WASHINGTON: The government’s fear of losing popularity before the elections seems to be keeping Pakistan from finalising a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that could stabilise the economy. Official and diplomatic sources told Dawn on Monday that both sides were still discussing the seven demands that the IMF wants Pakistan to accept before it resumes economic assistance to the country. The demands include withdrawing electric subsidies, linking gas prices to the international market, free-floating dollars, and not blocking LCs. The government “fears that implementing some of these demands will hike the price of essential items across the board,” a source said. Official says waiting for caretaker govt before taking action would be ‘disastrous’ “It will make the government even more unpopular than it already is, so close to the elections.” Pakistan’s power regulator has already allowed Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Ltd (SNGPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) to hike rates up to 75 percent, subject to cabinet approval. Islamabad is waiting for the 9th review of a loan-arrangement that the previous government signed with the IMF. The review would lead to the release of the next tranche of funds to Pakistan that has been pending since September. In August 2022, the IMF approved the seventh and eighth reviews of Pakistan’s bailout program, agreed in 2019, allowing the release of more than $1.1 billion. IMF officials have indicated that they are willing to continue working with Pakistan, but the country should first meet some basic requirements. “They are asking for basics, so that they can send their team to Islamabad, but the finance minister is reluctant to do so,” said an official aware of the talks. The official said that the IMF was asking for “some movement on energy prices and the demonstration of Islamabad’s intent to reform but Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is not giving an inch.” Officials in Islamabad urged Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to intervene before it’s too late. “This could have been finalised four months ago,” another official said. The official said that he “does not personally expect much before a caretaker setup takes over the center.” Asked why, the official said: “Dar Saheb will not allow the exchange rate to go to market levels.” And if “we do not have an IMF program, the situation will not normalize,” he added. Another official in Islamabad said: “If Pakistan waits for the caretakers to hold talks with the IMF, it will be a disaster.”
A power breakdown was reported across Pakistan on Monday morning after the frequency of the national grid decreased, according to the Ministry of Energy. The ministry said that the system of frequency of the national grid went down at 7:34am today resulting in a widespread breakdown in the system. “System maintenance work is progressing rapidly,” it tweeted. Earlier reported that large swathes of the country, including Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore, were deprived of electricity. In an interview with Geo News, Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir said that the breakdown was not “major”. “In winter, as the demand for electricity reduces nationwide and as an economic measure, we temporarily close down our power generation systems at night. “However, when the systems were turned on in the morning today, frequency variation and voltage fluctuation was observed in the south of the country […] somewhere between Dadu and Jamshoro,” he explained. Dastagir went on to say that the restoration of grid stations in Peshawar and Islamabad had begun. “I can assure you that power will be fully restored across the country within the next 12 hours, he added.
ISLAMABAD: PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Saturday admitted to investing funds donated to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (SKMT) in a private housing project, though he clarified that the amount was later returned to the trust. The revelation came during the hearing of a Rs10 billion defamation case that Mr Khan filed against PML-N leader Khawaja Asif, now the defence minister. Additional District and Sessions Judge Umeed Ali Baloch conducted the proceedings, attended by lawyers of both parties. Mr Khan joined through video link from his residence in Lahore’s Zaman Park. During the cross-examination, Mr Khan disclosed that SKMT’s board of directors informed him about investing in the private housing society. Ex-PM clarifies matter was closed after Shaukat Khanum board members returned $3 million Mr Asif’s counsel, Barrister Haider Rasool, put a question to Mr Khan regarding the investment in a construction project, to which the PTI chairman admitted the fact but stated that he did not remember the name of the housing project. Mr Khan said that he also did not remember whether the board informed him through writing and that the board members returned $3 million and the matter was settled. Barrister Rasool argued that the matter was not settled as the dollar’s rate was Rs60 at the time of the investment and it doubled to Rs120 when the investment matured. After the counsel requested the court to adjourn proceedings and insisted that he would conclude the cross-examination during a couple of hours in the next hearing, Mr Khan quipped that cross-examination would not take much time if the lawyer had not tried to twist the proceedings and come straight to the point. The former premier said the matter could be resolved early if the case was handled truthfully. The court then adjourned the hearing. Mr Khan filed the Rs10bn defamation suit against Mr Asif in 2012 for levelling allegations of misappropriation and money laundering through the SKMT funds. In his suit, Mr Khan referred to Mr Asif’s Aug 1, 2012 press conference in which the PML-N leader had alleged that the PTI chief had lost a huge amount of funds donated to the SKMT in “real estate gambling”. The funds, he said, were given to the trust in the forms of zakat, fitrana and other kinds of donations. Recording his statement to the court in January 2022, Mr Khan said he was the biggest individual donor of the SKMT from 1991 to 2009 and the trust fully recovered the investments in question without any loss. Mr Khan said “fabricated and baseless allegations” were made to undermine people’s confidence in the trust.
