Asif Sardari assured free ,fair, and transparent polls in the country

 The joint session of the Parliament has started and President Asif Ali Zardari is addressing the session for the fifth time,South Punjab News reported Saturday.The joint session of Parliament began with the national anthem and recitation of holy verses.The opposition started to chant slogans as soon as the session began and later boycotted the session and left the hall.President Zardari started his address by recognizing the able leadership of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, former senator Farooq Naek and Speaker of the House Fehmida Mirza.President Asif Ali Zardari said that he feels honoured to address the joint session of the parliament for the fifth time. He then congratulated the newly elected Senators, MNAs and Senate Chairman.The President said that he believes that democracy is flourishing in Pakistan and congratulated PM Gilani for moving the country forward: he expressed his gratitude to all the parties for strengthening democracy in the country.President Zardari said that his government adopted the policy of reconciliation and took all the parties on board. He said that the government would ensure transparent elections in future.He acknowledged that the country has inherited terrorism, war and energy crises.It is pertinent to mention that Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad are not attending the session.It is a democratic norm that the President address the joint session of the parliament, at the start of every new year of the National Assembly which has five-year constitutional term.During his fifth address to the joint session of the parliament, President Zardari will highlight the salient features of the last four years of the government and provide guide line to the government for its final year out of the five year term given to it by the general public during the 2008 elections.
 The fifth and final year of the present National Assembly has started from March 12, as it was first met on March 12, 2008 following the elections.

Madam Speaker
Honorable Members of the Parliament
Assalam-o-Alekum !
I feel honored to address the Joint Sitting of the Parliament.
This is the first time in our history that an elected President is addressing the Joint sitting for the Fifth time.
The world can see that the march of democracy goes on.
That our institutions are working. Together we are creating history.
While a lot more needs to be done, a strong beginning has been made. We Pakistanis can be proud of our young democracy.
Madam Speaker
I congratulate the newly elected Senators and members of the National Assembly. I congratulate the newly elected Chairman and Deputy Chairman Senate.
I particularly congratulate and welcome the Senators elected on the four seats reserved for the first time for our non Muslim brothers.
This is in accordance with the vision of the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The fulfillment of this vision has been made possible by this Parliament.
Madam Speaker
I am grateful to Allah for His help and guidance. I want to thank the leadership of all the political parties for their support to the democratic process. I appreciate the parliamentariasn for supporting historic laws.
I wish to compliment the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani for his able leadership in the House. And I wish to recognize the then Chairman Senate, Senator Farooq Naek and you Madam Speaker, for your high standards and impartial conduct.
Madam Speaker
We are starting a new Parliamentary Year. During this period, we will see free and fair elections. Let us reflect on the journey we started together in 2008.
Four years back, when the people of Pakistan trusted us with the responsibility to govern the country we inherited:
•    A country at war.
•    A divided nation.
•    The threat of terrorism and militancy.
•    A fragile and weakened federation.
•    Unclear roles and mandates of different institutions of the state.
•    An altered constitution in violation of the 1973 Constitution.
•    Disillusion in the smaller provinces and vulnerable groups.
•    Energy shortages due to past neglect of the sector, and
•    A serious economic and balance of payments crisis.
To add to the problems we have also had the great floods of 2010, the extraordinary rains of 2011 and a sharp increase in the price of imported oil.
Madam Speaker,
We have been dealing with these enormous challenges. We have tried to meet the aspirations of our people. We have tried to transform our country. Our government was driven by the vision of Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, who said and I quote: “It is time for new ideas. It is time for bold commitments. And it is time for honesty among people and between people. There has been enough pain. It is time for reconciliation.” (Unquote)
We have pursued the politics of reconciliation and harmony.  We have worked hard to generate consensus. We have tried to reach out. We have taken everyone along. And we have formed coalition governments to deepen democracy.
Madam Speaker,
We all worked together to restore the 1973 Constitution.  The rule of law has been established. The supremacy of the Parliament has been assured. As President I surrendered my powers.
And today, the Prime Minister, the Chief Executive, enjoys full authority as required by law. This was a shining moment for our parliament. History will remember this achievement. Just as the nation remembers Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the architects of the 1973 Constitution.
