PM tasks NDMA chief with getting rain-hit Karachi cleaned up

ISLAMABAD: Prime Min­ister Imran Khan on Wednesday asked Sindh Governor Imran Ismail to coordinate between the Centre and the provincial government to address problems faced by people, particularly the urban flood-like situation in Karachi due to the dilapidated drainage system in the city.

During a meeting at PM House, the prime minister told the governor that the federal government would never leave people of Karachi alone and would make best possible efforts to mitigate their suffering. Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry was also present in the meeting.

According to an official press release, the governor informed the prime minister about the recent spell of torrential rains in Sindh and inundation of Karachi by rainwater due to out-of-order drainage system in the country’s commercial hub.

The prime minister directed the National Disaster Management Authority to present a report on drainage system and rains in Karachi.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

Governor Ismail told to coordinate between Centre, Sindh govt

Later, PM Khan said in a tweet: “I have asked the NDMA Chairman to go to Karachi immediately and start the clean up in the aftermath of the rain.”

In another tweet, Mr Khan said: “I have asked the Pak army to also help in cleaning up the city.”

Meanwhile, a source told Dawn that the prime minister expressed concern why the Sindh government was not ann­ouncing the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC) award. He was of the view that due to non-transfer of funds to the grass-root level, basic civic issues were not being addressed in the province.

The prime minister was told that although most of the MNAs and MPAs from Karachi belonged to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its ally Muttahida Qaumi Movement, they were facing difficulties in resolving the people’s problems because Sindh was ruled by the Pakistan Peoples Party.

The source said the prime minister asked if the Centre could link announcement of the PFC award with the National Finance Commission (NFC) award, under which the Centre releases funds for the provinces.

The prime minister also directed Fawad Chaudhry to help people of Karachi through the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources.

Later, the Sindh governor called on President Dr Arif Alvi to discuss the situation in Karachi after the recent rains.

According to a press release, they discussed solutions to the issues which have emerged in Karachi after the recent rainfall and reviewed various proposals in this regard. The governor would submit these proposals to the prime minister.

PM sets up committee

Prime Minister Khan formed a committee headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to resolve problems hindering the creation of south Punjab province. In a meeting with members of the National Assembly (MNAs) hailing from south Punjab, the prime minister said the committee would hold meetings with Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar to remove hurdles in the creation of the new province.

He said the steps being taken by the Centre for creation of the new province were aimed at empowering the people of southern Punjab.

After the meeting the, foreign minister said in a statement south Punjab secretariat would be established both in Multan and Bahawalpur. The MNAs apprised the prime minister of the situation regarding functioning of the secretariat.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said as per the prime minister’s directive, he along with Khusru Bakhtiar would soon hold a meeting with the Punjab chief minister in which establishment of relevant offices in Multan and Bahawalpur would be discussed.

WB country director

Outgoing Country Director of World Bank in Pakistan Patchamuthu Illangovan paid a farewell call on Prime Minister Khan.

Minister for Economic Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar was also present.

Mr Illangovan thanked the prime minister for the latter’s support during his stay in Pakistan and recognised Pakistan’s efforts towards stabilisation of economy, overall reform process and response to Covid-19 pandemic.

The prime minister appreciated the partnership with the World Bank and wished the outgoing World Bank country director success in his next assignment.

Later, Malik Mohammad Amir Dogar and Malik Mohammad Ehsanullah Tiwana, members of the National Assembly belonging to the PTI, met the prime minister separately and discussed matters pertaining to legislation and their respective constituencies.


Testing not the only way to gauge decline in cases: Zafar

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Zafar Mirza has said that when all the trends regarding the novel coronavirus in Pakistan are showing improvement, one must not assess everything through less number of tests being conducted across the country.

“I believe we should not put everything on number of tests. We have passed from spike in mid-June. The testing is a factor, but it should be considered that the number of suspects has been reduced. We have collected data from hospitals and majority of them, apart from a few in Sindh, have told us that less number of people have been visiting hospitals,” said the PM’s aide on health affairs while talking to Media

Of the 264,593 cases reported since the outbreak of the highly contagious virus in the country, 204,276 patients have fully recovered, indicating that active cases have dropped to 60,317. The country reported 1,777 cases and 47 deaths during the past 24 hours, taking the national tally of cases to 264,593 and death toll to 5,591.

However, the government has been facing criticism from opposition parties for a significant drop in number of daily tests, despite the death of more than 2,200 patients since June 20. The government had increased the number of daily tests to 34,000 last month, but the number of tests per day suddenly fell in the last week of June and on July 18 around 18,000 tests were conducted across the country, triggering scepticism about the actual tally of cases.

Data shows fall in Covid-19 cases, but questions persist over its reliability

Talking to Media, the PM’s aide said there was no reason to doubt that the spread of the virus had slowed down when all indicators such as number of admitted patients in hospitals and those on oxygenated beds and ventilators had declined. He said even number of deaths had declined.

