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Power tariff hike

The process of solely relying on jacking up power tariff continues in the new government, ignoring urgent reforms by exploiting renewable energy sources, reviewing the private sector thermal agreements and recovery of bills from chronic and habitual defaulters. The finance Minster had admitted in a TV talk show that high electricity and gas tariffs are harming the manufacturing sector by affecting its competitiveness.

The power division and National Electric Power Regulatory Authority NEPRA) have projected a misleading scenario largely blaming the accumulation of circular debt on line losses of transmission and distribution system, while not telling the truth about the disastrous power sector agreements and a default on bills of Rs. 850 billion by the influential political and business elite and government departments.

NEPRA has notified yet another increase of 36 paisa per unit in fuel adjustment charges. This is the third increase over the past few months and the cumulative upward revision in power tariff after adding taxes and surcharges has reached to Rs. 4 per unit. The price of crude oil has dropped by $ 8 per barrel in the international market and there is no justification in the recent power tariff increase.

While the new government has inherited a massive circular debt of over Rs. 1 trillion in the energy sector, the power sector regulator has increased its woes by reporting that transmission and distribution companies have continued to fail in controlling line losses which is portrayed the major cause of circular debt and not telling the truth about shady deals made with private power producers. It is the capacity clause incorporated in these agreements that government is bound to pay 40 percent amount of circular debt for the idle plant capacity of private thermal power plants. Likewise, the non-payment of electricity bills worth Rs. 850 billion has also contributed to the burden of circular debt. To understand the actual grim picture, the Prime Minister Imran Khan and Finance Minister Asad Umar need a briefing from the Pakistan Business Council and independent e economists to effectively address the issue of circular debt.

The national exchequer has suffered a loss of Rs. 111 billion on account of line losses and non recovery of monthly electricity bills from the influential defaulters up to 100 percent. According to NEPRA such losses are playing primary role in creation of circular debt but ignore the debt trap laid by the private power producers taking illegal advantage of the capacity clause envisaged in the agreements made with them. It has published annual evaluation report on a date the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet said it has identified five to six key areas that account for the piling debt, currently standing at Rs. 1.19 trillion.

Losses to the national exchequer and addition of debt could be higher than the one reported for the year under review as the regulator over a dozens times has shown mistrust on the accuracy of the data the transmission and distribution companies have submitted. NEPRA, however, used the “fudged” data to calculate the losses and evaluate the performance in other categories like bills recovery. Giving the break up of 111 rupees debt, the regulator reported the line losses stood at Rs. 35 billion while non- recovery of revenue accounted for Rs. 76billion in the year. It also reported that all the 10 distribution companies have recovered up to 26 percent line losses from the consumers who regularly pay their monthly bills. The injustice meted out to them is allowed in raising power tariff. This practice of victimizing the honest consumers has made the payment of electricity bills unaffordable and they are compelled to go for installing solar energy systems for domestic use.

Another method of high handedness applied against the honest consumers is the frequent increase in gas tariffs and at the same time refraining from strict action against the defaulter of million of rupees. The ECC treaded carefully and deferred the decision on the summary for increase in gas tariff. Headed by the finance minster, the ECC did not take up the summary for gas price rise up to 180 percent.

The PTI government is aiming to seek solutions to the issues that have caused building up of a whopping Rs. 1.22 trillion circular debt. Theri is dire need to reactivate the “federal adjuster” in the finance ministry to recover receivables of electricity bills from provincial governments, initiating strict action against defaulters and renegotiating the power sector agreements.

 

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Viable economic plan

The economic mess created and accumulated over the past ten years has tied the economy within the fetters of Rs. 28000 unsustainable public debt, $ 18 billion current account deficit; decline in the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), chronic crisis in agriculture and manufacturing sectors, huge losses in public sector corporations, rampant corruption, money laundering and rampant tax evasion.

The international lending organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been persistently emphasizing on genuine structural reforms rather than cosmetic ones to correct the macroeconomic imbalances. But the obduracy prevailed and sane advice was either ignored or rejected contemptuously. Instead the false mantra of prosperity and investment heaven was all along sung by the pseudo-economic wizard former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal.

