LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said he had burnt the boats and there was no option except for putting the country on the road to progress.
The remarks came at the inaugural ceremony of the Rs5trillion Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, here.
The premier said he would personally oversee the project, which had been sought after since 2004, and which he was undertaking after “burning the boats” so there was no option of going back. “Failure is not an option at all,” he added.
He said the country had reached a “tipping point” after which it would only see progress. The premier said two years were spent by his government saving the country from default. “And then the NRO crowd gathered around everywhere, demanding an NRO (concession) in exchange for FATF legislation or progress on the Kashmir issue.”
Speaking of the importance of the project for which he laid the foundation, he said that it is instrumental if Lahore is to be saved. “The rate at which our population is growing, if we are to save Lahore, the project is something that is totally unavoidable now,” he said, while addressing the inaugural ceremony.
He said that the city’s water level has also dropped drastically. “In the last 15 years, I think it has dropped 800 feet.” “When you are flying into the city you can see the unplanned settlements from above. The green areas are on the decline. There will be food security issues. Pakistan has never witnessed wheat shortages before but now we have seen a drop by 1.5 million tonnes.
“Our crop growing areas are reducing. We used to have a lot of cotton growing areas. We used to export the commodity. More sugarcane growing is also a factor,” he continued. “But the point is, Lahore has changed dramatically,” he added.
“This river used to be such a big river and has now shrunk into nothing but a sewerage stream […] it stinks in the winter.” He said that one must have no doubt of the dire need of the project. “Without this, Lahore will see water problems that Karachi faces today.”
The premier said that the pollution levels in Lahore are “off the charts, way beyond what adversely affects the health”. He said with unplanned settlements springing up everywhere, it has become necessary to make Lahore a modern city with all the modern amenities.
“Modern cities grow vertically, not horizontally, and it is then easier for the government to take care of their needs like water and sewerage.” The premier then went on to detail the government’s plans for the river project.
He said to save the river,extra water will be released into it and more barrages created. “And the sewerage that is coming into the river will be treated and clean water released back,” he said.
PM Imran said with this, not only will the river’s depleted water levels be restored but the city’s water supply will no longer be threatened.
“Lahore will be saved, the water problem solved, and a modern city will be created keeping in mind all environmental concerns,” he said, adding that six million trees will be planted in a demarcated “forest area”.
He said previously projects such as the Metro, or Orange Train were completed but “they are not the type to lead to wealth creation”. “In fact, you will end up giving Rs28bn in subsidy for those projects which you created after heavy borrowing.”
The premier said with a project such as this, wealth creation is made possible, along with job creation and a host of other benefits. “A chain reaction is witnessed in the country. Such projects boost the economy.” He said that the project will cost Rs5 trillion. “Of course it will be funded by private investment, not the government,” he clarified.
The prime minister said that with the coronavirus, the country had been accorded reprieve to be able to inject capital from the informal economy into projects — previously unallowed due to obligations to international financial organisations.
“Now we have till December 31 to make use of funds from the informal economy as well.” He said that it was a splendid opportunity for overseas Pakistanis, who usually only invest in “plots”. “These nine million overseas Pakistanis have money equivalent to Pakistan’s GDP.”
Also, it will go a long way for job creation, he said. “There are 40 other industries associated with the construction sector.” “Furthermore, it will lead to wealth creation. With this wealth, we will be able to spend on the underprivileged sections of society, on children’s education, and on the health sector,” the premier added. He also said that with the accrued monetary gains, the mounting debt of the country will be reduced.
Separately, PM Imran Khan also addressed through video-link the civil officers of Punjab, including the secretaries of administrative departments, commissioners, deputy commissioners and regional police officers.
Stressing zero-tolerance for corruption, he called for introducing a system of “reward and punishment” in the government departments to improve governance and public-sector performance.
“Corruption always starts from the top and elite class. This is our country. We have to live and die here. We have to correct the system for future generations. Improved governance is vital for the country’s development,” he added.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, Chief Secretary and Inspector General of Police were also present. The prime minister said the country could make progress by following principles of the state of Madina, which ensured rule of law, protection of weaker segments and promotion of education.
Officers had very important role in the achievement of that objective, he said. “Be empathetic with the poor. Do away with the thana culture and adopt the policy of public service.”
The prime minister appreciated the Punjab administration for taking effective measures during the coronavirus pandemic. “You will not face any political pressure. Follow merit. I stand with every officer who will follow merit,” he told the officers.
Imran said as the country’s economy remained burdened under debt, Pakistan had been facing difficult economic situation, which caused resource constraints for education, health and development projects.
He said the present government started an anti-corruption drive as the economy had received a big dent from the menace. Pakistan’s development was quoted in the world during the decade of 1960s, he remarked.
The PM mentioned the construction as one of the important sectors for economic development and jobs creation, and hoped that the civil officers, within their jurisdictions, would play an important role in promotion of construction sector in the province.
Meanwhile, in a meeting with the Members of National Assembly (MNAs) from Faisalabad, PM Imran Khan said the federal government would extend all-out cooperation to promote industrial and business sectors of the country. He said Faisalabad had a key importance in national economy.
The prime minister told the parliamentarians that incentives to the business and construction sectors would ensure development in the country. The steps were being taken for welfare of small and medium enterprises, he added.
The MNAs apprised the premier that corruption was rife in the Police Department at lower level, and the DSPs and SHOs were committing corruption openly.
The premier expressed his strong annoyance over such a situation in the Punjab province and advised Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, also present in the meeting, to visit Faisalabad himself next week and resolve the issues.
The PM also met Punjab CM Usman Buzdar separately and discussed matters pertaining to provincial development.
Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the authorities concerned to facilitate the construction sector investors maximum so as to encourage more people to gain benefit from the incentives offered by the government.
Chairing a meeting of the National Coordinating Committee for Housing and Construction here, he stressed devising a comprehensive plan to encourage investors towards the construction sector, in view of giving a boost to the national economy.
The chief secretaries of Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa gave the meeting a briefing on the launch of One-Window Online Portal set up for public convenience.
It was informed that with the launch of the portal, any aspiring citizen would be able to apply online to start a construction project. The portal would reduce human intervention as it would help track the progress of applications, besides determining the performance of the officers concerned.
Also, PM Imran Khan said a uniform education system was the best way to end discrimination among different segments of the society.
Chairing a review meeting on reforms in the education system of Punjab, the prime minister said real development was possible only through education and by ensuring access to it across the board. Provincial Education Minister Murad Raas gave a detailed briefing on reforms and new projects in the education system of Punjab.
The prime minister appreciated the training of teachers by the Punjab government and the measures adopted for uniform education system and related legal reforms. He laid special emphasis on providing facilities in schools.