Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Rs1bn donated by overseas Pakistanis for dams since July

ISLAMABAD: Overseas Pakistanis have so far contributed around Rs1 billion while local individuals as well as institutions have donated Rs7.47bn to the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams fund, according to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

Within a span of five months, a total of Rs8.46bn was deposited in The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund, the SBP data showed.

Also read: ,Not every diaspora Pakistani can donate $1,000. But even if Diamer-Bhasha reaches its funding goal, then what?,

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar took the initiative of collecting donations by launching the fund on July 6 that was later joined by Prime Minister Imran Khan, making it a joint venture to overcome the country’s water scarcity.

Till December 6, according to the SBP, the overseas Pakistanis shared 10.6pc of the total contribution for the construction of the dams.

Locals contribute Rs7.47bn in PM-CJP joint initiative

Earlier, the prime minister in his televised address to the nation had appealed to the estimated nine million overseas Pakistanis, particularly those living in European countries and the United States, to contribute at least $1,000 per head to the noble cause, and warned that Pakistan could face famine-like conditions by 2025 if new water reservoirs were not built.

The CJP recently visited the UK for fundraiser to avert the looming threat of drought in Pakistan in coming years.

Around $14bn is required for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam.

Within Pakistan, the contributions were made through cheques, cash and mobile phone message service. An amount of Rs125m was received through SMS services of the four cellular phone service companies operating in the country.

Many overseas Pakistanis sent their donations through debit and credit cards, while many others deposited money in the SBP Nostro account and commercial banks overseas.

Most of the foreign donations, around Rs362m, came from the Pakistanis living in the US, followed by around Rs214m from those living in the UK, while those in Canada donated Rs107m.

Other major donations by the overseas Pakistanis came from the United Arab Emirates (Rs65m), Saudi Arabia and Qatar (around Rs40m each), Switzerland (Rs32m) and others.

Generous contributions were also made by the overseas Pakistanis living in Norway, Turkey, Japan, China, Sweden, Russia, Brazil, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Austria, Brunei, Denmark, the Netherland, Belgium, Finland, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Fiji, Ireland, South Korea, Thailand, Oman, Jordan, the Maldives, Nigeria, Peru, Tunisia and the Philippines.

When contacted, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis Syed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari hailed the contribution from Pakistanis working abroad for the noble cause and said they always came forward to support the country in difficult times.

He announced constitution of an overseas Pakistanis associates committee, which would be mandated to raise fund till the completion of dams. He said the confidence of overseas Pakistanis was boosted after PM Khan assured them of maximum facilitation.

Mr Bukhari pledged to bring in more money from upcoming fundraisers he was scheduled to attend abroad.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2018

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‘Do not want Pakistan treated like a hired gun’: PM Khan on US ties

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in ,an interview with The Washington Post,, expressed his desire to have “a proper relationship with the US” akin to Islamabad’s ties with China rather than the one “where Pakistan is treated like a hired gun”.

The prime minister, in an exclusive interview with the American newspaper on Thursday, said: “I would never want to have a relationship where Pakistan is treated like a hired gun — given money to fight someone else’s war. It not only cost us human lives, devastation of our tribal areas, but it also cost us our dignity.

When asked to elaborate on the ideal nature of relationship that he would like to have with Washington, PM Khan added: “For instance, our relationship with China is not one-dimensional. It’s a trade relationship between two countries. We want a similar relationship with the US.”

The prime minister rejected the notion that he is “anti-US”, saying that disagreeing with Washington’s policies did not make him “anti-American”.

“This is a very imperialistic approach. ‘You’re either with me or against me’,” he said.

When asked if he wanted relations between Pakistan and the US to “warm up”, the prime minister responded: “Who would not want to be friends with a superpower?”

The premier, however, stuck to his ,anti-drone attacks stance, and wondered why anyone would support it. “Who would allow a drone attack in their country when, with one attack, you kill one terrorist and 10 friends and neighbours?” he questioned. “Has there ever been a case of a country being bombed by its own ally? Of course I objected to it. All it did was create more anti-Americanism.”

‘Humiliating US did not trust Pakistan over OBL operation’

The prime minister also condemned the ,2011 US operation in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden,, saying that it was “humiliating” that the US did not trust Pakistan to kill the terrorist.

“It was humiliating that we were losing our soldiers and civilians and [suffering terrorist] bomb attacks because we were participating in the US war, and then our ally did not trust us to kill bin Laden,” he regretted and added that the US “should have tipped off Pakistan”.

When asked if he, at one time, had condemned bin Laden’s killing itself and called it a “cold-blooded murder”, the premier said he “didn’t know where this came from”.

“Coldblooded murder!” he repeated in exasperation.

The prime minister also dismissed ,US’ allegations, that there were safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan, saying that the security forces had briefed him on the matter and told him that they had asked Washington “time and time again” to point out where the sanctuaries are.

However, he did not discount the possibility of some Afghan Taliban, “maybe 2,000 to 3,000″ crossing the border under the guise of refugees and residing in camps.

The prime minister also discussed his ,recent spat with US President Donald Trump,, clarifying that it was not a “Twitter war, it was just setting the record right”.

He insisted that peace in Afghanistan was ,in Pakistan’s interests,, and assured that Islamabad would “try [its] best to put pressure on the [Afghan] Taliban” in order to bring them to the table and hold negotiations.

“Putting pressure on the [Afghan] Taliban is easier said than done,” he warned. “Bear in mind that about 40 per cent of Afghanistan is now out of the government’s hands.”

Take a look: ,US-Taliban talks,

The premier reminded the interviewer of his long-held stance that the Afghan conflict did not have a military solution, adding that he was termed “Taliban Khan” for it. “Now I’m happy that everyone realises there is only a political solution. From Pakistan’s point of view, we do not want the Americans to leave Afghanistan in a hurry like they did in 1989.”

Prime Minister Khan dismissed the accusation that past Pakistani governments had “lied” to the US, adding that the American administration had been “misinformed”.

“Is it possible that the greatest military machine in the history of mankind — 150,000 Nato troops with the best equipment and over $1 trillion — are they saying that just a few thousand Pakistani insurgents are the reason they didn’t win in Afghanistan?” he asked. “The United States expected Pakistan to take on the Afghan Taliban. But the Afghan Taliban were not hitting Pakistan. Tehreek-i-Taliban and al-Qaeda were hitting us.”

Hopes for Pak-India talks

Prime Minister Khan also regretted that his government’s ,repeated overtures, for peaceful negotiations with New Delhi had been turned down.

,Unfortunate that Indian media tried to politicise Kartarpur border opening: PM Khan,

“The ruling party [in India] has an anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan approach,” he pointed out. “Let’s hope that after the election is over, we can again resume talks with India.”

He maintained that he wanted the case of the Mumbai attacks to be resolved, adding that he has “asked our government to find out the status of the case”.

‘Straight forward’

When asked about the ,recent arrests, of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) workers and leaders, including its party chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Prime Minister Khan said that the matter was “straight forward”.