However, he added, it was correct that a discussion was under way to ascertain whether it was “premature optimism” or “permanent decline” in cases.

“Last week we considered that why the number of tests was reduced as there was no issue regarding capacity of tests. The reply was that the number of suspects has reduced at hospitals and private labs. Though we had a consensus that the number of tests should be increased it was also observed that around 40 to 50 per cent tests are being done through contact tracing policy which is called tracing, testing and quarantine (TTQ). The number of tests would have been further reduced if we lacked TTQ policy [under which all the contacts of patients are tested],” he said.

The PM’s aide said that a combination of nine factors turned around the situation in Pakistan. “We started lockdown much earlier on 13th March and it is still going on as restaurants, wedding halls, educational institutions, etc are still closed. The sectors that have been opened are being monitored and fines are imposed for violations. Moreover, contact tracing was improved through TTQ policy which was introduced on April 24. Wearing of mask has been declared mandatory and we are focusing on hygiene,” he said.

Dr Mirza said the immunity level, change in nature of virus as well as temperature could be some of the reasons behind the reduction in cases, but there was no doubt that patients’ management had also improved. “Initially healthcare workers were not aware that how they should deal with the patients and avoid chances of spread of virus, as the disease was new for everyone, but now patient management has been improved and they have learnt that what works and what does not,” the PM’s aide said.

“I believe that the NCOC has performed marvellously due to which coordination among the federal and provincial governments has improved. Moreover, we gathered data on a daily bases and tried to devise strategies as per situation due to which the situation improved. I also believe that an X-factor arises in pandemics due to which diseases are controlled,” he said.

Asked why cases were increasing in India where the situation has become out of control with around 30,000 cases being confirmed daily, Dr Mirza said India was much more complex, bigger and more diverse country as compared to Pakistan. “India started lockdown bit late and then suddenly withdrew it due to which their situation worsened. How­ever, we had strategy and we successful implemented it,” he said.

While talking to Dawn, federal Minister for Plann­ing, Development and Spec­ial Initiatives Asad Umar said that Covid-19 cases had been on the decline, the disease could spread again over Eidul Azha as people might not follow the health guideline for shopping.

“I am not worried about Eid prayers as people follow the SOPs during prayers. I fear that the people may not follow the SOPs at cattle markets and in others markets during Eid shopping as they did the same on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr,” he said.

Mr Umar said he would suggest the masses to opt for ‘collective sacrifice’.

Affordable housing: an uphill virtuous task

THE incentivised Naya Pakistan Housing Project (NPHP) for building 100,000 homes offers both banks and construction industry an opportunity to benefit from the stimulus package with risks in real estate business and housing finance somewhat minimised in these hard times.

The PTI’s flagship housing scheme is a major initiative to shore up labour-intensive construction and allied industries, kick-start the economy, create jobs and provide affordable houses to low- and middle-income groups.

The success of the project depends on the response of the private housing sector and commercial banks as well as current housing demand.

The share in housing finance in Pakistan is a mere 0.2 per cent of the total loan portfolio as compared to 10pc in India and 90pc in Europe. The stated reasons for this are (a)first and foremost the absence of foreclosure laws (b) the want of clear land titles and (c) largely informal activity in the construction industry.

Businesses hold the view that the formalisation of the informal economy is only possible if high tax rates are cut and the stifling investment and business regulatory regime is rationalised

To encourage mortgage financing, the government promulgated an ordinance in July 2019 to remove hurdles in the way of efficient recovery of mortgage-backed security. It was approved by National Assembly in November last year.

An analyst says that the ordinance provides immense protection to the interest of lenders but has stipulations to protect the rights of the borrowers. The commercial banks want apparently a foreclosure law that gives them the right to sell the mortgaged property to recover the bad debt without getting involved in any process which they consider inadvisable.

Also, under the housing package, the risk in banks’ mortgage lending has been reduced by making the housing units ‘affordable’ for buyers.

The government is providing a Rs30 billion subsidy for individual house-builders. Every owner of the first 0.1 million housing units will get Rs0.3m subsidy. Similarly, individual borrowers will be eligible to the subsidised interest rate of 5pc for building a five-marla house and 6pc for a 10-marla unit.

Critics, however, doubt whether households would have enough savings for investment in housing units when joblessness and poverty are on the rise and livelihoods of employees and wage earners remain under threat. Salaries have been reduced or not increased despite the sharp rise in food prices. It is also pointed out that no exercise has been undertaken by the provinces who are supposed to identify housing demand.

The government is trying to encourage the construction and housing sector to enter the formal economy through a tax amnesty valid up to Dec­ember 31. No questions will be asked about the sources of funds invested in the housing sector. Given past experiences, it may lead to some documentation making the industry eligible for housing loans.

