ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Thursday said Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) was gifted with many natural resources that could be exploited by attracting foreign investment to bring prosperity for the locals.

The prime minister expressed these views, while chairing the second meeting of Gilgit-Baltistan Council in his capacity as chairman at the PM’s House.

Raja said the PPP had always kept the need of people of GB and their betterment in mind while taking decisions. It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who abolished the FCR in GB and introduced substantial administrative, judicial and political reforms in the region, he added.

He said the government took concrete measures to involve the people of GB in socio economic development and political empowerment. He cited the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009 as milestone, which provided a representative government to the people. The prime minister said the government was taking keen interest in the development and a substantial amount of funds had been allocated to the Gilgit-Baltistan government for the purpose.

“The current Annual Development Programme (ADB) projects comprising 572 schemes in Gilgit-Baltistan amounts to Rs 64.648 billion.” He further said projects worth Rs 9.213 billion being funded through the Federal PSDP were underway in the region. “In the current financial year, a block allocation of Rs. 7.137 billion has been made for the Gilgit-Baltistan government over and above the PSDP allocation of Rs 902 million,” he added.

The prime minister said construction of Diamer-Basha Dam, besides generating 4,500 MW of electricity, would also help mitigate floods, improve living conditions and create employment opportunities in Gilgit-Baltistan.

He expressed satisfaction that the minister-in-charge Gilgit-Baltistan Council was working in close collaboration with Chief Minister Mehdi Shah on matters relating to compensation of land acquired for the Diamer-Basha Dam project.

The prime minister expressed concern over the delay in starting the development schemes sponsored by the council members for want of timely completion of procedures by the concerned department. However, he was confident that these schemes would be initiated during current financial year.”

The prime Minister expressed resolve to take all possible steps for eradicating poverty from the Gilgit-Baltistan.

“I have a firm belief that the council and the government together can make a difference, as both can join hands to herald a change in Gilgit-Baltistan. The ultimate goal of socio-economic emancipation of the people was and is our priority,” he added.

Minister for Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo presented the budget of the council for the year 2012-13. He said the total revenue target for the year was Rs 535.825 million, while the expenditure stood at Rs 761.167 million, including development expenditure estimates of Rs 330 million and Rs 431.167 million for non-development spending.

The meeting, while approving the budget, asked the authorities concerned to work out the modalities of proposed income tax in consultation with all stakeholders and put minimum burden on the taxpayers.

The meeting also passed Gilgit-Baltistan Council, Validation Ordinance 2012 (Adaptation) Bill 2012. The bill was presented in the council as a consequence of the June 19 order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The meeting was also attended by Gilgit-Baltistan Council Vice-Chairman Pir Karam Ali Shah GB Council, some federal ministers and members of the body.

Earlier in a ceremony, the prime minister administered oath to the newly-nominated advisers of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council. They are: Prof Ghulam Hussain Saleem, Saeed Afzal and Attaullah Khan.