Ex-state functionaries enjoyed luxurious foreign visits on taxpayers' money: Prime Minister

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the former government functionaries enjoyed luxurious foreign visits on taxpayers money but the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government will hold them accountable for every spent penny.

The premier issued the comments during the cabinet meeting. The ministers were briefed on the expenses incurred during the foreign trips. It was told that during the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government as much as Rs.84 billion was spent on foreign state tours, while Rs1.42 billion was spent on former president Asif Ali Zardari’s tours.

The premier after the briefing said that despite such massive spending what good nation got? “I will question them for every spent penny” he said.

Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood said over Rs 24,000 billion loans were taken from the foreign countries, which spoke volumes about their opulence.The minister said it was also revealed during the cabinet meeting that Asif Zardari had spent 257 days abroad during his trips while he was also accompanied by some 3,227 persons.

Shafqat Mehmood said Zardari had wasted around Rs 20 million on the pretext of tips and Rs 45 million on gifts. He had visited Dubai 51 times as president, out of which 48 were private visits and spent Rs 100 million.

On 17 visits of Asif Zardari to the United Kingdom, Rs 320 million was spent, he added.

The minister said Nawaz Sharif had spent 262 days in foreign countries during his four-year term as prime minister.

He wasted Rs 30 million on tips and Rs 60 million on gifts.

He had undertaken 24 visits of London, out of which 20 were of private nature, and spent Rs 230 million from the public exchequer, Shafqat added.

He said the financial loss caused by the two (Zardari and Nawaz) did not end here as the Pakistan International Airline had also suffered the loss of Rs 300 to 400 million according to preliminary estimates on account of chartering of its aeroplanes.

He said other prime ministers during the tenures of both parties, including Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PML-N, and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf of the PPP had also plundered the national wealth through their foreign trips.

The minister said around 214 persons went along former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi during his 19 foreign trips, spanned over 50 days, which cost Rs 259.59 million.

On the contrary, Shafqat Mehmood said, Prime Minister Imran Khan during his coming visit to the United States would stay at the house of Pakistani ambassador and only a few persons, including Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, would accompany him.

The personal staff of the prime minister would stay in a three-star hotel in the US.

He said the cabinet also issued directives for the provision of details of previous rulers’ additional expenditures, including medical and other expenses, during their foreign trips, so that the people could know that how their money was wasted.

Shafqat Mehmood said the cabinet also condemned the projection of the criminals’ narrative on both print and electronic media during recent days.

The government fully believed in the press freedom, but no democracy in the world allowed the media to conduct the interviews of convicted or under trial persons.

To a query, the minister said the government had asked the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) about its policy regarding airing the interview of an accused.

He said the government had no role in shutting down of news channels as PEMRA was an independent institution which was mandated to regulate the media in country as per law.

Taking notice of the inflation, he said, the prime minister had issued directives to the Advisor for Finance and Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) Chairman to ensure the sale of edible items like flour, ghee and pulses at controlled rates.

Shafqat Mehmood said the cabinet was also apprised that PML-N leader Khawaja Asif, during his tenure as federal minister, was holding an Iqama (foreign residential permit) and also on the payroll of a foreign company, which was sheer violation of the constitution and the oath which he had taken as public office holder.

The cabinet had directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to carry out thorough investigations into Khawaja Asif’s Iqama case, as he had held important ministerial portfolios, including Foreign, Defence and Water and Power.

He said Prime Minister’s Adviser on Austerity and Reformative Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain presented his report on restructuring of federal ministries and their attached departments.

The cabinet also approved constitution of an implementation committee on the issue.

He said the report reviewed the importance and responsibilities of 441 departments and presented its recommendations for improvement in their performance.

He said the committee had recommended that 43 departments should be transferred to Sarmaya Pakistan Company or be privatized, and 14 be transferred to provincial governments, Islamabad Capital Territory or Gilgit Baltistan government.

It also recommended that eight departments should be abolished, 35 be merged, and17 be reconstructed, while 324 institutions should remain with the federation.

The cabinet also approved the visa on arrival facility for Qatari citizens as a reciprocal move of Qatar’s earlier initiative of granting the same facility for 30 days to the Pakistani citizens.

It approved the name of Managing Director of Pak Iran Investment Company, and transfer of 50 acre land of the PM House to the Interior Ministry for establishment of a university for imparting emerging technologies.

To a query, the minister clarified that the issue of a judge’s video, shown by PML-N leader Maryam Safdar in a press conference, did not come under discussion during the cabinet meeting.

The PML-N should better got conducted forensic test of the video itself as the burden of proof lied on it because its leadership had publicly leveled accusations against the judge, he added.

The party, he said, had a history of attacking state institutions.

The minister said the issue regarding the removal of Senate chairman was also not discussed in the cabinet meeting.

To another question, he said the prime minister had directed the authorities concerned to take strict measure for eliminating the menace of child abuse.

There were standing orders for the police to adopt zero tolerance against pedophilia, he added.

Shafqat said the government had decided to hold the standing committees meetings during the National Assembly session as per its austerity campaign.