“I had ,gone on television and warned everyone, that we will stand by the Supreme Court verdict,” he recalled. “If you don’t stand by what the Supreme Court says, then there’s no state left. The head of the TLP then passed a death sentence on the Supreme Court judges and kept saying that they should be killed.”

The prime minister reiterated his plan to end poverty from the country, with or without the International Monetary Fund’s programme.

He said that the country had received monetary help from Saudi Arabia, China and the United Arab Emirates, but said the latter two countries wanted the figures to remain “confidential”.

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Unfortunate that Indian media tried to politicise Kartarpur border opening: PM Khan

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the federal cabinet on Thursday, termed it unfortunate that Indian media have Pakistan’s positive gesture of opening the ,Kartarpur border a “political colour”.,

“Unfortunately the Indian media has given Kartarpur [border opening] a political colour, as if we did this to gain some sort of political mileage [...] This is not true. We did it because it is part of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s manifesto,” the prime minister said

“We have religious sites that are important for Hindus and Buddhists; we should open them up and facilitate the people,” he added.

“The Sikh community has responded very positively to the effort [to open the Kartarpur border]. It is to them what Madinah is to us Muslims. We hope that India will also respond positively in return,” Prime Minister Khan said.

Foreign policy matters

In reference to Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with the prime minister yesterday, the cabinet was told that “Pakistan’s role in the region is now being recognised”.

“Pakistan has always played an active role to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and it is a matter of great satisfaction that the United States has recognised Islamabad’s contribution to this effect,” the prime minister was reported as saying.

Touching upon Pakistan’s offer to act as mediator in the Yemen conflict, Prime Minister Khan said, “We talked to Saudi Arabia and Iran on the matter, Iran’s foreign minister gave us the go-ahead to try and see what could be done. We will try our best in this regard as well.”

Deflecting criticism

The prime minister also came to his ministers’ defence, saying that: “The finance ministry, planning and commerce ministries should be lauded for the efforts they have made under great pressure.”

The prime minister added that despite difficulties and challenges, various multinational companies have pledged to invest in Pakistan.

“Let me name a few of the companies that are planning to invest here. Suzuki’s chairman promised an investment worth $450 million, The Coca-Cola Company will invest $500m and PepsiCo will invest $400m,” the prime minister said.

“Exxon — which is the largest gas drilling company in the world — has come back to Pakistan after 27 years. They are immediately investing $200m in the country and they are saying that by next summer, they expect to know exactly how many off-shore gas reserves we have,” he added.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - December 6, 2018 at 11:25 am

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PM’s aide unearths another scam involving Nawaz

ISLAMABAD: The government claims to have unearthed another scam of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif relating to his private visits abroad at the government’s expense, causing losses running into millions of rupees to the national exchequer.

“Nawaz Sharif has made 25 private foreign trips during his rule from 2013 to 2018 on taxpayers’ money of Rs250 million,” the prime minister’s adviser on accountability, Shahzad Akbar, said at a press conference on Thursday.

Mr Akbar, who is also head of the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU), said that of these 25 foreign trips, some were made to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah along with family members and friends. “Although Mr Sharif is a rich man, even then he performed Umrah on taxpayers’ money,” he said.

The adviser also gave details of misuse of official aircraft for private tours by Mr Sharif, saying his one Umrah trip cost Rs35m. Responding to a question, he said the ARU had completed its investigation into the private foreign visits of the former premier and referred it to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as a fresh case of misuse of authority.

“Some other cases of misuse of authority are already being investigated against Nawaz Sharif and it will be the fresh one and will be dealt with separately by NAB,” he added.

Swiss agreement

Mr Akbar claimed that under a recently signed agreement on exchange of information about assets of citizens, the Swiss authorities would provide details of Pakistanis’ assets stashed in Switzerland within the next six weeks. He said the treaty had been pending for the last five years and the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had intentionally ignored it.

The adviser alleged that the PML-N rulers had avoided signing the agreement to save their own skin, otherwise details of their assets in Swiss banks could have been exposed.

He said the government had information that after the Panama Papers leaks most of the Pakistanis had shifted their money and assets from Switzerland to other countries. “As a result, we have sought details of Pakistanis’ assets of the last five years from Swiss authorities.”

In reply to a question, Mr Akbar said that details of Swiss bank accounts were also available with the German authorities and, therefore, the German government was also being contacted to get such details.

He said the government had also prepared a draft protocol to be signed with the British Virgin

Islands (BVI) authorities and expressed the hope that the details of assets of Pakistanis in the United Kingdom would also be shared with the Pakistan government.

“During Panama Papers leaks investigation, we faced disappointment that the British Virgin Islands did not provide us details of assets of Pakistanis, but once the protocol is signed, the required information will also be received from there,” he added.

The prime minister’s adviser said the protocol would be presented in the federal cabinet which was likely to formally approve initiation of negotiations with the British authorities in its next meeting.

He claimed that the ARU was also getting information about another undeclared house of Mr Sharif in London which was in the name of his wife Kalsoom Nawaz.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018

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Nawaz received millions from his son’s accounts, court told

ISLAMABAD: The prosecution concluded final arguments in the Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment (HME) reference on Monday and the counsel for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will start his arguments on Tuesday (today).

The defence counsel submitted Mr Sharif’s written statement as the court exempted him from personal appearance on Monday.

Concluding his arguments, National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) special prosecutor Wasiq Malik said Mr Sharif had received millions of rupees from the accounts of his son and the HME and this fact was “admitted and un-rebutted”.

He told the court that Mr Sharif claimed that he had received 88 per cent profit of the HME in the form of gifts, but he never produced any evidence to support this stance.

NAB prosecution concludes final arguments in Al-Azizia reference; defence to start arguments today

Another special prosecutor, Imran Shafique, argued before the court that whenever companies gifted anything to anyone it was documented in their record. But in this case no record showed that the transactions were gifts, he added.

He said that the defence took the plea that Mr Sharif’s sons, Hussain and Hassan Nawaz, were dependent upon their grandfather, but it never produced any evidence to substantiate the claim.

Moreover, Mr Shafiq said, it was unusual that all transactions for setting up a business in Saudi Arabia were made through verbal agreements and not via formal banking channel. It was an unusual practice, he added.

He said that Hussain and Hassan Nawaz admitted ownership of companies in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia and, therefore, they were supposed to produce details of shareholders and directors of these companies before the court.

Responding to a question of the accountability judge about the worth of the letter of Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani since he did not appear before the investigation team, Mr Shafiq said the UAE government had responded to the request for recording the Qatari prince’s testimony and sought the mutual legal assistance regarding the sale proceed of Gulf Steel Mills. The investigation team, therefore, dropped recording of the Qatari prince’s testimony since his letter had become irrelevant, he added.

Mr Shafiq said the Qatari prince did not appear before the Supreme Court, the joint investigation team or the NAB’s investigation team, adding that since he was a defence witness, the defence counsel should produce him before the accountability court. “He may be testified through video link or the court may constitute a commission to record his testimony,” he added.

