Senate takes note of underpaid employees

The FATA Secretariat class-VI project employees still receive only half the salary amount proposed in the federal budget. This was revealed in a Ministry of State and Frontier Region (SAFRON) Senate Standing Committee meeting which was held under its chairperson, Senator Hilalur Rehman, in Islamabad.  On Wednesday.

Lesser than minimum  

The committee was told FATA Secretariat class-VI project employees were receiving Rs7,000 as salary instead of the minimum amount of Rs14,000 outlined for labourers in the federal budget.

Senator Sitara Ayaz showed concern over the said salary package. FATA Secretariat Planning and Development Secretary Shakeel Qadir assured the committee that with the proposed reforms package for Fata, salary and other issues will be settled.

Qadir said hospitals in South Waziristan had modern health technology, but doctors were not willing to go there because of the current salary package. The K-P government had announced the allowance would not extend to the tribal areas. Senator Salih Shah also showed his concern over this matter.

The committee formed a subcommittee to handle the issue related to health and education in Fata. It also advised officials to frame the policy to raise the salaries of project employees as per policy of other federating units.  The committee also advised raising salaries of law-enforcement officials in Fata.

Placement

While talking to The Express Tribune Rehman said officials failed to answer questions raised over the transfers and postings of political agents in Fata. He said there were 55,000 employees working in Fata and they were treated under presidential order No 13, of 1972, except the political agent as this act is not employed on his transfer or posting.

He said the SAFRON committee ordered the chief secretary and other officials in K-P and Fata to revisit the order for the transfer of four PAs which was done without consent of the Fata chief executive in February 2016.  The chief secretary has been asked to implement the senate order by September 18. He said under the Constitution, the governor is the chief executive officer of Fata and all such transfers and postings come under his authority.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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Rift continues: Action called on CM’s harsh words

PESHAWAR: Disgruntled lawmakers of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf have criticised Chief Minister Pervez Khattak for using abusive language against MPAs Yasin Khalil and Qurban Ali. They called a meeting on September 4 in Islamabad to ask the party chief to take notice of the matter.

While talking to The Express Tribune on Wednesday, Khalil, who is among the disgruntled lawmakers, objected to the use of abusive language by the chief minister against him and Ali in news reports.

He was of the view that it was unjust for the chief minister to be sitting at such a high position and using insulting words against party members.

Khalil demanded that PTI Chairperson Imran Khan take notice of the issue, saying they would meet him on September 4 at MNA Dawar Kundi’s residence in Islamabad. He said they will also decide their future plan of action after the moot.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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Second phase: Govt ups the ante for better health care

PESHAWAR: To improve health facilities for underprivileged people by increasing access to quality services, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has launched the second phase of the Sehat Sahulat programme under the social health protection scheme. The programme will provide free services to 14 million people of the province.

The second phase of the Rs5.36 billion programme, spanning two years, was launched on Wednesday at a local hotel in Peshawar where Chief Minister Pervez Khatak and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairperson Imran Khan were present.

Unveiling details of the programme to those in attendance, Health Secretary Abid Majeed said more than 50% of the underprivileged population of all the districts of the province will be covered.

He said around 1.8 million households  will be provided with Sehat Insaf Cards which will help 14 million individuals—eight in each household—at designated public and private health care facilities. He said Rs89 million has been set aside for treatment exceeding a specific limit by payment of an extra Rs50 per household. Furthermore, he said 80% of the unutilised premium will be returned to the government under the programme.

When an underprivileged person approaches a health care facility, they are often worried about spending their daily wages, Majeed said. He added that as a replacement, the government decided to provide a wage replacement of Rs250 per day for a maximum of three days. The amount will be paid after the patient is discharged under the programme.

Also, the official pointed out that Rs2,000 will be given for tertiary care transportation and Rs1,000 will be paid for maternity transportation of the patient. An out-patient department voucher will be given to each beneficiary of the programme and it may be used by them for one post-discharge follow-up visit.

The matter of identifying deserving families was resolved by the poverty index survey conducted by the Benazir Income Support Programme and it will be used by the Sehat Sahulat programme.

Monetary support

The programme was launched with financial support from the German government through the KfW development bank. An amount of Rs1.23 billion was provided by KFW. Of the total amount, Rs1.39 billion was spent on the first phase of the programme, which was confined to four districts of K-P, including Mardan, Chitral, Malakand and Kohat.

