[Q/A SESSION] Hammad Azhar answers pressing questions from digital media journalists in live Zoom conference

The following questions were asked by the digital media journalists, and Azhar responded to them accordingly.

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The Federal Minister of Industries and Production, Hammad Azhar, answered pressing questions regarding agriculture, automotive, and economic sectors in his recent virtual session with digital media channels. Addressing a Zoom conference, Hammad responded to queries regarding the government’s progress, performance, and how they are trying to address public grievances.

The following questions were asked by the digital media journalists, and Azhar responded to them accordingly.

What is the government doing to reduce expenditures?

Responding to a question about government spending, Hammad said to reduce non-development expenditures, the expenses of the federal government have been frozen since PTI came into power. Similarly, a new policy has been put into practice, as per which, if any position is vacant for more than a year, the government will abolish it altogether.

Hammad added that the accumulated losses of state-owned enterprises are now more than our annual defense budget. To address that and reduce the burden, the government is working on financial restructuring, voluntary separation schemes and privatization of some entities with the help of private-sector experts.

What is the government doing to control the rising cost of electricity? What is the reason behind it?

Responding to this question, Hammad elaborated that Pakistan’s energy mix is heavily dependent on imported fuel and the overall cost of electricity increased significantly because of it. He added that the recently-announced ‘Industries Energy Relief Package’ has been designed on marginal costing so the subsidy component is very negligible. As a result, the average cost of industries will be reduced.

Is the government making any efforts to support SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises)?

The Government is planning to promote and showcase the products of SMEs for exports through the Trade Development Authority.

What is the government’s stance on cryptocurrency?

Answering a question about the future of cryptocurrency in Pakistan, Azhar said that it is unregulated at the moment. He added that it is not a feasible option for us as we are at a high risk of money laundering and terror financing.

How is the government trying to control inflation and provide relief to the underprivileged?

Hammad responded that ideally, the market mechanism should determine commodity prices and inflation in Pakistan is being primarily driven by food inflation. To address it, the government needs reliable and accurate data to make informed decisions accordingly at the right time to maintain strategic reserves.

He said that the biggest challenge that the government is currently facing is that the surveys being conducted by the government departments are not reliable. To address it, the federal government is planning to use satellite imaging for crop surveys.

He added that monopolies and oligopolies are entrenched in the system, that protects the interests of the wealthy 1% of the country.

Why have the prices of automobiles dramatically increased in Pakistan?

The minister elaborated that the reason behind the high prices of automobiles in Pakistan is that the auto manufacturers were taxed heavily by previous governments and they were over-protected by the import policy. However, now, new players are entering the market.

Hammad said that the Government is also introducing Pakistan’s first-ever Electric Vehicle (EV) Policy, which will further promote competition and the existing companies will have to offer better prices and features in their cars to stay in the market. In addition to that, to increase the efficiency of the automotive sector, the government is also considering revising the Automotive Development Policy, which was made in 2016 and is expiring in 2021.

How is the government addressing the concerns of the farmers and promoting the agriculture sector?

Responding to this question, Hammad said during the COVID-19 lockdown, the government ensured that the harvesting of crops and the agriculture supply chain functions smoothly. To promote the agriculture sector, Pakistan needs to create agriculture value chains and cold storage. Furthermore, the sector also needs to adopt other modern techniques to control agricultural produce being wasted in the supply chain.

He explained that the industry demand, especially for fertiliser, tractors, and motorbikes, is largely rural-centric because the farmer has more money in their pocket compared to last year.

Furthermore, the responsibility of the agricultural sector previously was on the shoulders of the federal government, but it was later devolved into a provincial subject. Now, most of the decision-making is dependent on provinces, which has increased administrative challenges. For instance, Sindh not releasing wheat from its stocks hampered the federal government’s ability to manage the sector efficiently this year.

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