The judge remarked that it had become a tradition in the country that all people involved in a case — the complainant, the lawyer and the accused — lied before the court and they expected the judge to announce an honest and fair judgement.

When the prosecutor was informing the court about the transactions of the HME to other companies, the judge asked him to focus only on Al-Azizia and HME.

The prosecutor then said that the accused had concealed the facts from investigators and not shared crucial details about the HME with the investigation team.

Judge Arshad Malik remarked that the evidence was enormous and asked the prosecutor to identify documents which were not produced before investigators.

The prosecutor said that the accused could have produced incorporation certificates of the companies, bank records and memorandum of article to the investigation team which would enable the investigators to ascertain the real owners.

The prosecutor told the court that Hussain and Hassan Nawaz did not join NAB’s investigation and both had been declared absconders.

According to the prosecutor, Mr Sharif had said he did not know about the business details of his sons. He said that following his exile, Mr Sharif was a royal guest in Saudi Arabia and within four months he had established Al-Azizia Steel Mills.

The court asked the defence counsel to start arguments on Tuesday (today) and adjourned the proceedings.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018

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PM Khan talks economy, governance and civil-military ties in wide-ranging TV interview

Prime Minister Imran Khan has shed light on various subjects of national importance including the state of the economy, civil-military relations and governance issues in a wide-ranging interview broadcast on TV on Monday.

In the pre-recorded interview, Khan answered questions by a panel of journalists representing various media organisations.

Rupee devaluation

The prime minister said he had found out about last week’s plunge in the value of rupee after watching the news. He said the decision to decrease the value of the currency against the US dollar was taken by the State Bank.

“Please remember, we are trying to autonomise institutions,” he said. “We have made SBP autonomous, they took the decision because they deem it fit.”

He said the previous PML-N government had left a trade deficit of $19 billion, which increased from a previous deficit of $2.5 billion.

“The PML-N govt had spent $7 billion to [artificially] maintain the value of the rupee,” he said.

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Khan acknowledged that such a sharp drop in the value of the rupee creates “uncertainty”, but stressed that he had not been aware of the decision to decrease the currency’s value.

“I have conveyed a message to the SBP to keep us in the loop so we can give our input,” the prime minister said, adding that he would have preferrred if the devaluation took place a bit later.

“The [rupee] adjustment is a temporary phenomenon,” he assured. “We are facing a foreign exchange crisis. Our [macroeconomic] indicators are now headed in the right direction, we will not face the issue in the future.”

Khan said bringing in foreign investment will be crucial in raising the dollar reserves of the country. He quoted the Chinese ambassador as saying that China is entering investment contracts with Pakistan for the first time.

“China created export zones, with foreign investment and local labour. We want to replicate the same model.”

Khan said all ministers have reported their achievements to him and that he will review their performance during the ongoing week. “We might change some ministers,” he cautioned.

The prime minister said the country is currently facing crises on multiple fronts and “every single institution” is running in losses.

“As per the Singapore model, we will incorporate these institutions into holding companies,” he said. “Our performance in the given scenario is exemplary. You will see stability in the coming days.”

When asked about the issues facing the business community, Khan said Pakistan is lagging behind when it comes to ‘ease of doing business’.

“We are trying to create a [positive] environment. We are establishing an office entitled ‘ease of doing business’ to provide a one-window solution to investors and to resolve their issues,” he said. “Though it is a slow process, we are trying our best to ensure ease of doing business.”

He said the government will provide incentives to the industry.

‘Army totalling standing by PTI manifesto’

Answering a question regarding his government’s relationship with the military, Khan said the Pakistan Army “is currently totally standing by PTI’s manifesto”.

“We have no problems at the present,” he said, adding that his government also hasn’t faced issues of “civil-military discord” as seen during past governments.

He said leaders around the world seek the opinion of their military establishment “since they are equipped with the means to brief us on security issues”.

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He said Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is standing steadfastly by the democratic government, and both are on the “same page”. “There is not a single decision that was not taken by me, and there is not a single decision behind which the Pakistan Army does not stand.”

Asked about his government’s efforts to address the missing persons’ issue, the prime minister said a meeting had been scheduled between him and Balochistan National Party (BNP-M) president Sardar Akhtar Mengal. However, Mengal could not make it to the meeting due to some reason, he said.

“I have full assurance from Gen Bajwa that they want to help in resolving the missing persons’ issue,” Khan said.

‘Regret’ over CJP’s remarks

Speaking about a case of alleged abuse of power by federal minister Azam Swati, Khan said he does not interfere in the matters of institutions to protect anyone.

“We will obey the court orders. Azam Swati will resign if found guilty,” he said.

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He was also asked about the role allegedly played by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in the transfer of former Pakpattan district police office Rizwan Gondal. “What is wrong if the chief executive of a province calls a police officer to inquire about the alleged abuse suffered by somebody’s daughter, who happens to be the daughter of Bushra begum, at the hands of police?” Khan questioned in response.

Khan expressed “regret” over remarks by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar in which the top judge pointed to alleged nepotism on Khan’s part in the appointment of Zulfi Bukhari’s as the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development.

‘Old-minded bureaucrats’

Prime Minister Khan said the nation would have to decide whether “it wants to let corruption prevail”.

He cited the example of China in ridding itself of corruption. “China is sailing past the US in economy, they have convicted 400 ministers during the past five years,” he noted.

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Khan said the major hurdle in his government’s anti-corruption plans are some “old-minded bureaucrats” who are “trying to sabotage [our efforts] and creating an impression that the government will not be able to continue”.

“We have recovered land worth trillions of rupees,” he said. “Mafias are behind real encroachments. We have asked the authorities not to target poor people but the mafias.”

“FBR, FIA and the anti-corruption [department] are working under the government. We have signed agreements on data sharing of each others’ citizens with 26 countries.”

Sharing an “interesting aspect” of the drive, Khan said the UAE and Saudi Arabia had refused to share the data of Pakistani iqama holders saying it was equivalent to sharing their citizenship information. “Now, you’ll know why iqamas were sought secretly,” he remarked.

In a reference to his political opponents, he said people had laundered money out of the country but they weren’t caught because they held UAE iqamas.

Accountability not ‘revenge tactics’

Addressing the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) differences with the opposition parties regarding the appointment of the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Khan said the PML-N wanted Shahbaz Sharif to head the committee, even though he is currently in a NAB jail and facing cases regarding 56 public sector companies.

“Will it not be a joke of our democracy if a person comes from the jail to chair the [PAC]?”

He said the opposition has boycotted all standing committees over the issue of PAC chairmanship. “They are trying to pressurise us into saying, ‘We support democracy, let’s work together’ and giving them an NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance],” Khan added.

The premier said the opposition parties “term accountability as revenge tactics”, but that none of the corruption cases against opposition members was instated by his government.

‘What’s wrong in taking U-turns?’

Khan once again defended his inclination towards reversing his own decisions, saying: “People always blame me for taking U-turns, I have never denied that and I don’t think of it as a bad thing. What’s wrong in changing the strategy to achieve your goals?”