The programme is a micro health insurance scheme which will be administered by the State Life Insurance Corporation with a per year cost of Rs2.7 million, including premiums to be paid to the company as well as administrative cost.

The programme will offer hospitalisation coverage of Rs0.54 million per annum for every household, Rs0.3 million for secondary care and up to Rs.24 million for tertiary care. The government will pay a premium of Rs1,499 per household to the insurance company.

In a conversation with The Express Tribune, Sehat Sahulat Project Director Dr Muhammad Riaz Tanoli said special attention was given to the distribution of Insaf cards to the beneficiaries. He added facilitation centres will be set up in every union council across the province.

Moreover, tokens will be issued to those who are eligible for the programme. The director said locals will be informed through mosque loudspeakers to approach facilitation centres to receive their cards.

Minster for Health Shahram Khan Tarakai, Minister for Education Atif Khan, Minister for Public Health Engineering Shah Farman, K-P Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, and representatives of KfW and State Life Insurance Corporation were also in attendance.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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Gabon parliament set ablaze after Bongo declared winner

LIBREVILLE: Angry protesters torched Gabon’s parliament Wednesday after President Ali Bongo was declared winner of what he claimed was a “peaceful and transparent” election, but which the opposition said was fraudulent.

It only took a few minutes for the announcement to sink in before several of Libreville’s poorer neighbourhoods erupted in anger, with thousands of people taking to the streets to express their fury.

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According to official results made public shortly after 1500 GMT, Bongo won Saturday’s presidential poll by just 5,594 votes, taking 49.80 percent to 48.23 percent for his rival Jean Ping, a veteran diplomat and former top African Union official.

The results will remain “provisional” until they are approved by the constitutional court.

By nightfall, protesters vented their fury by setting fire to the parliament building, sending skyward a plume of flame and black smoke, witnesses and AFP correspondents said.

Fires were visible in other parts of Libreville and explosions were heard as protesters faced off against heavily armed security forces.

“The whole building is catching fire,” a man outside parliament who gave name as Yannick told AFP.

The parliament lies on the same road as the state TV headquarters, senate, town hall, oil ministry, several embassies and the French cultural centre.

As soon as Bongo’s victory in Saturday’s poll was announced Wednesday, people took to the streets of the city’s slums, chanting “Ali must go.”

As helicopters flew overhead and smoke rose above poorer neighbourhoods, soldiers, police and gendarmes stopped traffic on the main highway where protestors braved tear gas to set tyres alight.

Protestors shouted, “Jean Ping president!” and “They stole the election.”

Ping, a half Chinese career diplomat has rejected the results, and before they were announced had declared it was he who won.

There was also trouble Wednesday in the economic capital Port Gentil, which saw the worst of the violence that followed Bongo’s 2009 election victory.

That contested vote followed the death of Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the oil-rich country for 41 years.

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Any appeal by Ping would likely focus on disputed results in one of the country’s nine provinces — the Haut-Ogooue, the heartland of Bongo’s Teke ethnic group.

In Saturday’s vote, turnout was 59.46 percent nationwide but soared to 99.93 percent in Haut-Ogooue, where Bongo won 95.5 percent of votes.

“It’s going to be difficult to get people to accept these results,” one member of the electoral commission confided to AFP, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

“We’ve never seen results like these, even during the father’s time,” he added.

Opposition delegates in the electoral commission  have vowed to fight for a recount.

Ping, the European Union and former colonial power France have called for voting figures from each of Gabon’s polling stations to be made public to ensure the credibility of overall result.

In 2009, Bongo was declared winner of the election after his father’s death. In the ensuing clashes several people were killed, buildings looted and the French consulate in the economic capital Port Gentil torched.

EU observers, who were barred from the meeting of the electoral commission on Wednesday, said the vote on Saturday was “managed in a way that lacked transparency”.

Joining the EU in pressuring Bongo on Wednesday, the French foreign ministry called for the electoral commission to show “transparency and impartiality”.

“Only in this way can the credibility of the results be guaranteed,” a spokesman for the French foreign ministry on Wednesday.

Gabon is a former French colony which has been hit by the global slump in the price of crude oil, its biggest export.

One third of Gabon’s population lives in poverty, despite the country boasting one of Africa’s highest per capita incomes at $8,300 (7,400 euros) thanks to pumping 200,000 barrels of oil a day.