Now the World Bank has pegged its future financial support to Pakistan with putting in place a viable economic plan that could provide solution to the decade old structural problems, which are hemorrhaging the $ 313 billion economy. In his first visit to Pakistan, the Vice President of the World Bank for South Asia Region Hastwig Schafer, outlined the actions that Islamabad needs to undertake in return for the Washington based lender’s future budgetary support. He met the Finance Minister Asad Umar and discussed the current economic crisis and actions need to overcome it put Pakistan’s economy on the sustainable growth path.

Schafer assured World Bank’s continued support to Pakistan through a range of financial institutions once the government has worked out its economic turnaround strategy by the end of September. The international lender has suspended its budgetary support to Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif government hit-man finance minister Ishaq Dar deliberately let the economic situation to deteriorate to the verge of default. It was because if insanity perpetuated in the finance ministry by ‘Darnomics and disastrous recipes of the now retired finance secretary Dr. Waqar Masood that for the last three years, World Bank’s loans disbursement to Pakistan declined, deceasing from $1.5 billion in 2016 to $ 769.5 billion in 2018. Pakistan’s gross external financing needs are estimated to be in the range of $ 26 to 28 billion with a financing gap of $ 12 billion.

The same concerns have been articulated by Pakistan Busin4ess Council in a letter to finance minister, urging him to unite the country behind “Make Pakistan drive’ to improve the economy. The PBC has also sent a 20 points plan to the finance minister to improve the general business environment, while extending its unflinching support for the challenging task of Pakistan’s deteriorating economy.

PBC CEO Ehsan Malik said that ‘Make Pakistan campaign’ would help create jobs, promote value added exports, encourage imports substitutions and broaden the tax base. The PBC has recommended to the new government to use the limited window of positive sentiments and goodwill to implement the fundamental reforms. The representative group of trade bodies has advised the finance Minister to opt for short term measures to overcome the prevailing economic and financial crisis. It has emphasised the much needed fiscal discipline and rigour to economic management.

The last PML-N government hectically pursued anti-manufacturing and pro-import policies to convert the status of Pakistan from exporting country into a trading nation. The Free trade Agreement with China, providing zero duty on 35 tariff lines, and Preferential trade Agreement with Indonesia accounts for the bulk of foreign trade deficit. That is why trade bodies have demanded for renegotiating FTA with China.

The electricity and gas tariffs in Pakistan are the highest in the world because of shady agreements with private power producers, default of electricity bills worth Rs. 850 billion and Rs.1.14 trillion circular debt. The proposals of PBC for announcing regionally competitive tariffs of energy inputs and reviewing the power sector agreements, privatizing power distribution companies, addressing the issues of transmission and distribution losses, off-grid renewable solutions, increasing the rate of withholding tax on non-filers twice as the rate of tax on filers are worth consideration. Moreover the suggestion to take out the state owned corporation, incurring losses of Rs. 1100billion, from line ministries, handing over their management to boards of professionals, their restructuring and privitisation of those entities which cannot be revived and made profitable are perfectly in order. Hopefully, the finance minster will seek the advice and cooperation of business community to steer the country out of economic crisis.

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Prime Minister’s bold stand

Condemning the blasphemous cartoons competition in the Netherland, Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed the recurrence of such incidents as collective failure of the Muslim world, saying he would take up the matter in the United Nations General Assembly the next session of which will be held in September. “This is collective failure of the entire Muslim world,” the Prime Minister said in his maiden to Senate on Monday.

“The OIC should have taken up the matter and forged a practical strategy. But this organisation of 50 plus Islamic countries is yet to wake up to detestable moves perpetrated to hurt the sentiments of Muslims,” said the Prime Minster. He said that after the publication of Salaman Rushdi’s blasphemous ‘Satanic Verses’ it is very easy to malign Muslims in the West. And they have been successfully doing it.Leader of the House Shibli Faraz moved a resolution, condemning the blasphemous cartoons competition being held in the Netherland which was unanimously approved by the upper house of the parliament.

The Prime Minster has dug out the sycophancy and hate against Islam in the western democracies. He has unmasked the double standard of political leadership in the western countries in the garb of democracy and freedom of expression. He said any meaningful discussion is not allowed on Holocaust and the exaggerated number of Jews who were claimed killed in it. He said four western countries have introduced jail sentence against those who are critical of Holocaust. If they feel pained discussing the Holocaust why haven’t we been able to convey the west how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) ?