“My goal is across-the-board accountability and I’m willing to shake hands with anyone who won’t object to that,” he said.

Khan said he decided to travel abroad only when he knew the visit would be beneficial for Pakistan’s economy. “Right now everyone abroad is aware that our economy is destroyed. So, my focus is on fixing that before touring abroad.”

‘Very nice’ letter from Trump

Prime Minister Khan informed journalists he had received a “very nice” letter from US President Donald Trump seeking Pakistan’s assistance in bringing about a negotiated end to the Afghan war.

Asked what his way forward would be, the premier said, “We will try our best to have the Afghan Taliban sit with the Americans for a dialogue.”

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Qatar to quit Opec in January 2019: energy minister

Qatar is to leave Opec next month in order for the Gulf state to focus on gas production, the country’s new Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi announced in a surprise move on Monday.

Qatar has been a member of Opec since 1961, and the decision to pull out comes at a turbulent time in Gulf politics, with ,Doha under a boycott by former neighbouring allies, including Saudi Arabia for 18 months.

“Qatar has decided to withdraw its membership from Opec effective January 2019 and this decision was communicated to Opec this morning,” Kaabi said at a Doha press conference.

Kaabi, who also heads state-owned Qatar Petroleum, denied the move was linked to the feud with Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The decision was “technical and strategic” and had “nothing to do with the blockade”, he said.

Qatar would continue to produce oil and seek deals in countries including Latin America’s top oil producer Brazil, said Kaabi.

But gas production would remain the top priority for Qatar, which is the world’s the biggest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG).

“We don’t have great potential (in oil), we are very realistic,” said Kaabi, who described himself as “Mr Gas” during the conference. “Our potential is gas.

“I think it’s inefficient to focus on something that’s not your core business and something that’s not going to benefit you long-term.”

In September, Qatar announced it planned to boost gas production to 110 million tonnes per year by 2024.

Qatar’s oil production is around 600,000 barrels per day and it is the world’s 17th largest producer of crude oil, according to specialist website, world data.info.

It also only holds around two percent of the world’s global oil reserves, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Kaabi said Opec had been informed of the decision on Monday ahead of the announcement and that he would still attend the organisation’s Vienna meeting later this week, his “first and last” as energy minister.

That meeting is expected to set a policy for 2019 and despite Qatar’s announcement, oil prices soared on Monday after Russia and Saudi Arabia renewed a pact to cap output.

Opec is dominated by oil-rich Saudi, which along with its allies has had no ties with Qatar since June 2017.

Relations between Riyadh and Doha are at an all-time low as a result of the crisis, which has seen Saudi-led countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and being too close to Iran.

Qatar refutes the allegations and claims rivals want to overthrow its government.

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‘State capacity biggest hurdle to foreign investment’

KARACHI: The PTI government has placed a great deal of emphasis on attracting foreign investment into Pakistan, and has taken trips to Saudi Arabia, Malyasia, the UAE and China in an effort to spur investor interest.

“We have found tremendous interest in Pakistan in all these countries,” says Haroon Sharif, chairman of the Board of Investment (BoI) who has the job of coordinating between the investors and the government. “The biggest hurdle for us is surely the weak capacity of the state to deal with private sector investors and find a way to deliver on their needs.”

He tells Dawn that the state lacks the experience to structure transactions, and it is primarily for this reason that international commitments made by the government come under frequent suspicion locally.

The lead route to get investments into the country is through construction of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs), he says, though other government-to-government deals are also in the works.

“We are welcoming investments from multiple countries for these zones,” he tells Dawn, adding that pace of work needs to be expedited. “They are being developed by the provinces,” he says, adding “and BoI is keen to get them up and running as soon as possible. The major hurdle is uninterrupted supply of utilities, mainly power but also gas and water.”

There is currently not enough power in the country to cater to large investments envisioned for these zones, he says, and adds that the possibility of using captive power for the zones is something that he is proposing. This puts the federal government in a bit of a chicken and the egg problem. Captive power becomes feasible if there are plants ready for offtake, but investors will be reluctant to set up plants if a clear supply of reliable power is not available. “We can explore some options like starting construction on captive power at the same time as the plants begin coming up,” he says.

Out of the four SEZs being built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor umbrella, he says the one in Faisalabad is nearly complete, while that in Rashakai, KP, is in the final stage of getting approval for go-ahead. “Within one year they should be in a position to offer plots of land for investors,” Haroon says. Thus far, they have received 952 applications from various parties, but it is not clear how many of them are looking to set up a plant in the zone and how many are just real estate investors.

“Eventually the zone will have to become a one-stop shop to be successful,” he says, where banks should be available as well as labour and all other requirements for investment. That will take time.

Beyond Faisalabad and Rashakai, he says Dhabeji in Sindh is also moving along, albeit slowly. “They are now starting their bidding to find a developer,” the chairman tells Dawn. Provincial governments lack the resources to build these zones, he says, and they are looking for partners who will be interested in a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) arrangement on it. “The concern in that is that if Chinese partners go for BOT, then they might close the zones to Chinese companies only.”

Gwadar, however, will take time, he says. “The government of Balochistan is still working on it. Our biggest interest is in Gwadar is in the refinery.” That project had its beginnings in the trip to Saudi Arabia taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan, though it is far too early at this stage. “At the moment it is early days, I am still trying to finalise the memorandum of understanding, even the feasibility has not begun yet.”

One question mark hanging over the refinery project is what the Saudis intend to do with the refined oil output. The location is far from areas where traffic is heavy, so the output will need to be transported a great distance to reach the market. “That is up to them to figure out, whether to use a pipeline to Karachi, but certainly tankers will cost a great deal for this purpose,” says Sharif.

“I’m sure the Saudis are looking at this as an investment proposition, but there is a strategic interest as well,” he adds. The Kingdom is trying to diversify its investments, for example it putting up a $44 billion refinery in India.

“I need to build capacity of state institutions to absorb foreign investments. When investors show interest, the state needs to put technical expertise on the table. Request for proposals have to be drawn up, roadshows put up, financial modelling has to be done. Since the state has been doing investment on its own for so long, it has no capacity to deal with private sector partners as such.”

Foreign investors have shown solid interest to come to Pakistan, he says. “Now it is up to the government how we facilitate them, and how we close the transactions.” He says he has ten proposals from Malaysia alone, “very serious companies that want to come to Pakistan, from education and halal meat to agri business and IT. Can we offer the deal to them? Can we close the deal?”

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2018

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Crackdown on those behind money laundering soon: PM

LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to a delegation of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce on Saturday.—INP

LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to a delegation of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce on Saturday.—INP

LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced launching a massive crackdown on money laundering, saying that a law to this effect is being prepared.

“(As much as) Rs10 billion is being reportedly laundered annually,” he said, adding that the government was actively working on multi-pronged initiatives — including wooing friendly countries (to help Pakistan curb money laundering) and persuading overseas Pakistanis to send remittances through banking channels, instead of illegal means such as hawala and hundi — to keep the dollar’s flight in check.

