approached me for help. They are embroiled in property disputes. I want to request the chief justice: please, at least for widowers, resolve such cases at the earliest.
“I declare this as my resolve: the weak who are systematically discriminated against in our country will always have my support.”
The prime minister said he has asked former KP IG Nasir Khan Durrani to implement the KP police model in Punjab.
“We also need to fix our police,” Khan said. “The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police is our biggest success. We won the election because of how good our police had become. The former IG who oversaw those successes, Nasir Khan Durrani, has been asked to help fix the Punjab police and he has agreed.
“We do not have the power to do so in Sindh, but we will work with the Sindh government as well to do what we can.”
The prime minister said his focus will be to improve public sector education as well as madaris (seminaries).
“We also need to fix our education system,” he said. “We need to focus on government schools, which are in a shambles. I know that salaried individuals are making huge sacrifices to make sure their children get a decent education. They sometimes work two jobs to give their children the best they can.
“We therefore need to make sure our government schools are good enough that everyone can send their children to them. This is an emergency.”
“We also cannot leave madrassa students behind. They too should become engineers and doctors and generals. Why do we not give them the opportunity? We need to do it.”
PM Khan stressed the need to “fix the healthcare system. It is immensely difficult to fix the pre-existing system. It takes a long time: the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health system did not start showing results till the fifth year. But we still need to do it.
“We also need to introduce the health card all over Pakistan. We have given every household in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Rs550,000 in case of a healthcare emergency. We should give it all over Pakistan.”
Khan said that a “water crisis is brewing” which require dams to be built to resolve it.
“There was a crisis brewing but we weren’t prepared,” he said. “We have an emergency. Karachi doesn’t have water due to the tanker mafia. Quetta and Islamabad too.
“A ministry will work towards saving water. New methods will be taught to farmers. Canals will be lined to save water, while the Bhasha Dam will be constructed at all costs. It’s a commendable initiative started by the chief justice.”
The PM said that he will enforce meritocracy to improve civil service. “In the 1960s we were considered one of the best in the world,” he said. “It is unfortunate how we have fallen behind. Dr Ishrat Hussain is forming a committee to bring merit back.
“We will not tolerate any political interference in anyone’s appointment. I just want people ready to work for the nation.
“But an ordinary man, when he steps into any govt office, also has to be given respect. This is his right which he will be given. Bonuses will be given to those who serve people in a timely manner. Otherwise, penalties will also be imposed.”
Khan stressed on the need to transfer the power to the local government, saying: “Power must be given to the bottom-most tier. Nazims will be directly elected in districts, while checks and balances will be kept.
“Development funds are given to MNAs and MPAs but the development takes place in baldiyaat.”
The prime minister said that “jobs must be given to the country’s youth. A big project of housing will be started. It will be a one-window operation [create] jobs and [to boost] industries. The youth will be given loans without interest so they can become entrepreneurs.
“Cricket grounds have been taken over and houses schemes made over them. We need to build playgrounds and parks for them.”
Khan said he will replicate KP’s billion tree in the entire country. “We planted 1 billion trees in KP,” he said. “We will bring our expertise and plant trees all over the country. Karachi has a heatwave as it has nothing but concrete. A large-scale initiative will be initiated to make Pakistan green again.”
“The menace of pollution has to be addressed immediately as it leads to the spread of innumerable diseases.”
Khan and his party had campaigned on promises to end widespread corruption while building an “Islamic welfare state”.
Austerity, reforms, rule of law