The collective attitude of Islamic countries against the incidents hurting the sentiments of Muslims has been very docile and pathetic. None of the governments in Islamic countries gave a robust response when Salman Rushdie’s blasphemous novel was published and sold in September, 1988. The religious parties in Pakistan took protest march in Islamabad in which six students of a seminary were killed in 1989. But the PPP government did not take up this issue diplomatically from the OIC platform, nor was a protest note handed over to the UK ambassador. However, the Iranian government expressed anguish and indignation over it.

A number of Islamic countries took side with the United States and its western allies in war against the former Soviet Union and after its collapse ganged with them in war against Iraq which was declared illegal by the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan. Islamic countries of the Middle East remained silent over the destruction of Libya and once again became instrumental in igniting civil war in Syria. They do not realize that now the Christian countries of the west are targeting Islam and the Muslims with different modus operendi. Publications and competition of sacrilegious cartoons, legislation against full-face veil and closures of mosques are its various manifestations.

Islamphobia has now been pressing hard the nerves of Christian clergy and political leaders in the West European countries. Austria has shut down seven mosques and expelled 40 Imams. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz justified this action as curbing the rise of “political Islam” in his county. Danish parliament passed law in June banning full-face Islamic veil. The legislation has made wearing “Burqa” or “Niqab” a cognizable offence liable to a fine of 1000 Kroner. But repeated violations will be fined up to 10000 kroner. It was Denmark where blasphemous caricatures were published for the first time in February 2006. In France editorial board of a magazine Charlie Hebdo   planned to do the same mischief which provoked gunmen to attack its office on January 7, 2015 killing 12 people. France was the first European country to ban wearing “Niqab” in public place and the law took effect in 2011. It was totally flabbergasting that the European Court of Human Rights last year upheld a Belgian ban on wearing full face ban in public. In a country like UK where discriminatory laws against Muslims are not in place, even there a far right group distributed in April urging the Christians to observe a “Hate Muslim Day.”Incidents of stabbing were reported on that day. Hate emotions have deeply permeated in the Christian society. The people on the road and inside a busy shopping mall in Nottingham did not bother to come to the rescue of a teenage Egyptian Muslim Girl Mariam Moustafa when she was being fatally punched by a group of racist English girls. The Prime Minister Imran Khan has jolted the sleeping conscience of rulers of Islamic countries to assert their Muslim identity with unity and power.

 

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Recouping ill-gotten wealth

The task force set up by the new government for bringing back all ill-gotten wealth from abroad has started functioning. It is headed by the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Mirza Shazad Akbar and comprises, among others, representatives from National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency, Accountant General Pakistan Revenues, Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Federal Bureau of Revenue, Law Ministry and Foreign Office. The main purpose of this task force is to maintain coordination among various departments for bringing back laundered money.

Although some legal experts are of the opinion that this is not an easy task, however, the tightening of global fiscal laws against the scourge of money laundering like the Financial Crimes Act of the UK and World Bank’s Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative have improved the prospects of retrieving the looted money stashed away into offshore bank accounts abroad and invested in real state. The success of the governments of Indonesia and Philippine to bring back money from offshore accounts and immovable assets negates the pessimistic legal opinion. Likewise, the notion that this exercise by new government will create uncertainty among the business community is not true. The honest business leaders will appreciate it. The global environment against money laundering is different from the one that existed during President Musharraf era. Moreover, he was suffering from legitimacy syndrome. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan Banking Council had pleaded for tax amnesty on offshore accounts and assets, which the last PML-N government announced and the caretaker government extended its deadline for another one month. The recent amendment in Financial Crimes Act to prevent investment in “Benami” immovable assets enhances the probability of bringing back money from abroad.

Mirza Shazad Akbar has been Public Prosecutor in the National Accountability Bureau and if the task of recouping ill-gotten wealth had been impossible he would have not accepted the responsibility by assuming the charge of Special Assistant to the Prime Minster. He has dispelled the perception that bringing unlawful money from abroad is impossible. He said Mutual Legal assistance request will be made in an effective manner.

Bulk of the money laundering has been done by the political and business elite through banking system and the State Bank of Pakistan stayed on the sideline as spectator to avoid political pressure. The arrest of Hussain Lawai, President Summit Bank and two other executives of Sindh Bank and UBL expose the dirty role of banks in money laundering and inaction of the SBP.