The prime minister said this while presiding over a Punjab cabinet meeting at Chief Minister’s Secretariat and during a meeting with a Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry delegation on Saturday.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar co-chaired the cabinet meeting which was also attended by special assistants to the prime minister Naeemul Haq and Iftikhar Durrani.

Various foreign firms are ready to invest in Pakistan, Imran tells Punjab cabinet while chairing its meeting

PM Khan said that there was no need to be concerned over the devaluation of the rupee, adding that the government had refused to directly approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avoid tough conditions — that normally squeezed economies and shifted burden on the masses.

“The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government, during its first 100 days, tried to bridge the deficit gap,” he said. “China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE gave an encouraging response enabling the country to become less dependent on the IMF.”

The prime minister said: “The government’s direct approach to the IMF may have hiked prices and increased joblessness.”

He said that the government had convinced various international companies to attract investment worth billions of rupees, adding that Pakistan was lucky to have an ideal geo-strategic location. “The US-based Exxon Mobil has agreed to come back to Pakistan after 27 years to explore gas reserves about which the country will know further by June,” he added.

He also said that Suzuki was investing around $450 million, Coca Cola $500m, Pepsi $800m, and Fonton — a Chinese car-manufacturing company — $900m to set up a manufacturing plant.

The PM further said that the over 120m people under the age of 35 years offered a huge potential which needed to be tapped in a big way.

Good governance

Asserting that the Punjab government should focus on good governance, the PM said that it would be instrumental in bringing massive foreign investment to the country. He urged the ministers to continue planning how their ministries could improve lives of the common people. “Every minister should focus on improving the life of the common man,” he said. The PM also directed the provincial ministers to step up their austerity measures. “The ministers should send me a two-page report about austerity measures taken during the first 100 days as well as their plans ahead,” he said.

He told the ministers that 100 days of their government were over and now it was time to be answerable to the masses. “There will be no concession from now onwards,” he warned.

Mr Khan asked the chief minister to monitor the performance of provincial ministers and government departments.

Earlier, the provincial ministers briefed the prime minister about their performance and claimed that 70 per cent of the targets had been achieved during the 100 days, while the remaining were about to be achieved.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2018

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Saudi prince was in constant touch with Khashoggi hit-squad boss: WSJ report

In the hours leading up to ,journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal killing,, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince sent at least 11 messages to his closest advisor who was charged with overseeing the murder, the Wall Street Journal said Saturday quoting a CIA assessment.

Mohammed bin Salman also told associates in August last year that if he failed to persuade Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia, “we could possibly lure him outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangements” — a communication the Central Intelligence Agency said “seems to foreshadow the Saudi operation launched against Khashoggi.”

The Journal said it had reviewed excerpts of the highly classified intelligence document, which relied on electronic intercepts and other clandestine information.

Khashoggi, a trenchant critic of the crown prince who relocated to Virginia and wrote ,op-eds, for the Washington Post, was killed by Saudi operatives inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on October 2, triggering global condemnation.

Explore: ,‘This has not been business as usual in my country’: excerpts from Saudi journalist Khashoggi’s writings,

After initially denying the murder, ,Saudi Arabia acknowledged some liability, but blamed his death on a “rogue” operation.

The Journal reported in November that the CIA had concluded Prince Mohammed had likely ,personally ordered, the killing.

President Donald Trump, who has been accused of ,covering for the Saudi leadership,, appeared to challenge that assessment about the prince, saying “maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.”

The newspaper said that excerpts of the assessment it had not previously reported state that the CIA has “medium-to-high confidence” that Prince Mohammed “personally targeted” Khashoggi and “probably ordered his death” — but added: “To be clear, we lack direct reporting of the Crown Prince issuing a kill order.”

The electronic messages were said to have been sent by Prince Mohammed to Saud al-Qahtani, who supervised the 15-man team that killed Khashoggi, the paper said.

The contents of the messages weren’t known, it added, citing the assessment, which also did not reveal the format of electronic communication.

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Former US president George H.W. Bush dead at 94

George H.W. Bush — the upper-crust war hero-turned-oilman and diplomat who steered America through the end of the Cold War as president and led a political dynasty that saw his son win the White House — died on Friday. He was 94.

George W. Bush called his father a “man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for,” in a statement announcing his death.

“The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41′s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”

Bush’s passing comes just months after the death in April of his wife and revered first lady Barbara Bush — his “most beloved woman in the world” — to whom he was married for 73 years.

The 41st American president was a foreign policy realist who navigated the turbulent but largely peaceful fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and assembled an unprecedented coalition to defeat Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein two years later.

But the decorated war pilot and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief suffered the ignominy of being a one-term president, denied a second term over a weak economy when he lost the 1992 election to upstart Democrat Bill Clinton.

His favoring of stability and international consensus stands in sharp contrast to the provocative bluster of fellow Republican and current White House occupant Donald Trump, a man whom Bush did not vote for in 2016.

Bush presided over economic malaise at home, and infuriated his fellow Republicans during a budget battle with rival Democrats by famously breaking his vow: “Read my Lips: No new taxes”.

But he was the respected patriarch of a blue-blood political dynasty — son George spent eight years in the White House, and son Jeb served as governor of Florida.

At the time of his death, Bush was the American president to have lived the longest.

Jimmy Carter was born a few months later, so he could quickly reset the record.

“America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude,” former president Barack Obama said in a statement.

War, oil, politics

George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts into a wealthy New England political dynasty — the son of Prescott Bush, a successful banker and US senator for Connecticut.

Bush had a pampered upbringing and attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, but delayed his acceptance to Yale in order to enlist in the US Navy on his 18th birthday and head off to war.

He flew 58 combat missions during World War II. Shot down over the Pacific by Japanese anti-aircraft fire, he parachuted out and was rescued by a submarine after huddling in a life raft for four hours while enemy forces circled.

Bush married Barbara Pierce in January 1945, shortly before the war ended, and the couple went on to have six children, including one, Robin, who died as a child.

Instead of joining his father in banking upon graduation from Yale University, Bush headed to bleak west Texas to break into the rough-and-tumble oil business.

He surprised many with his success, and by 1958 had settled in Houston as president of an offshore drilling company.

In the 1960s, Bush, now independently wealthy, turned to politics.

He was a local Republican Party chairman, and in 1966 won a seat in the US House of Representatives. He served there until 1970, when he lost a bid for the Senate.

Over the next decade, he held several high-level posts that took him and Barbara around the world: head of the Republican National Committee, US ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China and director of the CIA, where he was praised for restoring morale after revelations of widespread illegal activity.

He served as vice president to Ronald Reagan after losing to him in the 1980 Republican primary, an eight-year period of hands-on training for the top post he would go on to win by a solid margin in 1988, as the Cold War was coming to an end.