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Bongo, 57, campaigned under the slogan “Let’s change together,” playing up the roads and hospitals built during his first term and stressing the need to break with the bad old days of disappearing public funds and dodgy management of oil revenues.

The campaign period was marked by months of bitter exchanges between the two camps, including accusations, and strenuous denials, that Bongo was born in Nigeria and therefore ineligible to run.

Ping’s own roots — he is Sino-Gabonese — served as ammunition for Bongo’s camp, which has suggested he and his son are secretly serving Chinese interests.

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Corporate corner: Qatar Airways’ Travel Festival is back

DOHA: Qatar Airways’ enormously popular Travel Festival is back, giving travellers across the world the opportunity to enjoy dream deals to inspiring places. From August 29 to September 5, 2016, the Qatar Airways Travel Festival will take travellers to some of the world’s favourite holiday destinations, with companion promotions offering two-for -one fare, discounts of up to 40 per cent and book more and save more, all available on travel between September 15, 2016 and June 30, 2017. Passengers can book fares from the 07 Qatar Airways destinations in Pakistan to USA from Rs69,900, Africa from Rs49,300, and to the Middle East from Rs26,000. Popular travel destinations include Atlanta from Rs70,750, London from Rs59,800 and Paris from Rs64,000.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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Exploring potential: CCP shares study on meat sector  

ISLAMABAD: The Competition Commission of Pakistan has released a study on the meat sector in Pakistan for public comments, covering issues such as price monitoring and quality of meat and also exploring the growth potential of the sector. According to the CCP press statement, the study has been conducted as part of the assessments the CCP undertakes to understand competition issues in sectors that have implications for consumers. Meat is one of the heaviest weighed essential food items in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the livestock sector fulfills the country’s meat, milk and poultry demand, it added.  CCP in its report identified ineffective price and quality monitoring at the district level that result in high price and low quality of meat that affects both urban and rural consumers.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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Sustainable Development Goals: Punjab inaugurates SDG support unit

LAHORE: Punjab Finance Minister Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha has said that the province fully supported the Sustainable Development Goals and it was aligning its resources to achieve them.

Pasha, while inaugurating the Punjab SDGs support unit at Punjab Planning and Development department on Wednesday, emphasised the need to address governance issues confronting the implementation of SDGs, especially the issue of inequality.

“We should act collectively for our future generations. Therefore, priority-setting for SDGs should be done at the highest political level.”

The SDGs Support Unit has been established by the Planning & Development Department with technical assistance from UNDP and the Planning Commission of Pakistan.

Addressing the ceremony, Planning & Development Board Chairman Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan emphasised the need to have a robust analysis of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to understand the causes of Pakistan’s poor performance.

He further highlighted the need for a solid framework for SDGs that builds on concrete lessons and how policies and investments can be aligned so that they become the touchstone for achievement of SDGs.

Speaking on the occasion, Uzma Bukhari, MPA and Convener of SDGs Task Force, said that it was heartening to note that Punjab was the first province to have the SDGs Support Unit operational, which showed Punjab government’s ownership of the SDGs.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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Chinese visit LCCI: ‘Govt doing utmost to facilitate investors’

LAHORE: Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Vice President Nasir Saeed has said that foreign investors are now realising the potential of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

He said this during an 11-member Chinese delegation visit led by Zhao Michael Shu at the LCCI.

The Chinese delegation belonged to various sectors including energy, construction, environmental protection, equipment manufacturing, trade and logistics sector. They held business-to-business (B2B) meetings with their Pakistani counterparts and pledged to give momentum to two-way trade through joint-ventures.

“The on-going projects under CPEC and the unmatched pace of work for the timely completion are inspiring the business community to consider Pakistan for the expansion of trade and investment relations,” said the LCCI Vice President.

“It is encouraging to see that the public and private sectors from both countries are actively engaged in policy consulting, technology exchange and brand recognition,” he added.

Saeed further said that Pakistan government is trying its best to facilitate foreign investors to bring business here and has ensured that the transfer of funds and profits are easily carried out.

“The federal and provincial governments are taking all possible steps to increase foreign investment in the country. In such a situation, the Chinese companies can benefit most by interacting with local chambers,” he said.