Earlier, a committee led by the Governor SBP told the Supreme Court that National accountability Bureau had so far generated 433 Mutual Legal assistance Requests while information has been received in 152 instances. The bureau had so far recovered $ 22 million from foreign jurisdiction. The success rate of recovery can be increased by engaging professionally competent Pakistani legal teams instead of relying on the foreign legal experts hired on exorbitant amount of fee.

Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf government is also signing bilateral agreements with important countries for bringing back money sent abroad illegally. Pakistan will then have access to information about people whose money is lying in Swiss Banks by next month. It would be worthwhile to study the Indonesia and Philippine models which will enable the task force to do its job more efficiently. Persuasive method and incentives offered for making the offshore wealth can encourage the people to bring back money from abroad.

 

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Ensuring transparency

The Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import agreement made with Qatar was kept in absolute secrecy by the PML-N government. Neither it was placed before the parliament for threadbare discussion in there during the finalization stage nor did they bother to ratify its document from it when the deal was made. The then opposition leader and now railway minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad had alleged that the agreement involved kick-backs of Rs. 2 billion. He has also filed a case in the National Accountability Bureau for probe into LNG deal.

Minster for petroleum in the newly elected government of PTI Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that the agreement would be made public and would also be reexamined by experts to re-access its fairness. He said serious allegations were raised about the LNG deal with Qatar. “These reports have been strengthened by the fact that the government kept it secret for a long time despite public pressure,” he said stressing that the new government believes in transparency and is responsible to the people for all decisions.

Over the past ten years the civilian government did not give due importance to the exploration and production activities in the proven oil and gas reserves in the provinces of Khyber Pukhtunkwa and Sindh. The idea of LNG import was conceived by the PPP government to meet the energy shortfall. The matter had been controversial because of the under negotiation highly inflated pricing. A plan to finalise a long term deal with Qatar fell pray to allegations and litigations during the tenure of that government. However, the succeeding PML-N government signed a 15 years agreement at exorbitantly high tariff, completely ignoring the national interests. The details of the agreement were kept secret and were not even shared with the relevant government departments. Instead the then petroleum minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi– who later became the Prime Minister—defended the secrecy on the grounds that leaking of rates at which Pakistan was buying LNG from Qatar would damage the sale to other countries because Pakistan has negotiated very cheap price for the commodity. However, Lahore Chamber of Commerce revealed the agreed price of LNG is $ 11 per mbtu which is on high side as compared one on which Qatar supply it to India, China and Australia. These countries have secured a much better deal of importing LNG from Qatar at $ 7 per mbtu.

Pakistan has huge reserves of oil and gas and by accelerating the exploration and production activities dependence on their import energy inputs can be reduced to greater extent. At present 15 percent of demand of petroleum products is met from domestic production. The import bill of these products alone has gone up to $ 5 billion. Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) has announced the other day the discovery of oil and gas deposits in exploration well Badeel X-I located in Sanghar district of Sindh. The daily oil production from this well is 91 barrel per day. Initial testing of the most prospective zone in massive sand of lower Goru formation showed a flow of 23.4 million cubic gas per day.

Earlier Caretaker Minster for Maritime and Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Hussain Haroon while addressing business leaders at the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) disclosed that Excom Mobil—an American multinational oil and gas company—has hit huge oil reserves near the Pak Iran border. He said these reserves could be even bigger than Kuwait and the government of Pakistan has already taken an undertaking from the company to set up a generation complex worth $ 10 billion.

National oil and gas companies had also made commendable achievements in oil and gas exploration and production. The noteworthy success story is that in the year 2000 Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (GDCL) found reserves in Shardarra area of Kohat district. The company then expanded its exploration work and with the collaboration of multinational companies discovered more oil and gas reserves in Southern districts of KPK. It is encouraging that now a Government Holding (Private) Limited (GHPL) is working on a plan to enhance its share holding in oil and gas fields that have proven reserves with the objective of ramping up of domestic energy reserves to meet the growing demand of the country. Efforts of making public the documents of shady deals in oil and gas sector will ensure transparency in future endeavors aimed at achieving self reliance in the production of energy inputs and guarantee better returns.