‘This will not stand’

In a major test of the post-Cold War order, Saddam’s million-man army invaded Kuwait in 1990 and looked set to roll into Saudi Arabia, which would have given the Iraqi strongman more than 40 percent of the world’s oil reserves.

Bush famously vowed: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

He assembled a coalition of 32 nations to drive Iraqi forces out in a matter of weeks with a lightning air and ground assault.

Some 425,000 US troops backed by 118,000 allied soldiers took part in Operation Desert Storm, decimating Saddam’s military machine without ousting him from power — a task that would be accomplished 12 years later by Bush’s son.

Buoyed by his victory in the Gulf, Bush and his hard-nosed and widely respected secretary of state James Baker cobbled together the 1991 Madrid Conference to launch the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The conference was mainly symbolic, but it set the stage for the Oslo Accords two years later.

In late 1989, Bush sent US troops to Panama to oust strongman Manuel Noriega. He also set the groundwork for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Domestically, however, the economy stalled and Bush broke his pledge not to raise taxes in order to reach a budget deal with Democrats — a cardinal sin in the eyes of Republicans.

In 1992, Bush lost his re-election bid to Clinton — whose aide coined the now famous slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” — as eccentric third-party candidate Ross Perot syphoned off conservative votes.

The elder Bush’s cautious realpolitik would later be contrasted to his son’s far more costly ambition to transform the Middle East, but “Bush 41″ refused to weigh in on the debate, insisting he was proud of the presidency of “Bush 43″.

Active post-presidency

After retiring from public life, Bush fulfilled a wartime pledge to one day jump out of a plane for fun and famously went skydiving on his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.

He joined Clinton to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In 2011, Obama awarded Bush the highest US civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom.

He worked with Carter, Clinton, Obama and son George to raise money for hurricane victims in Texas in 2017.

In 2001, Bush became just the second US president after John Adams to see his son become president.

Son Jeb made his own presidential run in 2016, but fell short in the Republican primaries against Trump.

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MBS, Modi meet in Argentina as India looks to find new avenues for oil import

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expressed the kingdom’s willingness to provide for all of India’s oil and petroleum product needs during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Buenos Aires, ,Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, on Friday.

According to SPA, the two leaders met at the residence of the Saudi crown prince — known by his initials MBS — in the Argentine capital and discussed bilateral cooperation between the two friendly countries in the various fields. Both the leaders are in Buenos Aires to attend the Group of 20 (G-20) summit which kicks off today (Friday).

The meeting between the two leaders comes a few months after it was announced that — following US’s reimposition of sanctions against Iran — ,India will cut its oil imports from Tehran to zero,.

With limited exceptions, the ,US government’s reimposed sanctions, against Iran will hit countries that do not stop importing Iranian oil and foreign firms that do business with blacklisted Iranian entities, including its central bank, a number of private financial institutions, and state-run port and shipping firms, as well as hundreds of individual Iranian officials.

In September, the ,US government said that it is not going to provide a waiver to any country, from curbs on commercial deals with Iran and the restriction applies to India as well.

The following month ,it was announced that India will be joining other Asian buyers, such as South Korea and Japan that have already halted imports from the Persian Gulf state before American restrictions take effect in early November.

In the Buenos Aires meeting, Saudi Aramco’s investment in refineries in India — especially the large refinery on the western coast of India and in the field of crude oil storage — came under discussion, reported SPA.

Prince Mohammed accepted Modi’s invitation to join International Solar Alliance during the meeting. The two leaders discussed investment in solar energy through the Soft Bank Vision Fund and through the Saudi companies which will build solar energy projects.

They also discussed the investment opportunities in the infrastructure through the Public Investment Fund and replacing Saudi Arabia’s agricultural imports from other countries with Indian agricultural products.

According to SPA, the leaders discussed strategies to localise the military industry and cooperation in the field of military manufacturing in both countries and reviewed the available opportunities to export the Saudi non-oil products to India, and ways to develop bilateral trade.

MBS at G-20 Summit

The summit is the Saudi prince’s first significant appearance overseas since the ,killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the kingdom’s Istanbul Consulate. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been sharply critical of Saudi Arabia over the incident, is also in attendance.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who flew into Buenos Aires on Wednesday as one of the earliest arrivers, called for international involvement and “complete clarity” in investigations into the killing, and said European leaders should discuss it at a meeting Friday.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri, the summit’s host, said the matter of the killing would be “on the table” during bilateral and possibly broader meetings.

Saudia Arabia has denied that the crown prince played a role in Khashoggi’s gruesome slaying. Human Rights Watch, however, has accused him of responsibility and also of war crimes in Yemen, and on Wednesday, Argentine legal authorities took initial action to consider a request to prosecute him for alleged crimes against humanity — a move apparently aimed at embarrassing him as he attends the summit.

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Alarm bells ring on fiscal deficit as govt borrowing from SBP shows massive spike

ISLAMABAD: The Monetary and Fiscal Policies Coordination Board on Thursday expressed serious concern over the growing budget deficit and inflation, increasing government borrowing from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and sluggish revenue performance.

The board was also worried over the poor show by manufacturing sector and called for earliest possible course correction and advised the government to immediately finalise its medium-term strategy paper for macroeconomic stabilisation.

Finance Minister Asad Umar presided over the meeting and assured the board of government’s commitment to improving the fundamentals of economy and achieving sustainable and balanced economic growth.

“Fiscal consolidation remained a challenge during the first quarter of the current fiscal year as fiscal deficit increased to 1.4 per cent, from 1.2pc in comparable period last year,” Secretary Finance Arif Ahmed Khan was quoted in an official statement. The FBR’s revenue rose by 6.4pc and “if gains traction, it may bridge up the fiscal deficit going forward.”

The Ministry of Finance reported last week that defence and current expenditure surged significantly while development spending dropped drastically in the first quarter of the current year as consolidated fiscal deficit widened to 1.4pc of the gross domestic product (GDP).

It said the total defence spending in first three months (July-September) rose to 0.6pc of GDP, compared to 0.5pc in same period last year. In absolute terms, the defence expenditure increased by 21pc to Rs219.4bn.

The current expenditure also grew by 19pc to Rs1.48 trillion in the first quarter versus Rs1.24tr of corresponding period last year. As percentage of GDP, current expenditure was up 3.9pc this year, from 3.5pc of last year. Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), on the other hand, plunged 35.5pc to Rs106.6bn in 1QFY19 as against Rs165bn in comparable period last year. In other words, PSDP spending was down to 0.3pc of GDP, from 0.5pc of last year.

The saving grace came from four provinces who together offered a rare cash surplus of a record Rs246bn.

The board is required to set the direction of government with a mix of public and private sector advice. Led by the finance minister, the board is represented at the highest level by ministries of finance, commerce and planning, SBP and two independent private sector economists.

SBP governor discussed monetary aggregates along with views on the economy. Broad money (M2) witnessed a rise of Rs35bn from July to Nov 16 as compared to a decrease of Rs67bn in same period last year, which was entirely contributed by net domestic assets of the banking system as net foreign Assets continued to contract.