“The CPEC is an overall cooperation platform with a focus on long-term development of bilateral cooperation in various fields,” added the head of the Chinese delegation Zhao Michael Shu.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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Court of arbitration: Pakistan wins case against LPG terminal operator in London

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has won a case in the permanent court of arbitration in London filed by LPG terminal company Progas with $573 million in damages claims against the government, Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced on Wednesday.

Progas had set up an LPG terminal in 2004, but it was shut down in 2008. As a result of failure of the business, Progas filed two claims against the Government of Pakistan – one each in Paris and London, holding the country responsible for the loss.

Abbasi said Ali Allawi, the UK-based major shareholder in Progas and brother of a former prime minister of Iraq, filed a damages claim of $70 million and other claims amounting to $503 million were filed by Progas. They invoked the Bilateral Investment Treaty while filing the claims.

He said the petitioners claimed that Pakistan government had interfered in the setting of LPG prices from 2004 to 2008 and that made their business unviable.

In order to recover the money borrowed by Progas, banks auctioned its assets in 2011 and consequently state-owned Sui Southern Gas Company bought the LPG terminal.

According to Abbasi, the current government clubbed the two cases in London and made efforts to pursue and win them.

After three years of hearings, the permanent court of arbitration gave its decision and dismissed the case against the Government of Pakistan.

He revealed that the court also ordered the petitioners to pay $11 million to Pakistan to cover the expenses it incurred during proceedings of the case.

The petitioners would have to pay interest on this amount if they fail to release it in 60 days. The government has spent $18 to $20 million on the case. Abbasi pointed out that former prime minister Shaukat Aziz and former petroleum minister Usman Ameenuddin, who were holding these portfolios during the Pervez Musharraf government, appeared before the London court as witnesses and were also cross-examined. He thanked the two high-ups for appearing before the court.

The petroleum minister claimed that the previous administration of Pakistan Peoples Party did not take interest and make preparation to fight the case. “The previous government did not address the procedural issues,” he said.

Abbasi boasted that the regulation of LPG prices by the government had turned the terminal into a viable entity. The import of LPG through the terminal increased 100% and stood at 0.3 million tons in the past three months. The government has also issued licences for setting up LPG retail outlets.

Responding to a question about the case filed in the international court by a foreign consortium that was working on the Reko Diq copper and gold mining project in Balochistan, he said the government had still the option to go for an out-of-court settlement. However, hearings in the case have been completed.

Pakistan had submitted new evidence which had made its stance strong, he said, admitting that some officials from Quetta had been arrested on corruption charges in connection with the project. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is investigating the matter.

Abbasi declared that the government had not made any decision on revision in natural gas prices.

He revealed that the second liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal would start functioning by the end of June 2017, though the terminal operator had given assurances to the government that it would be ready by the start of June next year. The operator would have to pay a penalty of $150,000 per day in case of delay.

Speaking about the Progas terminal case, Board of Investment Chairman Miftah Ismail said though the Bilateral Investment Treaty had been invoked, the government wrote letters to 11 countries to end the treaty and win the case.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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‘Women can do’ project ends with high hope

ISLAMABAD: Many women across Pakistan want to establish their own businesses, but don’t know where to start, said Durreshawar Mahmood, project manager at ‘Women can do’, during the final conference of the one-year initiative.

Through this project, funded by the US Embassy and carried out by the Shaoor Foundation, over 3,000 women have received entrepreneurship training at public universities and Madrassas across Pakistan.

Shaoor Foundation staff has also coordinated a series of policy discussions with government officials, educators, business representatives, and others to identify and address the barriers to women’s entrepreneurship in Pakistan.

“While training and inspiring women in universities and madrassas to pursue their goals, we have also worked with officials and others to ensure future generations of Pakistani women have more resources and fewer challenges when seeking to start their own businesses,” said Mahmood.

Supporting women entrepreneurs in Pakistan has a ripple effect on families, villages, and cities across Pakistan, stated Mahmood. “Successful entrepreneurs create jobs for other women and men. They offer innovative solutions to problems. They deliver essential services and support their families.”

American Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale was also present on the occasion. He encouraged public and private sector representatives to continue their efforts to support women’s entrepreneurship in Pakistan for promoting economic activities.

The project is one of many entrepreneurship-related initiatives supported by the American Embassy. It sends Pakistani entrepreneurs to the United States on exchange programmes, has supported the establishment of the WECREATE Center for women’s entrepreneurship in Islamabad, and sponsored the travel of Pakistani delegates to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in June.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2016.

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