— Imran says govt would have offered free hajj if it had any money
–Says govt’s economic stabilisation measures are showing positive results with exports rising and imports falling
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday tried to allay people’s concerns over the 63 per cent increase in hajj prices after the withdrawal on subsidy, saying the government would have offered free pilgrimage to people if it did not have to pay “huge loans”.
The federal cabinet on February 1 ended the subsidy on hajj in its Hajj Policy 2019. According to the new policy, the cost of performing the ritual under the government scheme had been fixed at Rs456,426 (with Qurbani), against last year’s expense of Rs280,000 per person.
Under the Hajj Policy 2018, the cost of hajj for individuals in the north of the country was Rs280,000 and for the south, it was Rs270,000. However, in the new policy, the cost of hajj for individuals in the north was fixed at Rs456,426 (with Qurbani) and Rs436,975 (without Qurbani), while for those in the south it is Rs446,426 (with Qurbani) and Rs426,975 (without Qurbani).
The decision, which the government blamed on the devaluation of rupee against dollar, was severely criticised by the opposition parties in Senate and the National Assembly (NA).
Addressing a gathering after inaugurating the Railway Live Tracking System and the Thal Express service in Islamabad, the premier called out the opposition parties, saying, “These people ask why the government did not provide a hajj subsidy or make performing the Islamic ritual more affordable.”
“If you had not left the country in this condition [and] if we did not have so many debts, then we would certainly send pilgrims [to hajj] for free,” he said, taking a jibe at Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Though the country is mired in economic crisis and the government has approached several friendly countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout, the premier said that in spite of a prevailing crisis, the country has a bright future.
In a comment on government’s “crusade” against corruption, the PM said that he had directed Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed to send corruption cases to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
“We have witnessed wastage of money [at government level], hence we first need to curtail our own expenses,” he underlined, adding that he had directed all ministers to bring down their departmental expenditure.
PM Imran said that he had curtailed expenses of the Prime Minister’s House by 30 per cent. An auditor has also been employed at the PM House tasked with suggesting measures to further reduce expenditure, he added.
He stated that gas companies were at the brink of closure had the government not raised gas prices. The prime minister said that even the banks refused to grant loans to the gas sector. “Annual gas theft of around Rs50 billion has been detected, which is alarming,” he said.
PM Imran said that people had stopped fearing the law in the last 10 years. “NRO 1 and NRO 2 had eradicated fears of being caught for corruption,” he added.
He said that with maximum facilitation for the common man as its top priority in “Naya Pakistan,” the present government was striving to upgrade the country’s train travelling system to the next level with the support of China, which had one of the best railway systems in the world.
“Common man from across the world used to travel by train, which is considered as the best source of travelling for the common man. But in Pakistan, train has never been a priority of the previous governments, who focused on the construction of roads to facilitate the elites,” he remarked.
He referred to work carried out under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) so far specially the construction of roads and said that his government was focusing on various areas of economic development, including the transfer of technology from China for seeds development to boost the agriculture sector as well as the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
The prime minister praised Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmad for his efforts to revive the country’s railways and assured that the government would support Pakistan Railways, by all means, to give ease to the common man.
Earlier, Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, in his opening remarks, highlighted the performance of Pakistan Railways over the last months and said that with Thal Express being launched today, 20 new trains, including Rehman Baba Express and Mohinjodaro Express, were launched during the last six months without any additional spending.
He said that Pakistan Railways generated additional revenue of Rs2.38 billion during the last six months when compared with the same period of corresponding years, adding that the cost of diesel used for train operations had been slashed to Rs15 billion from the earlier Rs18 billion.
The railways minister said that the present government has given 100 per cent concession for train travel to the people with 75 years of age and above and the half ticket for people with 65 years of age.
He said that Pakistan Railways had acquired 365 acres of land in Gwadar for constructing a railway station, for which the ground-breaking would be performed by the prime minister.
The railway minister also criticised the previous government for useless utilisation of precious public funds at the so called upgradation of railway stations at cities like Okara and Norowal.
He said that the new Rs70 million live tracking system had been developed and donated by Modassir Zaidi to Pakistan Railways. Father of Mudassir Zaidi had served in Pakistan Railways, he added.
‘GOVT’S POLICIES SHOWING RESULTS’:
Separately, taking to the social media, PM Imran tweeted that the country’s economic stabilisation has started showing positive results for January 2019.
PM Imran posted: “Our economic stabilization measures now showing positive results with exports rising & imports falling for Jan 2019 compared to Jan 2018 leading to to a $1 bn reduction in trade deficit.”
Our economic stabilization measures now showing positive results with exports rising & imports falling for Jan 2019 compared to Jan 2018 leading to to a $1 bn reduction in trade deficit. 1/2
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 12, 2019
In another tweet, he said that the deficit in services trade also went down by Rs800 million.
2/2 Deficit in services trade also down by 800 mn & Overseas Pakistanis’ remittances up by 12.2% July 2018 to Jan 2019 from same period a yr ago. The clear improvements in our external accounts indices prove success of our economic policies.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 12, 2019