Joint sitting marred by opposition boycott, lack of media access: President gives govt full marks in economy
Islamabad: President Dr Arif Alvi on Monday highlighted the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s three-year report card with the opposition boycotting the session in protest, while journalists were forced to stay away as the press gallery was found locked.
Well ahead of the president’s speech, Speaker National Assembly, Asad Qaiser, ordered to lock the press gallery of the National Assembly – first incident of its kind in the history of the country – with a view to avoiding the protests by the journalists against the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) bill.
At the outset of his speech during the joint session of the parliament, the president spoke about the economy.
“Despite coronavirus, Pakistan’s economy performed better as compared to the other countries due to the government’s prudent policies,” the president said.
The opposition, however, started thumping benches and started a ruckus in Parliament, at which the president said: “You can make all the noise you want, but you have to accept the reality – that the country is moving forward”.
He said that the country’s growth rate reached 3.94 percent during 2020-21, exports increased from $23.7 billion to $25.3 billion, and remittances reached a record $19.4 billion — which was $6 billion more as compared to last year.
Alvi said that the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) performed in an excellent manner, broke all previous records, and became the fourth-best stock market globally.
Citing a survey of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he said foreign investors’ trust in the government had increased by 60 percent.
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has collected Rs160 billion more than its target, he added.
The president said the increase in remittances and the boost in foreign investment showed that people trust the incumbent government.
President Alvi lauded the government for following up on all of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF’s) recommendations and enacting laws to meet the requirements.
The president mentioned as many as 1.7 million young people have benefitted from the government’s “Digi Skill training Programme”, adding “this is not a small number, as Pakistani freelancers have earned foreign exchange worth $2 million”.
“The government is well aware of the ever-changing needs of the industry, he said, adding artificial intelligence, cloud computing, software development, internet of things, networking, data analysis, and other technologies will help us grow faster,” the president said.
Talking about cyber security, he said the Pakistani youth can play a crucial role in the country’s cyber defence.
President Alvi said the past governments did not focus on human development, and as a result, governance became weak, and Pakistan had to face a brain-drain.
The president said the government believes that only an educated and healthy Pakistan can move forward, and for that the PTI-led government introduced the Ehsaas programme.
“Ehsaas Nashunuma for malnutrition, Waseela-e-Taleem, Ehsaas Kafalat, Ehsaas Scholarship, Ehsaas Emergency Cash, Ehsaas Amdan, Ehsaas Langars, and Ehsaas Koi Bhooka Na Soye are working on human development,” he said.
The president said the government was focusing on telemedicine in a bid to save the poor people’s money, as they could get almost the same treatment via telephone.
Speaking about the increase in the country’s population, he said it was becoming tougher for the government to provide health, food, transport, water, and other necessities to the masses.
“To provide the best to our children, I believe that we should promote birth spacing and focus on making the family smaller,” President Alvi said.
Talking about education, he said under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the government has awarded as many as 240,000 scholarships, which was the “biggest package” awarded by any government so far.
“The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has informed me that it has announced to waive off tuition and hostel-fee for the differently-abled persons,” the president said.
“We decided to provide technical training and education to people on such a large scale to push Pakistan forward because an educated person cannot only increase their personal income, but of the country as well,” he said.
He said the government has enacted Disabilities Act 2020, Zainab Alert Act 2020, and Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020.
The government has also introduced laws and worked at the administrative level to stop violence against women, which has increased in the recent days, the president said.
The president appealed to people to make the country better for women.
“Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, women are still denied their right to inheritance despite the fact that there exist clear instructions in the Sharia in this regard, and to counter that, the government has introduced a law,” he said.
Mentioning the government’s efforts to counter the effects of climate change, the president said PM Imran Khan had first launched the “Billion Tree Tsunami” initiative in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“When we came to power at the Centre, the government announced 10 Billion Tree Tsunami and Clean and Green Pakistan — which will help Pakistan counter the effects of global warming,” he said.
The president said it was imperative to introduce electoral reforms in the country, and through electronic voting machines, transparency and timeliness of results can be ensured.
President Alvi urged the Opposition to stop making EVM [electronic voting machine] a “political football”, as the country’s future was dependent on it.
“The government is also taking steps to roll out I-voting system to give overseas Pakistanis the right to vote, and I hope the Opposition will play its part in it,” he said.
The president said India was committing major crimes, especially against Muslims, in occupied Kashmir and demanded the BJP-led government stop its atrocities in the region.
“The prime minister has called himself the ambassador of Kashmir and raised their plight at every international forum,” the president said, adding that Pakistan will always stand with the Kashmiris.
The president said PM Imran Khan, in his inaugural speech, had assured Pakistan wanted good relations with India, but New Delhi has never responded in a positive manner.
President Alvi thanked China, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, and other brotherly countries for backing Pakistan in its stance on the occupied territory.
The rising communalism in India is a threat to the region, and the international community should acknowledge that, he said.
“India has been sponsoring terrorists in Pakistan for several years.
The theft of uranium and its buying and selling in the open market in India is a dangerous event, which exposes the Indian administration’s incompetence,” he said.
“Had such incidents taken place in any other country, the international media would have scrambled to cover it, but the same coverage was not given to the issue in India,” he said.
The president was all praise for the prime minister, saying “Prime Minister Imran Khan has become a champion against Islamophobia and has sought the international community’s support to counter the challenge”.
Speaking about Afghanistan, he said PM Imran Khan had always stressed that there was no military solution to the Afghan war, and after 20 years, the result is before everyone.
“We have played an important role towards peace in Afghanistan and want this new government to unite the Afghan people [...] they should ensure the Afghan land is not a threat to any neighbouring country,” he said.
The international community should start providing aid to the Afghans and not leave them alone in these times of despair as it would give birth to a humanitarian crisis, he said.
Pakistan is giving special attention to geo-economics and regional connectivity and aspires to connect the region’s economies through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he said and added:
“Peace in Afghanistan will indeed be very beneficial for the region.”
The president said 3-4 million Afghan refugees had been welcomed in Pakistan over three to four decades and asked the world to not teach the country humanitarianism.
President Alvi lauded PM Imran Khan’s coronavirus smart lockdown policy.
“The government did not shut down all businesses and relied on data [...] which was later acknowledged by the world.”
The president also applauded the media and ulema for playing their respective roles in curbing the spread of the virus.
The president highlighted that Pakistanis needed to counter fake news as these sorts of stories were the reason behind one country going to war with another — pointing at the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Meanwhile, all opposition and independent members of the two houses boycotted the presidential address after raising their voice for solidarity with the media having a sit-in outside the Parliament House to oppose the establishment of the PMDA.
The journalists who were stopped to enter the press gallery by the NA speaker before the commencement of the session, strongly protested at the lounge of the Parliament House, and chanted anti-government slogans.
In response, the Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA) members staged a protest inside gate number 1 of the Parliament House, besides holding a protest outside the NA Speaker’s chamber.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021