ISLAMABAD: After a bi-partisan parliamentary committee formed by the Punjab Assembly speaker failed to reach a consensus in the stipulated time, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will meet in the evening to pick the caretaker chief minister for Punjab. Sources told Dawn that the meeting chaired by ECP chief Sikandar Sultan Raja will be preceded by informal deliberations between the CEC and members of the commission to pave way for a consensus decision regarding the matter. The election watchdog has only Sunday to decide on the nominee for the caretaker CM slot as the two-day time given to the commission under Article 224-A of the Constitution will be expiring today. A senior official of the ECP explained that the commission could not meet a day earlier as it officially received the names of four nominees from PA Speaker Sibtain Khan on Saturday. The ECP will surely meet its constitutional obligation and announce the name for the Punjab caretaker chief minister today,“ an ECP official told Dawn. It was expected that the matter would land in the ECP since PML-Q leader and ally of PTI, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, had already announced to approach a court of law if any ‘controversial person’ was picked by the Election Commission from the list of nominees shared with it by the parliamentary committee. Parvez Elahi has proposed the names of Sardar Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera and Naveed Akram Cheema while Hamza Shehbaz has endorsed the names of Mohsin Naqvi and Ahad Cheema for the caretaker slot. It may be noted that the matter of the caretaker CM’s appointment in Punjab faced an unusual delay after the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly last week due to constant back-and-forth between the provincial government and the opposition on the nominees. Though, as per Article 224-A of the Constitution, the committee has three days to select one of the four nominees, due to a delay in the notification for the formation of the panel the committee was left with only one day to consider the four names. PTI Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry said that the ECP would pick one of the four nominees under Article 244-A of the Constitution within two days. Taking to his Twitter handle, the former information minister said that the election watchdog had no authority to nominate anyone for the post of interim chief executive according to its choice.
ISLAMABAD: The World Bank has delayed the approval of two loans for Pakistan worth $1.1 billion until the next fiscal year pending some steps on the country’s energy debt and tariffs, a finance ministry source told Reuters on Wednesday. The approval of the loans have been pending since June, said the source, declining to be named as they were not authorised to talk to the media. Pakistan’s next fiscal year starts in April. “The major issue is the circular debt management plan in the energy sector and tariff revision,” said the source. “These actions are pending on our side.” The World Bank and the finance ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Pakistan is still reeling from devastating floods that have led to losses of more than $30 billion. Foreign exchange reserves held by the State Bank of Pakistan fell to $4.3bn earlier this month, barely enough for three weeks of imports.
ISLAMABAD: Concerns over the country’s financial deterioration echoed in the Senate on Tuesday, with a treasury lawmaker calling for a parliamentary probe into the causes of economic downfall over the past 10 years. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Irfan Siddiqui suggested forming a committee comprising lawmakers to review the causes of economic downfall since 2013. In a wide-ranging speech on the floor of the house, Mr Siddiqui chided political parties for indulging in “blame game” as he called for “introspection beyond political divisions”. He said the parties kept criticising each other but were not ready to examine the real causes behind problems faced by the country today. The senator added that ex-dictator retired General Pervez Musharraf suspended the Constitution twice, but did not go to jail for even a single day. PML-N’s Irfan Siddiqui calls on political parties for ‘introspection’; senators angered by Lt Gen Ghafoor’s alleged remarks “We [politicians] keep telling stories of each other’s corruption but nobody asks how many millions of dollars Musharraf deposited in his accounts,” he said as he questioned the prices of the former president’s “palaces”. Talking about the deteriorating economic situation, Senator Siddiqui said in his opinion, the decline started with the ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2017. He added that GDP growth was good at that time with an inflation rate of around three per cent and a stable rupee. “But then Nawaz Sharif was removed, and through the 2018 elections, a system was imposed which led to disaster,” he said in an apparent reference to the previous PTI-led government that came into power after the polls. He also referred to the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which he had presented in the house. He claimed that the bill “disappeared” after it was passed by both houses of parliament seven months ago. “This is not an insult to me, but an insult to this house and the entire parliament,” he said. The bill sought to do away with judicial powers of the district administration in line with the Constitution. Upon the lawmaker’s insistence, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani directed the Senate secretary to investigate the bill’s whereabouts and submit a report. Alleged remarks by Lt Gen Ghafoor JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza raised objections over the purported remarks of Commander Southern Command Lt Gen Asif Ghafoor about the recent protests led by Haq Do Tehreek in Gwadar. Speaking on a point of public concern, he said protest was everyone’s right and the demands of the locals were neither unconstitutional nor illegal. Last week, some social media reports claimed that Lt Gen Ghafoor, at a gathering in Gwadar, warned that anyone who protested in Gwadar in future would be sent to jail. Senator Murtaza said he was appalled by the remarks of an officer who heads the security set-up in Balochistan. “Is Gwadar some occupied territory?” asked Senator Murtaza. He said the officer had no right to talk in such a manner and threaten the people. “We reject such behaviour and threats.” He said if the officer continued with such threats, while in uniform, he would meet the fate of former army chiefs Gen Musharraf and Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa who had to face public criticism after retirement. Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) Senator Danesh Kumar objected to the remarks of his fellows and expressed his surprise that unverified social media reports were being discussed in the house. He said Jamat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad had also raised his concerns over the unconfirmed statement a day ago. He questioned why the Pakistan Army was being dragged into such matters unnecessarily when the institution was saying that it wanted to remain apolitical. Senator Ahmad on a point of personal explanation said Lt Gen Ghafoor should clarify the statement attributed to him. “If he clarifies, then I will withdraw my statement,” Mr Ahmad said, adding that no member of the house should become a spokesperson of a military officer. He also said the demands of the people of Gwadar were genuine and the HDT chief Maulana Hadayatur Rehman was the voice of the poor people of Balochistan. Senator Murtaza also said the statement attributed to the military commander was widely reported and the general should have contradicted it if it was incorrect. Earlier, Senator Naseebullah Bazai accused Maulana Rehman of using the people of Gwadar for “vested interests”. He said the port city had international importance and that the HDT chief was blackmailing the authorities in the name of protests. Speaking on a point of public importance, independent Senator Naseema Ehsan from Balochistan alleged that the navy was involved in land grabbing in Balochistan. “We think that if the navy or any other institution comes to Balochistan, we will be safe and the province will progress,” she said while blaming the navy for “occupying the lands of the poor”. She insisted that people’s grievances should be heard and the matter of land grabbing should be referred to the revelation committee.
UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan remains a lower-middle income country and will continue to be vulnerable to fluctuating energy prices, warns a UN report released on Monday. The report also places India and Bangladesh among lower-middle-income countries despite their economic gains and urges the entire South Asian region to reduce its energy consumption. Nepal is also placed in the same category, although Afghanistan is listed among low-income countries. The report by the UN labour agency warns that finding a decent and well-paid job will be harder in 2023 than it was in 2022, thanks to the continuing global economic downturn. The report notes that South Asia has not been affected by the Ukraine war as it has few direct links with Russia and Ukraine. But it is “very vulnerable to the higher global commodity prices that have resulted from the conflict.” According to this report, South Asia “remains highly vulnerable to natural disasters, for example on the flood plains of Pakistan and Bangladesh.” Countries such as Pakistan “are also increasingly held back by very high levels of energy subsidies, which weigh heavily on public finances and are failing to reduce poverty effectively.” Sees uptick in global unemployment in 2023; workers will be forced to grab lower-quality jobs The report argues that recent high and volatile energy prices have shown South Asia’s vulnerability to energy imports, and underlines “a clear need to become less dependent on these imports.” The UN labour agency predicts that the number of people unemployed around the world would rise slightly to 208 million in 2023. This corresponds to a global unemployment rate of 5.8 per cent — or 16 million people — according to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) World Employment and Social Outlook Trends report. Today’s economic slowdown “means that many workers will have to accept lower quality jobs, often at very low pay, sometimes with insufficient hours,” the report adds. The UN agency notes that this already happening in Europe and other developed countries, thanks to the Ukraine war and the continued disruption of global supply chains, both of which are counteracting the robust stimulus packages implemented to ride out the Covid-19 crisis. “Real wages we project for 2022 to have declined by 2.2pc in advanced countries and of course, Europe makes up a significant proportion of advanced countries, versus a rise in real wages in developing countries,” says Richard Samans, Director of ILO’s Research Department. The report also predicts a setback to the informal economy, which will adversely affect efforts to help the world’s two billion informal workers join the formal employment sector. As prices rise faster than wages, the cost-of-living crisis risks pushing more people into poverty, the report adds, pointing out that the trend follows significant declines in income during the Covid-19 crisis, which affected low-income groups most, in many countries. Some 214m workers live in extreme poverty today, “in other words with $1.90 a day. From a gender perspective, the unequal development of the global jobs market continues to be concerning. There are 290 million youth who are not in employment, or in education or training and “young women are faring much worse,” the report warns.