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Pakistan eyes local body polls by year-end: Punjab governor

Filed on August 18, 2020 | Last updated on August 18, 2020 at 09.03 pm
Pakistan, eyes, local body, polls, year-end, Punjab governor
Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar (right) with Imran Chaudhry, a Dubai-based businessman, in Dubai on Monday. - Photo by Juidin Bernarrd

The PTI government will focus on good governance, crack down on hoarding mafia.

Pakistan is looking forward to holding local body elections later this year or early next year, provided the coronavirus pandemic remains under control in the country, said a senior government official.

"Because of Covid-19, we can't predict properly. But if things go well and the way we have managed to control the pandemic, I think local body elections will probably be held by the end of this year or early next year," Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, Governor of Punjab province, told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.

Chaudhry Sarwar said devolution of power is the next focal point for the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government.

"Local government elections and empowering people financially are important because if we bring right kind of local body system ensuring resources and power to people, they can make the change at the grass-root level," Chaudhry Sarwar said.

Imran Chaudhry, a Dubai-based businessman, also accompanied the governor during the interview.

Chaudhry Sarwar said when the PTI government came to power, the nation was facing mountains of problems, starting from repayment of debts to reining in trade and current account deficit. However, the government managed to overcome most of those challenges and repaid debts and brought the current account deficit from $20 billion to $3 billion.

Taming inflation a top priority

The governor revealed that during the remaining three years of its tenure, the PTI government will focus on good governance, crack down on hoarding mafia and control prices of basic commodities to ensure that maximum benefits reach the common man. This will ensure the party to retain its power in the next elections as well.

"We must control the price hike. People are upset because of sugar and wheat crisis. These are the challenges which we have to take head on and Prime Minister Imran Khan has the ability to deal with these issues. We must have good governance to ensure the rule of law. We will also focus on police reforms and better health and education facilities over the next three years," he said.

Replying to a question about Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar's capability to handle the crisis and National Accountability Board (NAB) cases against him, the governor stressed that Prime Minister Khan's vision is clear that everyone should be accountable irrespective of which party he belongs to. "The matter is with the NAB to decide who has done wrong. Everyone is equal in front of law."

Talking about the appointment of university vice-chancellors, Chaudhry Sarwar assured that all vice-chancellors in Punjab universities are appointed purely on merit alone. "Earlier, there used to be a list of 3-4 people and chief minister would pick one of them. But now a search committee recommends a name and I make sure that the person is appointed as vice-chancellor. Then he is strictly advised to apply merit in the university," he added.

Covid-19 down, but not over

Replying to a query about the country's preparedness for possible second wave of pandemic, the governor said: "No one can rule out a second wave because some developed countries like the UK, Sweden, and New Zealand have experienced the second wave. We are cautious about it but Prime Minister Imran Khan's policy of smart lockdown and following of SOPs were 100 per cent right and this is the way forward. Pakistan is a poor country where millions of people are unemployed. So we can't afford a complete lockdown."

Talking about religious processions during the month of Moharram, Chaudhry Sarwar said that it is the next biggest challenge for the government. "It is easy to follow SOPs in mosque, church or temple but it is very difficult to follow the guidelines during a procession. We had a meeting with religious leaders of the Shia community and they assured us that they will make sure that SOPs are followed. If the month of Moharram goes well, only then we can say that the country is coming out of this pandemic crisis. But we can't say that the crisis is over. Therefore, we are asking people and launching awareness campaigns to tell them to take the pandemic seriously," he said.

Pakistan enjoys cordial ties with UAE, Saudi Arabia

Pakistan enjoys cordial and brotherly relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia and these relations always stand the test of time, said Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, Governor of Punjab province.

"The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan always said that Pakistan is his second home and we want to maintain that strong relationship between the two countries. Similarly, Saudi Arabia stood by Pakistan in difficult times. Whenever Pakistan needed help, Saudi brothers were there for us. Our relations will go from strength to strength because this is a relationship between people to people," said Chaudhry Sarwar. 

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