Rs5.6bn approved for revival of two grounded PIA aircraft

ISLAMABAD: Amid notices of default and suspension of services by foreign partners to the national flag carrier, the government on Tuesday did not approve about Rs9 billion financing to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and allowed Rs5.6bn guarantee to revive two grounded aircraft.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet presided over Finance Minister Asad Umar. The ECC also allowed the Frontier Oil Company (FOC) to lay a 470km pipeline for transportation of petroleum products and sought a study on possible LNG (liquefied natural gas) requirements in the country to plan re-gasification infrastructure.

The PIA is “faced with the challenges of accumulated liabilities, whereas on one hand, default notices are being served by Aircraft Lessor and, on the other, pressure is being exerted by vendors and service providers like General Authority of Civil Aviation, Saudi Ground Services and international fuel suppliers regarding suspension of services”, the aviation division said and demanded Rs8.4bn government guarantee, besides Rs485 million cash grant to repair in-flight entertainment system.

The finance ministry did not agree to the financing, saying complete data should be provided as to how such a financing would generate additional revenue for the PIA which was seeking the money for sustainable operations. Also, it wanted to reconcile payments due to foreign suppliers, service providers and vendors.

ECC allows FWO subsidiary to undertake 470km oil pipeline project

The ECC, however, allowed Rs5.6bn guarantee to enable the PIA to revive two grounded aircraft on an urgent basis to secure some new routes as part of the overall route rationalisation plan and smooth Haj operations.

The finance minister also allowed upward adjustment in government guarantees issued against dollar-denominated loans of the PIACL to offset difference arising out of exchange rate depreciation. “Additional guarantees to PIACL of Rs5.6bn for repair and maintenance of engines and acquisition of related spare parts for operationalising grounded planes would strengthen route rationalisation initiatives and add to revenue generation of the national flag carrier,” an official statement said.

Oil pipeline project

The ECC allowed the Frontier Oil Company, a subsidiary of the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), to undertake and implement the 470km Machike-Tarujabba oil pipeline project. The project consisting of three sections — Machike-Chak Pirana, Chak Pirana-Rawat and Rawat-Tarujabba — aims to transport high speed diesel and motor spirit.

Informed sources said the ECC had rejected a demand by the Interstate Gas Systems (ISGS), a subsidiary of the petroleum division, to allow it to implement the 470km pipeline project as per a decision of the previous government.

The sources said the ECC had allowed both contenders — FOC and ISGS — to present their proposals and respond to questions from the committee members, but the ISGS management failed to satisfy the committee on the questions raised. Also, the FOC and Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) clearly outweighed the ISGS arguments on technical and financial grounds.

The ECC was told that the FOC had estimated the project’s cost at about $370m, while a relatively lower bid quoted by ISGS contractors had expired in September last year and the fresh bidding would take a lot of additional time. Also, the FOC obtained a valid licence from Ogra which had not yet granted such a licence to the ISGS.

The petroleum division opined in writing that it appeared the ISGS could not further initiate its work on the project.

The ISGS had commissioned media reports to revive the project, an official said, while the FOC had initiated work on the project.

The petroleum division told the ECC that from a national economic point of view, the country required infrastructure, including pipelines, whether undertaken by the private sector or any public sector entity. It proposed that under the given circumstances, the project “be implemented by FOC while ISGS be advised not to pursue the project”.

The ECC agreed to the petroleum division’s opinion and advised the FOC to go ahead with the project and directed the ISGS to find some other project to stay relevant. The petroleum secretary told the committee that the ISGS had other projects in hand.

LNG terminals

The maritime affairs ministry informed the ECC that selection of the current location for LNG processing terminals was inappropriate to begin with because of channel’s constraints in terms of maneuverability of ships and low draught conditions. In many cases, it said, LNG ships blocked the traffic of normal shipping lines in view of security procedures and in some cases normal traffic, including those of oil products, remained suspended for weeks.

It was explained that the port authorities had dedicated a new location for the future LNG terminals and were no more allowing any terminal at the existing Port Qasim site. In fact, the port authorities wanted relocation of the existing terminals to the new site because of safety, security and operational reasons.

Finance Minister Umar asked the ministries of energy and maritime affairs to conduct a comprehensive study on the future requirements of LNG keeping in view the demand and supply situation on the basis of which the ECC could take a considered decision about the location of existing or future LNG processing plants.

Cotton crop uplift

The ECC took up measures for uplift of cotton crop in the country and discussed issues and challenges in the cotton sector. Experts in the field of cotton growing, who were specially invited to the meeting, gave their input for developing cotton crop.

The ECC directed the Ministry of National Food Security and Research to present within 30 days a plan for strengthening research and development services for different crops with particular focus on cotton. The ministry will also submit a plan for revitalisation of federal institutions tasked with the responsibility of developing the cotton sector.

The meeting directed the authorities concerned to expedite efforts for implementing PB Ropes technology to counter pink bollworm which impedes cotton growth. The ECC asked the Ministry of Industries and Production to take measures for recovery of cotton cess from textile mills so as to give impetus to cotton promotion activities, which are to be funded through the cess.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2019


What makes PSL different from all other leagues?

At first glance, the Pakistan Super League comes off as just another generic, regular, run-off-the-mill sports league where batsmen bat, bowlers bowl and fielders field.

