Will not allow Indian content as ‘it damages our culture’: CJP

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Wednesday made it clear that the Supreme Court will not allow Indian content to be shown on Pakistani TV channels as it “damages our culture”.

A three-member SC bench, under the chief justice’s stewardship, was hearing an appeal filed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) against high courts’ decision to ban the broadcast of Indian content on TV channels in Pakistan.

Pemra’s counsel Zafar Iqbal Kalanauri apprised the SC bench that foreign content had been banned on court orders before a high court issued a stay order against it.

Pemra Chairman Saleem Baig told the court that 65 per cent of the content shown on Filmazia channel is foreign and that the number at times goes as high as 80 per cent.

At this, the chief justice remarked that “we will not allow Indian content to be aired on [Pakistani] channels”.

Pemra counsel explained to the chief justice that “Filmazia is not a news channel but is an entertainment channel; it does not do any propaganda.”

“It is, however, damaging our culture,” the top judge countered.

The chief justice observed that the Pakistan Broadcasters Association’s counsel, Faisal Siddiqui was not in attendance. “We cannot pass a judgement without hearing him,” he said.

Subsequently, the hearing was adjourned till the first week of February.

In 2016, Pemra had imposed a complete ban on airing Indian content on local television and FM radio channels.

The decision was largely seen as a tit-for-tat move after similar actions were taken by some channels and the entertainment industry in India against Pakistani content and artists.

In 2017, the Lahore High Court had lifted the Pemra-imposed ban, declaring it null and void as the federal government had no objections regarding the same.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court had reinstated the ban on the transmission of Indian content on local television channels, setting aside the LHC orders.

Asad Umar vexed by bureaucrats’ lack of preparation

ISLAMABAD: Amid a 24 per cent shortfall in cotton production this year, Finance Minister Asad Umar gave vent to his irritation over repeated presentation of half-baked ideas before the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet and returned issues of duty-free import of cotton and revival of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) to relevant ministries.

The ECC meeting had been called on Tuesday with only one item on the agenda — tax and duty-free import of cotton — and took up a presentation on PSM revival from Hubco as an additional item, but the presentation did not satisfy the finance minister who presided over the session.

A source present in the meeting said the finance minister was visibly irritated when bureaucrats making the presentation were unable to answer elementary questions. They were asked to specify the benefit to Pakistan’s economy of allowing duty-free import of cotton, as well as quantify the revenue loss as a result of the measure. The bureaucrats from the textile ministry failed to satisfy him, to which he is said to have retorted “what kind of a joke is this, you people don’t come prepared even though there is a single agenda item!”

Returns proposal for duty-free cotton import to ministry

An official handout issued after the meeting said that “[t]he committee noted that detailed trade and revenue related data was required, which was not made part of the proposal,” and added that “relevant ministries were directed to fill the data gaps so that an informed decision could be taken in the matter”.

Mr Umar noted that when a ministry was seeking a major decision, it should have also included in its summary as to what would be the impact of imported cotton on the textile industry and how its duty-free import would affect the revenue stream of the Federal Board of Revenue, an official said.

The meeting was informed that the Cotton Crop Assessment Committee in its last meeting in September estimated that the cotton crop for 2018-19 would be around 10.78 million bales of 170kg, showing a decrease of 9.7pc, compared to the last year, and a decrease of 24pc against the initially fixed target of 14.37m bales. Further, 9.62m bales had already arrived in ginning factories as of Dec 15 and almost 95pc of the cotton had been lifted from farmers.

The textile division reported that Pakistan had been a net cotton importer since 2001. On top, domestic cotton is of short to medium staple length and, therefore, long and extra long staple cotton has to be imported for production of finer yarn counts for subsequent transformation into high value-added finished products.

It said the import of cotton had remained duty free till the slab of 0pc was abolished in 2014-15 and customs duty of 1pc was imposed along with 5pc sales tax. Later, 1pc slab was made 2pc and then 3pc along with 2pc additional duty to make it 5pc i.e. currently cotton is subject to 3pc customs duty, 2pc additional customs duty and 5pc sales tax.

Prime Minister’s Package of Incentives for Exports announced on January 10, 2017, provided a number of facilitations to the textile sector, including withdrawal of customs duty and sales tax on imported cotton with effect from January 16, 2017.

However, the Finance Division later moved a summary to the ECC to re-impose the customs duty and sales tax on imported cotton. The ECC constituted a committee and on the recommendation of the committee duties were re-imposed from July 15, 2017, in view of domestic cotton arrival.

The customs duty and sales tax were withdrawn again on January 8, 2018, on the request of textile division. However, the customs duty and sales tax were re-imposed on July 15, 2018, on the request of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

It was reported that textile industry consumed around 12m to 15m bales per annum and sustainability and viability of spinning industry was totally dependent on performance of the domestic crop. Textile industry had to meet this shortage from import of cotton from other countries.

The impact of duties are induced in the price of domestic cotton, resulting in increase in cost of doing business for the entire textiles value chain, especially for the export-oriented sector, in highly competitive international markets. Therefore, the textile division proposed that similar to last two years decision, customs duty, additional customs duty and sales tax on imported cotton may be withdrawn immediately.

PSM revival

Sources said a brief presentation by chief executive officer of Hub Power Company Khalid Mansoor did not offer conclusive solutions, but some initial observations and desired that the expert group he was leading should be given time until the end of March to come up with proposals about the future of PSM.

The committee noted the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation had removed the PSM from the privatisation list on October 31 and the expert group given 45 days to finalise a revival plan for the country’s largest industrial unit. The timeline had expired last month and now a 3-month extension was being sought.

It was also reported that the board of directors had not yet approved the appointment of Mr Mansoor-led expert group or allowed sharing of record and data despite instructions from the government on December 1, 2018. The board had thrice cancelled its meeting since then.