Madam Speaker,
We moved with speed and determination to strengthen the federation by redressing the imbalance between the powers of the center and the provinces. We abolished the Concurrent List. We transferred eighteen ministries to the provinces. We enhanced provincial autonomy. We have made the Council of Common Interests fully functional.
This great transformation was achieved with complete agreement of all the stakeholders. This shows complete unity of our nation in adopting legislation to make our country strong and democracy more inclusive.
Madam Speaker,
To accompany the greater transfer of authority we took historic decisions to also provide more finances to the provinces.  After a gap of 13 years, the federal and all provincial governments agreed on a new NFC Award.
In the new Award the share of the provinces has been increased. Now nearly 70 percent of the resources are being transferred to the provinces. This means there is more money for education, health, drinking water, municipal services and law and order. In the last two years alone, over 800 billion rupees have additionally been transferred to the provinces. If utilized correctly, these resources can help transform the lives of our people.
Madam Speaker,
Our country has been faced with the threat of militancy and extremism. Our forces and police and civilians have been attacked and martyred.
Our bases, police stations, pipelines, railways, hotels, schools, have been targeted. Even our mosques, churches and religious shrines have not been spared. Our country’s image has been negatively projected.
Our economy has had to bear extra burdens. Even the good name of our great religion—a religion of peace and harmony and love— has been exploited.
To deal with the mind-set of a small minority, we have mobilized our society and tried to generate a national consensus.  Where necessary we have used force to ensure that the writ of the state is not challenged. We will continue to show resolve on this issue. I believe that our efforts have begun to pay off and the situation has improved.
I join the Parliament and the nation in recognizing the sacrifices of our Armed Forces, Civil Armed Forces, Police and all the innocent men and women who have suffered or embraced martyrdom.  I salute the courage and sacrifices of those who have laid down their lives to secure the future of our nation. I also pray to Allah for them and their families.
Madam Speaker,
We have moved further to make our democracy more transparent and ensure that the elections are fair and free.
The 20th amendment ensures the independence of the Election Commission and the selection of an impartial Care Taker Government through a process of consultation in the parliament.
This extraordinary legislation will guarantee credible elections, increase confidence in democracy and enhance the image of our country in the world.
Madam Speaker,
It was also this government that chose the Leader of the Opposition as Chairman of the Public Account Committee. The PAC is the nation’s foremost body for keeping the government departments in check and ensuring accountability at the highest level. It was a reflection of our faith in the Parliament.
There is perhaps no parallel to this measure of transparency in parliamentary democracies.
Madam Speaker,
In the last four years great strides have been taken to integrate, mainstream and develop the areas and regions that have been ignored in the past.
Let me share with you some of the important steps taken to uplift our citizens and provide for a more balanced development of the country.
•    The Political Parties Act was extended to the Tribal Areas.
This has given more political and economic power to our tribal citizens.
•    We have also amended the Frontier Crimes Regulation in response to the aspirations of the people of tribal areas to give them a judicial system that meets minimum standards of justice delivery.
•    The tribal area of Kala Dhaka has been converted into a settled area.
•    In the same spirit, this government adopted a historic measure in 2009 to grant self-rule to our brothers and sisters in Gilgit-Baltistan. This will empower the people, accelerate the development and help realize the potential of hydro-power.
•    The Government has taken special measures to develop Balochistan, end its sense of deprivation and bring it at par with other provinces. 11,500 jobs have been financed in the province by the federal government. Rs 120 billion for Gas Development Surcharge will be provided. This year the share of Balochistan in the new NFC has been more than doubled from Rs 43 billion to Rs 93 billion.
Madam Speaker
Let me now turn to an important area: The economy.
Our Government inherited:
•    A fragile economic situation,
•    A balance of payment crisis and,
•    External shocks due to global recession and a huge fiscal imbalance.
Fiscal deficit was 7.6 percent. Current account deficit had reached 8.4 percent. Fiscal space provided by the rescheduling of over 12 billion dollars loans in 2002 had been lost. Growth had lost momentum. Reserves began to deplete as the rupee fell. Inflation peaked at an unprecedented 25 percent.