Despite rising interest rate overall private sector credit remained higher than last year. The government borrowed Rs2.859tr from SBP, versus Rs195m in same period last year. On the other hand, it retired Rs2.619tr to scheduled banks as against a borrowing of 201.5m. As a result, net government borrowing from the banking system reached Rs186.5bn, tom Rs383.5bn over the previous year.

The private sector credit surged to Rs304bn during the period, as compared to Rs69bn last year with expansion seen largely in working capital and fixed investments.

Khan told the meeting that external balance had improved in the first four months of this fiscal year, as current account contracted by 4.6pc due to significant increase in workers’ remittances, containment in imports and increase in export growth. He said the headline inflation was increasing on the back of non-food inflation above 8pc, whereas food inflation was rising moderately by 2.7pc on account of smooth supply of commodities in the market and better price monitoring system.

He also updated the board about the economic reforms approved by the Economic Advisory Council. The meeting further discussed export credit facility offered by Saudi Arabia, envisaging the purchase of crude oil and or other petroleum product(s) of up to $3.24bn per annum on a 12-month deferred payment basis, a statement said.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2018

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No hurry on IMF programme, says Asad

KARACHI: Finance Minister Asad Umar has said that Pakistan can wait two months before deciding on an ,IMF programme.,

“We aren’t in a hurry,” he is quoted by Bloomberg in a report, words that echo remarks he began making publicly even while the IMF negotiations were under way. “We are covered even if it delays for two months.”

The remarks were made on the sidelines of a conference being held in Islamabad. A month’s delay would push the start of any programme to the end of January. In his earlier remarks, he had hinted at mid-January as the date they were looking at for the board’s approval of a programme.

“We still want to have the programme,” he told Bloomberg. “But we’re not in a hurry to have it. It will ease and open up other funding avenues.”

The government is looking to bilateral assistance from “friendly countries” to help plug a $12 billion hole in the external accounts. Help from Saudi Arabia began arriving last week as $1 billion from a committed $3bn of cash support landed in the State Bank’s coffers. An additional oil facility worth $3bn more is also on the cards, according to government announcements.

In addition, the government is continuing talks with the Chinese, though thus far without any announced outcome. Those talks began when Imran Khan made his maiden visit as prime minister to Beijing earlier this month, where the Chinese authorities promised a “new chapter in cooperation” between the two countries, and Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing was open to providing assistance to Pakistan “but more talks are needed” first. Those additional talks are still continuing.

Subsequent visits to the UAE and Malaysia by the prime minister have not, thus far, yielded concrete evidence of balance of payments support, but the government remains hopeful that further assistance is in the pipeline.

Mr Umar is also looking to tap funding lines from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank as well as private markets in the months to come. This multilateral support, and the private inflows it makes possible from global markets, is helped along if the country is in an IMF programme.

According to recent media reports, the government and IMF failed to reach a conclusion in recent talks because the pace of adjustment being asked for by the Fund was too fast for the government. The reports suggest the IMF asked for the exchange rate to be free floated and power sector liquidity issues to be resolved by passing the weight of the losses onto the consumers. This would result in a sharp power tariff hike, something the government wants to avoid at the outset of its term.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2018

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Govt readies fresh Rs340bn bailout for power sector

ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday decided to raise up to Rs340 billion fresh loans to once again bailout the country’s ever-bleeding power sector by pledging major assets of the distribution and generation companies.

A decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of Cabinet, presided over by Finance Minister Asad Umar.

In two related, but separate decisions, the ECC ordered finalisation of a mechanism for raising up to Rs200bn in Islamic financing on behalf of Power Holding Private Limited (PHPL) –– an asset-less shell company of the Power Division –– and allowed issuing sovereign guarantee to enable National Power Parks Management Company Ltd (NPPMCL) –– a subsidiary of the federal government and operator of two LNG power plants of 2,453MW –– to raise Rs38 billion.

A senior official of the Power Division told Dawn that ECC constituted a committee comprising top officials of power, petroleum, finance and law divisions as well as Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan to work out a mechanism for Islamic financing for PHPL through a consortium of banks, led by Meezan Islamic Bank. The committee would firm up the mechanism within a week and the funds would be used to service payables of the oil and gas sector, that is gripped by more than Rs1.2 trillion circular debt including a fresh flow of almost Rs700bn.

The committee was told that Syndicated Term Finance Facilities of Rs607.035bn had already been executed in the name of PHPL for funding repayment liabilities of Discos. The conventional banks are not ready to commit more funds to the sector, owing to their over exposure.

Therefore, the government has now decided to raise fresh loans of up to Rs200bn from Islamic banks by pledging assets of Discos and Gencos as collateral. The assets have been identified and earmarked by the respective companies and are being shortlisted by the consortium for first stage of financing worth Rs100bn.

The banks have so far identified 43 assets and forwarded to valuators of the Pakistan Banks’ Association for their market valuation and have also shared a tentative term sheet worth Rs100-200bn, which is being reviewed by the Ministry of Finance.

On top of that, the Power Division proposed that an amount of up to Rs200bn be raised from Islamic banks through PHPL to improve liquidity of the sector and create space for structural improvements. The funds would be utilised for funding the repayment liabilities of Discos through Central Power Purchasing Agency. The finance ministry will provide government guarantee for repayment of loan as well as the interest.

To deliver on this, all the board of directors of Discos and Gencos would be required to agree to hold the properties/assets in the trust for banks. The Power Division has reported that under the present legal dispensation, repayment of markup and principal cannot be charged to the tariff because of this being double accounting.

In a related decision, the ECC also approved government guarantee to NPPMCL to raise loan of Rs38bn from financial institutions in order to meet remaining cost of its two power plants –– 1,223MW Balloki and 1,230MW Haveli Bahadur Shah in Punjab.

A Power Division official explained that the two plants were approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council in February 2016 at a total cost of Rs190.44bn and the federal government provided Rs114bn cash development loan in 2016 and 2017 to NPPMCL which was directed to arrange the remaining funds on self-finance basis.

Subsequently, the federal government approved the acquisition of two plants of NPPMCL by Pakistan Development Fund Ltd (PDFL) that was created to take care of $1.5bn “gift” from Saudi Arabia. Rs114bn loan was thus acquired as advance against equity injection by PDFL. To provide further support to meet funding requirements of NPPMCL, the PDFL also provided a short term loan of Rs32.738bn.

Now the NPPMCL has requested the government to arrange project financing of Rs70bn to pay off remaining costs of the scheme and short-term loan of PDFL. The Ministry of Finance, therefore, decided in consultation with all stakeholders that principal amount of Rs32.738bn provided by PDFL as short-term loan be converted into its equity stake in NPPMCL. The NPPMCL will raise the remaining Rs38bn from commercial banks against government guarantee.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2018

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Jury out on PTI’s performance amid claims, counterclaims

ISLAMABAD: A furious opposition in parliament, bailout package from Saudi Arabia, TLP protests, U-turns, re-emergence of terrorism, peace overtures to India and its much-hyped austerity drive amid economic upheaval were some of the main features of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government ,during its first 100 days, — a period which is completing today.