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Cabinet’s decisions

The meeting of federal cabinet, presided over by the Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Friday took a number of important decisions which encompass the clearance of economic mess created by the successive governments of PPP and PML-N. The decisions include abolition of discretionary funds, ban on overseas visits, ban on first class air travel by top officials, addressing the problems of load shedding and circular debt, audit of mass transit projects, and tree plantation.
Briefing the media at the Press Information Media center, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that from now on development projects will be discussed in the parliament and their approval will be given after detailed review. The revocation of discretionary funds for the President, Prime Minister,, Federal Ministers and members of National Assembly will save sheer waste of billions of rupees annually. The extravagance of discretionary spending devoured a whooping amount of Rs. 130 billion in the fiscal year 2017-18 alone, including the so called development funds of Rs 54 billion doled out to the law makers of the ruling party and its allies. This political bribery was introduced in the political culture of the country in 1985 In Muhammad Khan Junejo government and continued till the tenure of last PML-N government.
The forensic audit of Multan Metro Bus project, Lahore Orange Train and Peshawar Metro Bus Project will expose the element of corruption and misappropriation of funds if done by the political elite and government officials. Hopefully, the probe in these matters will be across the board and free from pick and choose methodology to allay the likely impression of victimization on the basis of political affiliations. In compliance with directives of Peshawar High Court, National Accountability Bureau Khyber Pukhtunkhwa had taken over thee record of Bus Rapid Transport from Peshawar Development Authority last month. The project was the brainchild of former Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak. The Planning Commission did not give approval of the revised PC-I for cost escalation worth Rs. 19 billion in the CDWP meeting. In its technical appraisal, the Planning Commission repudiated the false claim of the provincial government about the international bidding for the project as no such drill was done for Peshawar Metro Bus Project and contracts were allotted to local contractors hailing from a particular district.
Power sector challenges are of complex nature because of cobweb agreements made with the private power producers and dilapidated transmission and distribution network. The circular debt of power sector has touched the mark of Rs. 1100 billion as told by the Information Minister. The amount includes 40 percent financial liability to be paid for the 40 percent idle capacity of private sector power plants. Initially, these plants were to built on build, operate and transfer (BOT) to the government basis. However, the agreements were unlawfully changed to build, operate and earn (BOE) status to reward the blue-eyed guys like Mian Mansha and Shahzad Sleem for their intimacy with Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari. The agreements need an immediate review by a competent team of legal experts keeping in view the litigation debacles in the past with nine IPPs in London Court of International Arbitration and London High Court in appeal against the verdict of Arbitration Court. Another woe of power sector is the chronic default of Rs. 850 billion. Bulk of this amount is outstanding against political elite, influential industrialists and businessmen, federal and provincial government departments. It were the agreements with IPPs and massive default of electricity bills which prompted the former finance secretary Dr. Waqar Masood to float a mischievous proposal of shifting this burden to honest electricity consumers in the form increased tariff. The proposal was implemented by the previous government and now power tariff in Pakistan is highest in the world. Heavy investment will be required for the up-gradation and modernization of electricity transmission and distribution network to enable it to pick the additional power generation.
Ban on foreign visits and air travel in the first class by top officials will ensure reasonable amount of saving in the current expenditure.
The tree plantation should not remain restricted to the capital cities of Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar and Bhutan model should be followed for it which is a carbon negative country despite its borders with China and India which are among the top carbon emission countries. A similar model was followed by the previous PTI provincial government by implementing billion tree plantation programme. In Pakistan hardly 4 percent area is under forests which need to be increased to 24 percent if the government wants to mitigate the impact of climate change. The implementation of cabinet decisions requires the commitment of political leadership, honesty and dedication of bureaucracy. The latter has always let down the sitting governments by not implementing the peoples’ friendly decisions.

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Regional Afghan peace initiatives

In sharp contrast to the ambivalent stance of the United States on Afghan peace process both Moscow and Beijing are making serious efforts in the pursuit of Afghan peace process. Russia has once again invited the Taliban to participate in the peace talks being held in Moscow on 4th September, in which the representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, China and India are participating. Russia has claimed that this time the Taliban has accepted the invitation for talks next month.

Russian foreign minster Sergei Lavarov said Moscow invited the Taliban for September talks and he is hopeful for productive negotiations as their first reaction is positive. “They are planning to take part in the meeting,” he added. There is no immediate comment from the Taliban. But if they do participate in the Russia hosted peace talks it will strengthen the regional peace initiatives and help advance the process of National reconciliation in Afghanistan and establish peace in the country as soon as possible. The Russian foreign Ministry said the United States have also been invited. In earlier peace conference held in Moscow but it skipped them.