Madam Speaker
Over the last four years the elected government took difficult decisions to get out of a threatening situation, maintain economic stability and bring prosperity to out citizens. In particular we gave relief to our vulnerable segments. We have shown great discipline to reduce government expenditures. We have mobilized domestic tax revenues to lessen our dependence on others and to give better services and projects to our people. We have achieved historic performance in our external sector. We have maintained stability. And we are beginning to show stronger growth of the economy.
Madam Speaker
Our efforts to achieve high growth and employment were hampered by the great floods and the monsoon rains. The floods cost us over two percent of GDP growth, and damage of around 14 billion dollars. We were also forced to cut other programs to look after our affected citizens.
Madam Speaker
Let me share with you some important facts:
•    In spite of all the difficulties, the economy will grow by four percent in 2012.
•    Exports crossed a historic benchmark of 25 billion dollars last year
•    Remittances were 11.2 billion dollars last year, and will double over the 2008 levels this year.
•    Our foreign exchange reserves reached their highest level ever at over 18 billion dollars at the end of June.
•    In spite of global increase in the price of oil and food our rate of inflation has been coming down. We have worked hard to bring inflation from its peak of 25 percent in 2008 to 11 percent now.
•    We have taken steps to raise revenues. Our tax collections have doubled from one thousand billion to about two thousand billion rupees since 2008. This year the tax growth is the highest ever at 26 percent.
•    The stock market has begun to improve. The index has crossed 13000, compared to around 7000 in 2009. Dependence on food imports has been reduced. We estimate our wheat crop to be 25 million tons and cotton crop will touch 13 million bales despite loss of two million bales in floods in Sindh.
•    The government has adopted agricultural pricing policies so as to benefit the farmers and bring prosperity to the rural areas. In the last two years approximately Rs 800 billion additional income has been generated for the growers.
•    During the last four years the Government spent 2200 billion rupees on development programs. More than 200 projects have been completed. These include: Chashma Nuclear Power 2, Mangla Raising, Mirani Dam, Islamabad Peshawar Motorway and Islamabad Muzaffarabad Expressway.
•    New projects of national importance have been started. These include: Bhasha Dam Project, Neelum-Jhelum Hydro power, Tarbela Extension, Chashma Nuclear Power 3 and 4 and rebuilding of KKH and Indus Highway. We will soon start construction of Karachi-Hyderabad Motorway on BOT basis.
•    I travelled several countries to promote trade. We have negotiated currency swap arrangements with China, Russia, Turkey and Jordan.
Madam Speaker,
We have tried to manage the economy with one primary focus: to ensure that the benefits reach the common man.
That ordinary Pakistanis are not left out and that everyone attains his or her potential.
Let me share with you some of the steps we have taken especially for the less privileged:
We gave cash transfer of 70 billion rupees to flood victims to rebuild their lives and prevent them from falling into poverty.
To reduce the burden of common man, the Government provided over 1000 billion rupees in the power sector alone.
To help the growers 110 billion rupees subsidy was given for fertilizers. 137 billion rupees subsidy was provided for food items and, 104 billion rupees subsidy provided for petroleum products during the last four years.
The flagship programme to fight poverty is the Benazir Income Support Programme.
Under this programme six million families living below the poverty line have been identified.
The programme provides cash transfers, job training, insurance and business support.
The government has given 138 billion rupees in four years.  The principal beneficiaries are women, head of the household. The programme is recognized for its coverage and transparency.  Additionally, six billion rupees were provided through Bait-ul-Mal to deserving individuals.
Five billion rupees of Zakat funds have also been provided to the needy. We took steps for the benefit of the employees. These include:
•    To provide sustainable jobs around 7,000 wrongfully sacked employees were reinstated.
•    12,000 contract employees were regularized.
•    660,000 Pakistani workers were sent abroad for overseas jobs.
We introduced the Benazir Employees Stock Option Scheme to give 12 percent share of state-owned enterprises to the employees.  Shares worth many billions of rupees have been given to more than half a million employees and they have been made owners of national assets.
To employ youth, the Government provided internship to 100,000 holders of Masters degrees.
Salaries of all government employees were increased by more than 125 per cent in the last four years.

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