So what’s new here? Superficially … nothing. Even it’s name isn’t unique as at least three other sports leagues have called themselves PSL, with the most prominent of them probably being South Africa’s Premier Soccer League.

And while the P in this particular PSL represents Pakistan, a majority of its matches take place in the UAE. The matches too are some of the least attended events in all of sports, which gives the fans across the border a lot of fodder to make memes and crack some undeniably funny jokes.

Read: Half these experts believe Lahore Qalandars could win PSL 2019. What do you think?

Having posited all there is that seems ugly, ladies and gentlemen, PSL boasts a trio of things that no other league in the world has — that’s including the Indian Premier League.

Let’s examine what these features are that make the PSL stand out from the crowd.

1- The league were batsmen don’t reign supreme

It’s no secret that the entire purpose of creating the T20 format is to favour the batsmen so they amass runs and fast. Where there was logic behind it, the bias has become so obvious and grave that T20 leagues around the world have quite clearly become cemeteries for bowlers.

Understandably, leading the pack in this crusade is the IPL where batsmen often treat ball hurlers with disdain of the highest order. This is where the PSL is still holding the fort.

Empty they may be, but PSL stadia are one of the few ones where there is still some semblance of balance between bowlers and batsmen. The latter do not, or cannot, bully the former in PSL every single time. For instance, take the IPL 2018 where the batting team plundered the bowling side for 200-plus runs 15 times.

Similarly, in 120 innings of IPL 2018, teams were all-out only a dozen times. In contrast, in 66 innings of PSL 2018, bowlers managed to dismiss all 10 opposing batsmen a total of 10 times. Some could say that that’s a failure on PSL batsmen’s part, but on the flip side, you can also argue that it’s down to PSL bowlers’ brilliance.

2- PSL represents a nation’s perseverance

The influx of food vloggers and the likes of Cynthia D Ritchies are hard at work but to the outside world, Pakistan still remains a massively mysterious and grossly misunderstood place. For them, the only things found in Pakistan are bombs, terrorists, acres and acres of barren land, unforgiving mountains and deserts as far as the eye could see.

It goes without saying that that is a ridiculous perception; Pakistan is not Syria or Iraq where active wars are being fought. Post 9/11, however, Pakistan has had to fight a passive war, and it has cost us upwards of 50,000 lives. It takes decades for war-torn, cash-strapped nations to emerge from such historic setbacks.

And yet here is Pakistan which is semi-hosting a league with international players less than five years removed from a situation where multiple bombings a day had become a norm. The players we attract may be second-stringers or has-beens or even railo kattas but just to be in this position takes a tremendous amount of perseverance. No mainstream sports league has had to battle such external elements.

3- Not just another sports league

And now the last but the heaviest point on the list. The IPL, the CPL, even the EPL or any PL, as successful as they are, they are all just sports leagues. The PSL, for Pakistan, is not just another sports league. It’s much more than that.

The claim can be justified by the fact that when PSL runs into problems, the directions and leadership can even come from the top-most echelon of the hierarchy: the PM House. To handle security, even the top brass of the army gets involved — that’s how important this seemingly insignificant 20-over competition is to this country.

On the day of the final, the host city is shut down almost completely, which of course is out of necessity than anything else, but what other sports competition can have that effect?

From a news standpoint even, on the day of PSL final, the PSL final is all that matters. No politicians climb up their containers, no courts binge on suo motus and no clerics issue edicts. The PSL final blows its local newsmakers out of water, which is something far bigger competitions cannot manage.

Bottom line being that critics can call PSL flawed and miniature but this competition’s uniqueness lies in its own modest roots. The oft-repeated slogan match PSL ka, jeet Pakistan ki may sound a bit annoying but truth is that it is indeed true. PSL does not have to be a packed tourney flashing gaudy grandeur.

The fact that it exists despite Pakistan’s plethora of problems and despite being frozen out by cricketing powers that be, is an achievement in itself.


Govt set to launch crackdown against extremist narratives on social media: Chaudhry

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday announced that the government is gearing up to launch a crackdown against extremist narratives on social media in the next few weeks.

Chaudhry, who was addressing an event in Islamabad, said: “We have created a mechanism through which we will control hate speech on social media as well. A working group of our agencies, including the FIA, sat [to discuss this].

“Our problem is that the digital media is taking over formal media so it is important for us to regulate this. We are bringing a new authority called the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority which will serve as a one-window operation for digital, print and electronic media.

“The informal media is a greater problem than formal media as the former is soon set to take over the latter so the need was to build a capacity through which we can monitor social media, trace fake accounts and those who break the law could be prosecuted.

“This week we have made some important arrests on the basis that they used social media to issue fatwas and advance their extremist narratives and threats. In the next few weeks we will launch a strict crackdown.

Chaudhry made it clear that the state will not allow extremists to dictate their narrative by use of force.

“The state wants a dialogue but that cannot happen if other does not let you do that,” he said. “If you are told that ‘my opinion is final and if you disagree I will shoot you or you should be hanged for saying this’ then you are using the state’s powers. Only the state has the power to use force or violence. Any individual cannot be allowed to the same.

“There is also a need for an international debate and it is taking place too. We’re very glad that his Royal Highness is coming to Pakistan and the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 actually also provides a massive opportunity against extremism.

“We want to build a national and international narrative against extremism and we believe in making the laws reign supreme in Pakistan.”