The Taliban raised their diplomatic profile in the recent weeks by sending official delegation to Uzbekistan and Indonesia and have held talks with a senior US diplomat in Qatar. They have expanded their foot prints across Afghanistan and launched an unrelenting wave of attacks including a prolonged attack in Ghazni, a strategic city near the Kabul.

In December 2016, Moscow hosted a trilateral jump-start conference which was attended by Russia, China and Afghanistan. The parameter of reconciliation process in Afghanistan were further expanded were further expanded in February 2017, when Afghanistan and India also attended the second meeting. Its scope was further enlarged to involve other countries of the region being directly impacted by the war and instability in Afghanistan. A twelve party peace conference was convened by Russia in Moscow in April 2017. The United States was invited to attend the International Peace Conference but the invitation was rejected outright. However, eleven countries including Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan,, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan attended the Moscow peace conference. The United States is now engaged in a triangular cold war with Russia and China and it intends to keep its military bases in Afghanistan.

The entry of ISIS has further complicated the Afghan conflict.  It has made Afghanistan the epicenter of global terrorism. The ISIS fighters fleeing from Iraq and Syria are reaching here. Their number was 1000 but it is increasing. Other terrorist have also come under its umbrella. They are armed with the weapons of western countries. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in a TV interview has blamed the United States for the induction of ISIS fighters into Afghanistan to counter the Taliban. He alleged that they were brought in by unmarked helicopters. Russia has particularly mentioned the fighters from Algeria and France. Moscow is worried about the spillover effect of ISIS into the neighbouring Central Asian States and then into the mainland Russia.

Pakistan on its part has contributed to all peace initiatives by participating in Trilateral and Quadrilateral meetings to promote Afghan Peace Process. It attended Beijing moot in December2017 with Afghanistan and China, which reaffirmed the support for a broad based and inclusive process to bring peace to the war torn Afghanistan and stressed the need for a dialogue between Kabul government and Taliban. In May, 2018 senior diplomats from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China met in Beijing to review the preparation for the second meeting of foreign ministers. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are making joint efforts for restoration of mutual trust to facilitate the implementation Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). It remains to be seen as to whether the United States lends its support to the regional peace initiatives.

 

 

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Foreign policy reorientation

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has expressed the resolve for reorientation of foreign policy with the sole objective of “Pakistan first.”It reflects the end of docile foreign policy pursued by PML-N government with a subservient role viz-a-viz the United States and playing a second fiddle role versus India, rather corroborating the Indian narrative against Pakistan by none else but former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The foreign minister in his first maiden press conference asserted that Pakistan’s new foreign policy would “begin and end at Pakistan.” “Pakistan’s interest is at the very centre of foreign policy. Where we need to fix   the foreign policy that will be fixed,” said Shah Mahmood Quereshi.

The deliberate diplomatic inertia of the last PML-N government made the international community believe the Indian and US narratives against Pakistan. It was further buttressed by the statement of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about 29/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, which were in fact a false- flag operation orchestrated by India itself as revealed from the  proceedings of Judicial probe about the mysterious killing of a senior Indian Police officer Hemant Karkare in those attacks. He wanted to push Pakistan into international isolation. That is why foreign minister has to say, “Some forces have been trying to push Pakistan into isolation. And why wouldn’t they do it? Your country didn’t have a foreign minister for four years. “This gives your opponents an open field.”He made it clear that foreign policy will be made in the foreign office for which valuable input will be sought from all institutions including the security institution.

The new foreign policy will envisage fostering relations with neighbouring countries. Resumption of composite dialogue with India to resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries including the core issue of Kashmir will be a priority. Ending the Afghan conflict through a political settlement among all the stakeholders will be earnestly pursued. The foreign minister intends to contact his afghan counterpart and visit Kabul. The Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells had urged Pakistan to persuade Taliban to come to the negotiation table with Afghan government. In response Pakistan’s foreign office said that bringing the Taliban to the table is shared responsibility but it is ready to play its part in this regard.