Mr Mansoor, who has previously worked with Finance Minister Umar in Engro Corporation, was asked to complete its task at the earliest.

A statement said the ministry of industries shared progress on the action plan with the meeting. “The committee directed that the plan of action should be prepared in a cohesive manner, taking on board the PSM Board of Directors/Management and submitted for final approval as per the given timelines.

SC orders NAB to wrap up investigations into fake accounts case in 2 months

The Supreme Court while hearing the fake accounts case on Monday ordered that the names of PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Shah be removed from both the exit control list and the joint investigation team’s report on a probe into the case.

The court also ordered that the case be forwarded to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and directed the anti-corruption watchdog to wrap up its investigation within two months.

The top court was hearing a suo motu case regarding a delay into a 2015 Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) probe into money laundering of billions of rupees via fake bank accounts. Both Bilawal and Shah were named in the report submitted to the top court last month by the JIT which was tasked to probe the case.

Several bigwigs, including former president Asif Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, former president of Summit Bank Hussain Lawai and Omni Group’s Anwar Majeed, were all nominated in the case. Property tycoon Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Zain have also been included in the probe.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar today grilled the state prosecutor over why the government had decided to place Bilawal on the no-fly list after the JIT recommended the placement of 172 people named in its report on the ECL.

“The JIT will have to clarify one thing: Why did it involve Bilawal in this matter?” Justice Nisar asked. “What did Bilawal do?”

The chief justice wondered if the PPP chairman’s name had been included upon “someone’s directives”.

He asked state prosecutor Faisal Siddiqui if the reason behind Bilawal’s inclusion in the investigation was to “defame someone”.

He also expressed annoyance at the placement of the Sindh chief minister’s name on the ECL.

Subsequently, the court ordered the removal of Bilawal and Shah’s names from the ECL and JIT report, and sent the case to NAB, directing it to conclude its investigation within two months.

The top judge also ordered to exclude the names of Farooq H Naek and Asim Mansoor, the attorney general’s brother, from the ECL.

In his remarks, the chief justice said “angels didn’t open the accounts” someone has to be held responsible for opening the fake accounts, therefore, the issue was being sent to NAB.

A nexus of politicians and private property tycoon has been uncovered in the fake accounts case, Justice Nisar said. He vowed to bring the case to its logical conclusion.

The JIT report had earlier said that a close nexus had been found between a troika of Zardari Group, Omni Group and Bahria Town.

The chief justice today observed that the fake accounts appeared to be connected to politicians, Bahria Town and Omni Group. He said the court had yet to see whether Omni Group had ties to politicians named in the JIT report, and if both were linked to Bahria Town as well.

Omni Group lawyer Munir Bhatti denied the existence of a nexus between the three different companies.

He urged the bench to “allow him to show [the court] the real picture” and told the bench that Omni Group had bought the sugar mills in accordance with the law.

“But the mills were not available for free, were they?” the chief justice asked. “The money came through the fake accounts.”

Bhatti said that his client had not done anything illegal by buying sugar mills on subsidies and added that the figures mentioned in the JIT report were not a single record.

“Do you know anything about layering, Mr Bhatti?” Justice Ijazul Ahsan, who is part of the bench hearing the case, asked the lawyer. Bhatti responded in the negative.

“Then why are you presenting arguments?” Justice Ahsan asked.

The chief justice said that the findings of the JIT report cannot be dismissed and the court has to examine the replies from the respondents. Bahria Town, Zain Malik, Zardari, Talpur, Anwar and Abdul Ghani Majeed, and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan have all submitted their responses to the court.

Meanwhile, Anwar Majeed’s lawyer Shahid Hamid, who had also appeared before court today, said that instead of verifying the JIT report itself, the apex court should let the FIA determine its authenticity, since the latter had initially taken up the case. He urged the court to allow the companies, that are owned by the Omni Group but are not named in the JIT report, to continue functioning.

SECP explains ‘important facts’ in response to JIT report

The SECP, in its response, also said that the JIT had not approached it for comment or given it an opportunity to “explain the correct legal position” on the matter of acquisition of shares of Arif Habib Bank and Atlas Bank by Suroor Investment Ltd.

“Therefore, it is of utmost importance to bring on the record the true legal position and important facts for assistance of this honourable court while considering the report of the JIT to the extent of the purported role of SECP in the scheme of arrangement of three banking companies,” it added.

The SECP informed the court of how the merger and acquisition took place, and all the laws and rules under which it took place.

It said it had followed up on the matter with all three banks involved in the M&A process for almost a year and a half, it said, adding that the proceedings under the Takeover Ordinance were only dropped after receipt of letters from the State Bank of Pakistan through which it was conclusively established that the transaction is a part of rehabilitation/scheme of arrangement for revival of sick banks, which will ultimately stand merged through an order of the SBP.

“Consquently, SBP approved the merger of the banks through which shareholders of Atlas Bank, My Bank and Arif Habib Bank were given shares of Summit Bank as per the swap ratio determined and approved by SBP.”

It asked that the JIT’s observations “be reconsidered and removed, being factually incorrect and legally misconceived”.

Banking court extends Zardari, Talpur’s bail

A banking court in Karachi extended the interim bail of PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur until Jan 23 in the fake accounts case.

The siblings face allegedly illegally channelled funds through the said accounts in connivance with the chief executive officers of major banks.

Both PPP leaders appeared in court for the hearing of the case today amid tight security.

A racket ensued at the premises of the banking court when security officials refused to let PPP supporters enter the courtroom after Zardari and Talpur had made their way inside.

When asked to order the FIA to file its final charge sheet in the case, the judges said that the SC had halted proceedings in the banking court since it is [currently hearing a similar case]