While opposition parties are terming the 100-day performance of the government as “unimpressive, ridiculous and full of lies and U-turns,” the ruling party leaders are boasting the period with “remarkable achievements”, claiming that the country has been put on the right track.

Some three months before the July 25 general elections, PTI chairman Imran Khan had unveiled his party’s ambitious “agenda” outlining the party’s commitments for starting work within the first 100 days of forming government after the polls.

The salient features of the agenda were expeditious merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bifurcation of Punjab and reconciliation with estranged Baloch leaders.

The 100-day agenda also contained a plan for introducing a development package for Karachi and a programme for alleviation of poverty, besides a number of steps for improvement of economy.

Opposition sees only ‘lies, U-turns’ while PTI boasts unprecedented achievements

Presenting the salient points of the economic policy of the PTI government, Asad Umar, now finance minister, had promised that the government would create 10 million jobs, revive manufacturing, rapidly grow small and medium enterprises sector, facilitate private sector to build five million houses, reform tax administration and transform state-owned-enterprises.

Later, speaking at the first formal press conference after the elections and before assuming the charge as finance minister, Mr Umar had said that offering any relief or subsidy to the people during first 100 days was like giving lollipops. He said the first 100 days would also not see a decision that would change the destiny of the nation, but a clear direction on what “we promised and where we are headed for stock-taking”.

The opposition parties allege that the government has totally failed to deliver at almost all the fronts, particularly economy and law and order situation. According to the opposition, the government has not done its homework properly.

Parliament in a limbo

The delay in the formation of committees of the National Assembly has almost made the parliament non-functional. NA Speaker Asad Qaiser, who has been struggling to run the house smoothly, is on a tight rope because of the ongoing tussle between the PTI and the opposition parties over the issue of the chairmanship of all powerful Public Accounts Committee. He has stopped the process of the formation of parliamentary committees due to the opposition’s threat to boycott all panels if the ruling party does not offer PAC chairmanship to Opposition Leader and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif as per “parliamentary traditions.”

Due to having no legislative work to do, almost all previous sittings of the lower house of the parliament witnessed debates and speeches on petty matters with members continuing their corruption tirade against each other, causing uproars and even scuffles that resulted into a ban on the entry of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry to the upper house of the parliament by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani due to former’s refusal to tender an apology for making “personal attacks” on opposition leaders on the floor of the parliament.

While mentioning the U-turns taken by the government, the opposition parties — mainly the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — remind the PTI that after the first cabinet meeting, the information minister had declared that the prime minister would not undertake any foreign visit in the first three months and would only travel in commercial flights, but he had already undertaken the visits of Saudi Arabia, China, the UAE and Malaysia and that too, on special aircraft.

According to the opposition, the prime minister has also taken U-turn on his promise of not seeking loans from abroad by extending begging bowls before Saudi Arabia, China and the UAE.

Defending his actions, the prime minister, during a recent talk with media reporters, said that taking U-turns was a sign of leadership. This statement provided another opportunity to his critics to point their guns towards him, forcing a number of PTI stalwarts and loyalists to come in the field to defend their leader by making different interpretations of Imran Khan’s statement.

The government also had to face the challenge of handling the protest by the religio-political groups, including the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s verdict in Aasia Bibi case. The government’s decision to strike a deal with the protesters who had even used abusive and seditious language against the state institutions drew ire of the opposition as well as the social circles.

Opposition strikes

The PML-N and the PPP, in separate statements on Sunday, termed “the 100 days of the PTI government a tale of 100 U-turns and 100 lies” and criticises it for hike in prices of oil, gas and electricity.

Instead of talking about government policies, the main focus of the main opposition parties, however, remained Aleema Khan, the sister of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had recently regularised her foreign property after paying fine.

“The main achievement of the PTI government in its 100 days is to give an NRO to Aleema Khan,” said both PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and PPP Information Secretary Dr Nafeesa Shah in their separate statements.

“When will Imran Khan tweet about Aleema Khan’s illegal assets? When will the money looted by Aleema Khan be brought back to the country by the PM who used to shout claims of bringing every penny of looted public money and evaded tax back to Pakistan?,” asked the PML-N spokesperson.

“From the miracle of the PM’s visit to Saudi Arabia on a camel to the millions of jobs and houses built on Google, (and) the illegal occupation of the PM on government land in Banigala, those who vowed committing suicide instead of borrowing went begging from country to country, exposing the government’s revolutionary economic turnaround policy,” said Ms Aurangzeb, adding that “the government has nothing to show for these 100 days other than their incompetence and inability.”

“Every word said in these 100 days was a lie, every promise a farce and every claim a hopeless failure, during which merit was murdered and bureaucracy politicised and pressured for favours,” she alleged.

Similarly, the PPP’s Dr Shah said first 100 days of the PTI government had set an example of “bad governance.”

Govt defended

On the other hand, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said theirs was the only government which had set targets for first 100 days. He said no scandal had surfaced during the first 100 days, making it the “first clean government” of the country.

Responding to the opposition’s allegations regarding the prime minister’s sister, Mr Chaudhry said Aleema Khan had nothing to do with the government or the PTI and if the opposition believed that she had committed some offence, they could take legal course against her.

The minister accused the opposition of making the parliament “non-functional” by turning the PAC chairman issue into a controversy. He, however, said the government had already formed a parliamentary committee on alleged polls rigging, besides initiating steps for reviewing the accountability act.

He admitted that the prime minister could not give much time to the parliament because he had to undertake foreign visits due to the economic mess inherited by the government.

Mr Chaudhry said the prime minister would take the nation into confidence over the government’s achievements, in a function to be held at the Convention Centre in Islamabad on Nov 29.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2018

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Iran wants Muslims to unite against US

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged Muslims worldwide on Saturday to unite against the United States and assured Saudis they were “brothers” who had nothing to fear from Tehran.

US President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Tehran in May and has since re-imposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

“What the United States wants of [the Middle East] today is enslavement,” Rouhani said.

Muslim governments should unite against the United States and “the region’s cancerous tumour”, Israel, he said.

President Rouhani urges Saudi Arabia to end dependence on US aid

“Submitting to the West headed by America would be treason against our religion… and against the future generations of this region,” the Iranian president told an international conference on Islamic unity in Tehran, in a speech broadcast live on state television.

“We have a choice to either roll out red carpets for criminals, or to forcefully stand against injustice and remain faithful to our Prophet [PBUH], our Holy Quran and our Islam,” Rouhani said.

He urged Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia to end its dependence on “insulting” US military aid. “We are ready to defend the Saudi people’s interests against terrorism and superpowers with all our might,” he said.

“We do not ask $450 billion for it and will not insult you.”

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in January 2016 after protesters stormed its diplomatic missions in Iran following its execution of a prominent Shia cleric.

It accuses Tehran of fomenting unrest among Shia people in the Gulf Arab states and the two governments have supported opposing sides in devastating civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2018

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