The foreign Minister had had frequent interactions with the US master diplomats like Richard Holbrooke, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. By virtue of his rich experience in diplomacy and international relations, Shah Mahmood Qureshi is well placed to give a paradigm shift to Pakistan’s foreign policy keeping in view the realignment of forces in the region. He has the capability to salvage Pak-US revelations from further deterioration and bringing it back to the normal.

The foreign Minister has rightly directed the diplomats posted in Embassies and Consulates abroad to assist Pakistanis living their in resolving their problems. They should change their attitude and render selfless services to Pakistani Diaspora. He made it clear to them that they are not rulers. “A good nature and courtesy never make one lose and you gain friendship in return. Treat overseas Pakistanis with respect and get love and veneration in return. This duty that all Pakistani Ambassadors must perform,” the foreign minister emphasised. Formulation of foreign policy compatible with the national interest was inevitable and the new government is fully committed to do that.

 

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PMs’ vision, beginning of new era

Prime Minister’s Imran Khan maiden address to the nation, broadcast last night, was itself as an ocean in the glass. He touched upon the basic problems confronting the people; economic challenges faced by the country, and realistic optimism to overcome these challenges. Every word of it was flowing out from the core of his heart. Never ever in the history of Pakistan there has been a leader who is genuinely concerned about the prosperity of common man. Every bit of his address touched the hearts and souls of the down trodden. He was very objective and there was no element of hollow promises which has been the dominant attribute of Pakistani traditional politicians including Z.A Bhutto, who apparently spoke for the poor people but protected the interest of oppressive feudal class.

The implementation of road map outlined for austerity in government’s non productive spending will save billions of rupees. In 2017-18 the extravagance in discretionary spending reached the mark of Rs. 130 billion, a merciless and criminal waste of tax payers’ money. The collection of tax from wealthy people, who are still out of the tax net despite their available data with FBR since 2010, will be a big step towards achieving self reliance.

The total amount of debt at the end of PPP government from 2008 to 2013 was Rs. 6000 thousand billions which reached to the unsustainable level of Rs. 28000 billion in the last PML-N government. Foreign debt swelled to $ 95 billion. Human Development Index is 0.5 percent as per UNDP report. The rate of stunted growth in children is 45 percent because of male nutrition. Human resource development was deliberately neglected and 20.5 million children are out of schools.

The Prime Minister has promised to bring laundered money back to Pakistan. Tightening of global fiscal laws has created conducive environment for the retrieval of looted money that has been invested in offshore accounts and real estate. Financial Crimes Act enforced in September, 2017 in the UK and the World Bank’s Stolen Assets Recovery (STAR) programme can help the government in bringing the laundered money back. By plugging the lope holes in the anti-money laundering laws will be instrumental in eradicating the scourge the corruption and stashing away the ill gotten wealth abroad, which is Rs. 1000 billion annually. The Prime Minister has announced the formation of a high powered task force for retrieving the looted wealth of Pakistan from abroad.

The Prime Minister has expressed a firm resolve that rooting out corruption will be a high priority of his government and promised to strengthen institutions like National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to ensure that action is taken against people who are involved in corruption. “I will meet Chairman NAB and facilitate what ever he needs in terms of human resource and financial assistance,” he said. The Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and Federal Investigation Agency will be fixed on priority. It is pertinent to mention how boldly former Chairman SECP Zafar Hijazi started a process of tampering record in favour of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This time the accountability process will be strict and across the board as compared with the farce and selective approach in the government of President Musharraf.

Actions speak louder than words. Former NAB deputy Prosecutor General Mirza Shazad Akbar has been appointed as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister. This is the first time that a Prime Minister has appointed a Special Assistant on Accountability. Akbar’s appointment is in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment to strengthen check and balance system in the country. He has spoken at length about his ambition to root out corruption by strict accountability laws.

The one window operation facility at the Prime Minister’s office will ensure investment by overseas Pakistanis and foreign companies. By making the Agriculture Research Centers fully functional will enable the farmers to get high yield variety of seeds at nominal cost as they cannot afford to buy the expensive genetically modified imported seeds. Reduction in the prices of other inputs like fertilizers and pesticides and training of farmers in water conservation methods will give a big boost to the production of different crops. The Prime Minister has assured the bureaucracy of tenure protection and no political interference in their working. Now it is incumbent upon them to extend whole hearted and unflinching support to the Prime Minister to achieve the goal of new and prosperous Pakistan.

