PM calls for prioritizing vaccine equity, debt relief UNCTAD summit

PM sets up ‘High level cell’ to probe Pandora scandal

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Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan today (Tuesday) called for prioritizing vaccine equity, debt relief, climate finance and return of stolen wealth to developing countries as part of global economic recovery from the devastating effects of COVID-19 pandemic.

He was virtually addressing the World Leaders Summit Dialogue organized by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) during its on-going 15th Quadrennial Meeting, hosted by Barbados.

Expressing concerns over vaccine inequity, the Prime Minister called for a more equitable distribution.

Recalling his campaign for debt relief, the Prime Minister advocated for debt relief until the end of the pandemic.

The Prime Minister reaffirmed the urgent need for mobilization and contribution by richer countries to climate finance in view of the vulnerability and existential challenges faced by Small Island Developing Countries and other developing countries, including Pakistan.

Reiterating his deep concern over the huge challenge of illicit flow of money, an annual amount of one trillion dollars from developing countries to richer capitals and tax havens, the Prime Minister underscored the imperative of halting these outflows.

The Prime Minister once again emphasized implementation of UN Secretary General’s FACTI Panel recommendations, enabling developing countries to more meaningfully alleviate poverty and human development.

Prime Minister Imran Khan set up a ‘high-level cell’ to investigate roughly 700 Pakistanis, including the cabinet ministers, retired generals and businessmen, who were named in the Pandora Papers – a huge tranche of leaked data on offshore companies.

A day after the prime minister “welcomed” the Pandora Papers, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry announced that the cell is formed under the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission and it will question all individuals who are part of the Pandora Leaks. “Facts will be placed before the nation,” the government’s spokesperson said.

Though the premier has vowed to investigate all Pakistanis named in the scandal, his approach is different than he had taken when the Panama Papers had emerged as neither any timeframe nor the names of the officials who would investigate the ministers, generals and others have so far been given.

Back then, PTI Chairman Imran Khan had said that “the leaks are God sent”; demanded resignation from the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif; prompt action by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government; and formation of an inquiry commission led by the then serving chief justice of Pakistan. This time around, PM Imran’s government was quick to announce investigation into the Pandora Leaks but has so far kept it under its wings instead of taking the previous route.

The information minister expressed concern about the disclosure of names of media house owners in the Pandora Papers. “It is unfortunate that the names of the owners of all major media houses in Pakistan are included in the Pandora Leaks. The Ministry of Information is launching a transparent investigation into the matter and Pemra is being asked to respond,” he tweeted.

Following Fawad, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said that the “cell” will first determine in the investigation report if the public office holders’ offshore assets are not declared in the statements and then the corruption case will be referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

In case of money laundering, the state minister said, the case will go to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and if he/she is not a public office holder, the case of tax evasion will go to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

“When the Panama Leaks came, the PTI was loudly explaining that offshore companies are Haram [illegal] in any case,” PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal tweeted. “When their own people have got stuck in the Pandora Papers, they are explaining that offshore companies can also be Halal [legal].”

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the Pandora Papers cannot be investigated while the PM is in power. “This is not a plan to catch corruption but to save the offshore cabinet and the corrupt mafia.”

Marriyum alleged that PM Imran will give another NRO to the mafia under his patronage, questioning what will happen to him if his ATMs are seized. “First resign, then pretend to investigate,” she said.

Meanwhile, PPP’s Shazia Marri said that many people close to PM Imran and his cabinet members are affected by the Pandora’s Box opened by Pandora Papers. “Just a tweet won’t solve the problem,” Marri said, adding that there was no hope from the government and the prime minister but let’s see what action the PTI takes with regard to its ministers, advisers and ATMs.

On Sunday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the Pandora Papers naming national and international personalities among 700 Pakistanis, including cabinet members, allegedly hiding financial secrets via offshore companies.

The ICIJ stated that key members of PM Imran’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers, their families and major financial backers have secretly owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars of hidden wealth. The ICIJ said that military leaders have also been implicated but the “documents contain no suggestion that Khan himself owns offshore companies”.

The ICIJ’s investigation is a result of 600 journalists in 117 countries studying for months roughly 11.9 million documents that leaked from the offshore environment. The project named the Pandora Papers is in reference to the Greek mythology’s character in whose box would be all the ills of humanity.

Earlier, the government has given an eight-year roadmap, though its constitutional term will end after two years in August 2023. In two years, the government has planned to disburse 738,180 loans worth Rs228 billion. The Rs37 billion subsidies will be given from the budget to pick up for the 15% interest cost.

“The Kamyab Pakistan Programme was a landmark and splendid idea,” said the prime minister, saying Pakistan’s whole system only caters to the needs of the elite, and banks even after the foreclosure law became operational did not have the capacity to give small loans.

“We realised that by the time banks learn to give loans to poorer people, our five years will be over,” said the prime minister, adding that this was the reason the government had decided to make microfinance banks part of the programme.

“The prime minister has laid the foundation of a welfare state and if the programme is implemented successfully, there will be revolution at the downtrodden level,” said the finance minister.

However, it will take one-and-half months to two months before the first borrower gets the loan, as the Ministry of Finance has not yet hired partner commercial banks that would disburse the loans through microfinance institutions

“A request for proposal will be floated in the media this week for hiring the banks that will have at least two weeks’ time to submit the bids,” said a senior official of the Finance Ministry. The government will pay around 17% interest to the banks that will disburse free-of-cost loans among the youth and farmers.

The cost of housing loans is estimated at 15% out of which 2% will be borne by the borrower and the remaining 13% will be picked by the government, according to a decision by the cabinet.

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