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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Cabinet okays administrative, austerity measures to overcome load-shedding: Marriyum

She said the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had added some 14,000 MW to the national grid by the end of its tenure in 2018.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb on Tuesday said the Federal Cabinet had accorded approved administrative and austerity measures to overcome load-shedding, and conserve fuel and energy.

The decision to the effect was taken to steer the country out of the prevailing “extraordinary situation” by bridging the demand and supply gap of electricity, she said while addressing a news conference after the cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Flanked by PM’s Adviser on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira, Minister for Information Technology Syed Aminul Haq, and Minister for Communications Maulana Asad Mahmood, she said the decisions, including 40 percent reduction in the petrol quota of government officials and cabinet members, restoration of Saturday as a weekly off, ban on official foreign trips, procurement of luxury items and vehicles, and others would come into effect at once.

Marriyum said the comprehensive plan, which would have a far-reaching impact on energy conservation, was chalked out by the Power Division and other relevant departments in line with the directions of Prime Minister who held back-to-back meetings and consultations recently to overcome the load-shedding across the country.

Read more: Citizens report 14 hours loadshedding after new govt

At the outset of the meeting, she said, the cabinet was briefed on the prevailing power crisis, which had aggravated due to “extraordinary heat wave” and climatic changes. There was a big gap between demand and supply of electricity as the country was producing 21,000 MW against the requirement of 28,400 MW.

She said the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had added some 14,000 MW to the national grid by the end of its tenure in 2018. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government had done nothing in that regard as even the power projects started by the PML-N regime remained incomplete after the passage of four years, she regretted.

She said the PML-N during its 2013-2018 tenure had bridged the electricity’s demand and supply gap in an efficient manner but unfortunately, the PTI government did not pay attention to such projects.

Citing the 1,200 MW Trimmu power plant which was supposed to be accomplished by March 2020 as an example of the PTI government’s inefficiency, she said it could not be made operational by the end of the previous regime.

Likewise, the Shanghai Electrical coal and Karot Hydel power projects were not made operational by the previous government which was regrettable, she added.

Marriyum said the cabinet approved the three and a half hours daily load-shedding schedule till June 15. With more power plants becoming functional till then, the load-shedding duration would be reduced to three hours, from June 25-29 to two and a half hours and from June 30 to two hours.

The minister said the cabinet also discussed renewable energy projects, including solar and wind energy so that cheap energy could be produced.

As regards the steps proposed for the conservation of power and energy, she said there was a suggestion of 33 percent reduction in the petroleum quota for government officials, but the cabinet decided 40 percent cut. The decision would also be applicable on the cabinet members.

At a time when the common people were facing problems due to the energy crisis, it was imperative for the cabinet members set an example by conserving energy, she added.

The minister said the cabinet decided to restore the Saturday weekly off with immediate effect as two holidays would save $ 386 million a year, and reduce the import bill by Rs 77 billion.

She said the prime minister constituted a committee to review the work from home proposal for Friday so that efficiency should not be affected.

Read more: Load-shedding under the name of maintenance?

The decision for early closure of markets, she added, was deferred as the matter would be taken up with the provincial governments in the National Economic Council meeting on Wednesday, and the business community would also be taken into the confidence on it.

The minister said switching off street lights on alternate days also came under discussion and it was decided to coordinate with the provincial authorities in that regard.

She said as the people mostly did not care about the regular maintenance of their vehicles, it was decided that the existing network of tune-up centers would be expanded across the country in consultation with the provincial authorities.

The tune-up centers, she said, would play a monitoring and advisory role for the vehicle owners to improve the fuel efficiency of their engines. According to a study, she added, regular monitoring and tuning of engines would have a 40 percent impact on fuel consumption.

She said the model, which was introduced in Punjab during the Shehbaz Sharif-led government in the province, would be replicated across the country.

Read more: Power tariff for April up by Rs3.99/unit

Steps would also be taken to enhance farmers’ access to such dedicated centers, so as to ensure repair and maintenance of their tractors, she added.

Marriyum said the cabinet accorded approval to an awareness campaign at the national level to sensitize the people about energy conservation. The drive would be launched on Wednesday.

As a part of the austerity measures, she said, official meetings would also be held in virtual formats to avoid unnecessary travel.

She said the cabinet banned procurement of all types of vehicles by the government departments. Exceptions were given for the utility vehicles, including ambulances, and for educational and solid waste management purposes.

Treatment of the government officials and cabinet members from abroad was banned, she said, adding, “It is an important element of the government’s expenses.”

She said the ban was also imposed on the purchase of luxury items, including furniture, for the government offices. However, a committee was formed for the procurement of machinery for government offices, which would soon present its report to the cabinet.

The official foreign visits of government officials and cabinet were banned, while a committee take a decision about obligatory and unavoidable bilateral visits.

Read more: Shahbaz Sharif: A Prime Minister with unparalleled challenges

Similarly, she said, lunches, dinners, and hi-teas were banned in all the government departments, including allied and autonomous bodies, which would be monitored by inspection committees.

Marriyum said the cabinet decided to bring down consumption of utility services at government offices by 10 percent.

The minister said the cabinet deliberated on a report of the Election Commission of Pakistan at length and explored ways to improve the ECP’s working to ensure holding of the next election in a free, fair and transparent manner. It was proposed that the report should be discussed in both the houses of parliament and also their relevant standing committees.

Marriyum said a report on the Daska by-election, held during the PTI regime, was also discussed by the cabinet members who expressed reservations over the manner in which the by-poll was conducted.

It was noted that the responsibility for by-poll fiasco was fixed on the lower staff like teachers and others, and some of them were still working in their departments, she added.

The report, she noted, was completely silent on the role of “decision-makers”, who had implemented “the Daska by-election project”.

She recalled the ECP staff was abducted and the ballot boxes were stolen on the day of Daska election. The presiding officer and some other election staff had also gone missing, she added.

Marriyum said the cabinet directed to initiate a high-level inquiry into the Daska by-election matter to take action against the responsible in accordance with the law. “This is not a matter of the Daska election because such steps will have an impact on the upcoming elections as well.”

Read more: Chinese companies warn of shutting down power plants in Pakistan

Those who had played a role in “hijacking and sabotaging” the Daska election should be made an example so that no one could point a finger at transparency and fairness of any election in future, she added.

The minister said relief measures were taken prior to announcing the tough decisions such as increase in the petroleum prices. The government could have taken the decision of increasing petrol prices on the very first day of coming into power, but the leadership cared about the people and preferred to work out a relief package first.

Courtesy: APP