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Cabinet of honest professionals

The federal cabinet members of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf government comprise honest, intelligent and dedicated professionals. They include technocrats, legal expert of outstanding caliber and politicians of international stature. Majority of the cabinet members had shown wonderful performance in the government of President Musharraf, which was characterized by booming economy, low power and gas tariffs, high tax-to-GDP ratio, reasonable amount of public debt and its premature retirement, low budget deficit, low rate of unemployment and surge in oil and gas exploration activities.

Out of the 21 member cabinet of the Prime Minister Imran Khan, 12 members served in Musharraf government which was fairly a pro-poor people government as compared with feudal dominated PPP and brute mercantile class controlled PML-N governments. The hallmark of the two governments was rampant corruption, nepotism, one trillion plus extravagance of discretionary spending, bulging current account and budget deficits, shady international agreements, lack of transparency, dormant foreign policy and total rejection of merit.

A cursory look at the federal cabinet reveals the principle of right man for the right job. Senator Dr, Barrister Farogh Naseem, who has been given the important Law and Justice Minstry, is regarded one of the brilliant lawyers of the country. He is a man of few words and many actions. He holds an LLB degree from the University of Wales, LLM from London School of Economics and PhD in comparative constitutional law from the University of London. He will certainly draft and pilot the most important legislative bill through the parliament to strengthen the legal framework for curbing money laundering and terror financing, an urgent necessity for which the FATF has given a short and tough deadline.

Fawad Chaudhry, Minister for Information and Broadcasting is a suitable choice for the image building and policies projection of the government. He is well versed in media handling and its management and will be able to amicably rein in the media houses that were used to be fond of promoting Indian narrative versus Pakistan in Nawaz Sharif government.

Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad needs no detailed introduction. He was three times an excellent Information Minister and one time a successful Railway Minister. He has the capability to rejuvenate the outdated railway communication system of strategic importance that is left ragtag by his successor Khwaja Saad Rifiq.

Ms Zubaida Jalal, the new Minister for Defence Production held the portfolio of Education Ministry in Musharraf Government. She was the brain behind the policy formulation of education sector reforms at the grass root level which were later implemented by the previous PTI KP government to enhance the quality of primary and secondary education. The MMA government from 2003 to 2007 was not inclined to introduce these useful reforms.

Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi is the new Foreign Minster, a job he excellently performed for PPP government from 2008 t0 2011. He commands superb diplomatic skill. He is an articulate statesman, tough negotiator and skillful politician. The way he had presented Pakistan’s point of view on Afghanistan and other regional issues in joint press conferences with former US secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks of his vast knowledge and grip over proactive diplomacy. He will take out the foreign office from the state of inertia created by the last government.

The Key post of Finance Ministry is now held by a technocrat turned politician Asad Umar, a two times MNA. He holds MBA degree from the reputed Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. He worked with Exxcon Chemicals Pakistan before joining Eggro Polymer and Chemicals as CEO. He became the president and CEO of Engro in 2004. By virtue of his experience in corporate sector, Asad Umer is well placed to introduce the reforms to turnaround the economy. He has already disclosed to outline of roadmap for intended reforms.

Another best selection is Shafqat Mahmood, who has been assigned the Ministry Education and National Heritage. He has the expertise to improve the quality of higher education that degenerated after its devolution to the provinces as a result of 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Higher education has become very expensive and is no longer affordable to the highly talented students of poor and middle class families. The teaching and research environment in public sector universities has deteriorated to greater extent which need urgent improvement and subsequent standardization. The Prime Minister Imran Khan is keen to make hevy investment in human resource development to build knowledge economy. Hopefully, the education minister will perform this onerous job.

The most appreciable appointment is that of Dr. Ishrat Hussain, the PM, s Advisor on Institutional Reforms and Austerity. He is a technocrat of global fame. After completion of his PhD from Boston University, he enjoyed a long career with the World Bank, serving as its country economist for Liberia, Chief economist for the Asia Pacific and as head of Central Asia. He served as Governor State Bank of Pakistan in Musharraf regime. Dr. Ishrat Hussain is a strong proponent of fiscal discipline, prudent monetary and debt management. What he writes in the newspapers and research journals about economy and finance and policy reforms establishes his credential for the job he has assigned.