So far builders have been generally putting their initial equity while raising funds from instalments paid by buyers to finance and complete housing projects.

Businesses have also held the view that the formalisation of the informal economy is only possible if high tax rates are cut and the stifling investment and business regulatory regime is rationalised. The housing policy is addressing both issues including the quick approval of projects.

The government has abolished 90pc of the tax under section 111 of the Income-Tax Ordinance for NPHP while provincial taxes have been reduced. Besides, the tax regime for the entire construction sector has also been changed to a more industry-convenient fixed rate system.

No doubt the problem of error-free titles of rural land holdings is far from resolved despite marked progress in digitalisation of records. The digitalisation of urban land even for cities like Lahore or Islamabad is in the initial stages. Analysts stress the need for a land bank. The authorities have expressed their determination to solve problems they encounter in the way forward.

The federal government has asked the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and commercial banks to raise the share of housing finance from the current 0.2pc to 5pc of their total loan portfolio. It is estimated that Rs330bn would thus be made available for house financing.

However, according to JS Research, the banks are averse to fresh lending despite such measures as space in capital requirements, increase in borrowing limits and extension in regulatory credits announced by the State Bank of Pakistan. The JS report says the overall loan growth remained flat in the last quarter of 2019-20.

Aware of intricate long-term issues, the State Bank Governor Dr Raza Baqir has set up a steering committee to prepare and implement a road map to ensure sustainable market-led financing of housing projects and housing mortgage.

In the first meeting of the steering committee chaired by Dr Baqir, various sub-committees were formed to work in parallel on different work streams including developer finance, end-users housing finance, use of technology, development of the capital market and the long-term yield curve, risk mitigation and removal of legal and regulatory hurdles in housing finance.

Governor Baqir also made it clear to the committee members that housing finance was a priority area for the central bank. The committee includes presidents of selected scheduled banks, Deputy SBP Governor Jameel Ahmed and Naya Pakistan Housing Development Authority Chairman Lt Gen (rtd) Anwar Ali Haider.

Looking at the bigger picture, the prime minister’s think tank in its meeting held on July 11 discussed measures with the stated purpose as to how to make the lending facility reach the people and encourage the banking and finance sector to bring about improvements in the economy.

“Money ends up being trapped in the financial sector rather being invested in other things,” says Kate Raworth, author of the book ‘Doughnut Economics’ published in 2017 and translated into 18 languages. Pakistan is no exception to what she says about the developed financial markets.

The State Bank data shows that scheduled banks’ investments in government papers shot up by 40pc during 2019-20 to reach a record high of over Rs11 trillion.

Pakistan is suffering from both supply and demand shocks. And to quote Raworth there is no equilibrium in supply and demand in the real world. Economic theories, she says, overlook the unpredictable boom and bust cycles.

Her advice to policymakers is: forget economic theories and concentrate on welfare. And common good requires that fairness should trump greed.

Whole Kashmir desired to accede to Pakistan in 1947: AJK president

ISLAMABAD: Azad Jammu and Kashmir President Sardar Masood Khan has said that on July 19, 1947, the whole Kashmir State had desired to accede to Pakistan and that spirit still lives strong today.

Had it not been for the connivance of the Indian Army, Dogra Raj and the British rulers, true aspirations of the Kashmiri people would have been realised and they would have become a part of Pakistan on Aug 14, 1947, he said.

The AJK president said this while speaking at a seminar titled, ”Kashmir Accession Day and our Responsib­ilities”, organised by BTM Global and National Press Club in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir Self-Deter­mination Movement (JKSDMI), led by its chairman Raja Najabat Hussain.

According to a statement, the AJK president while thanking the host of the event, Ms Sumaira Farrukh, for her social activities in AJK, said that her organisation provided massive social support to the people of AJK during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown which had greatly impacted the lives of the masses.

Afridi regrets social media accounts are blocked over raising of Kashmir issue

Mr Khan said that under very difficult circumstances in 1947, the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference representatives held a conference in Srinagar and passed a resolution vowing to accede to Pakistan. Fulfilling this resolution, he said, became the basis for people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan to fight a war for independence from the Maharaja. This liberated region we now know as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan had become a defensive bastion for the whole of Pakistan, he said.

Mr Khan said that since the illegal occupation of the occupied territory in 1947 by Indian forces, killings of Kash­miris and aggression continued to this day. In 1947, at least 237,000 Kashmiri Muslims were killed just because they wanted to join Pakistan and now Kashmiris despite the presence of 900,000 troops continued to struggle for their self-determination and peacefully opposed the occupation.

“They [Kashmiris] have vowed to continue their struggle. They have been fighting occupation for 200 years and they will not give up”, he said.

The AJK president said that the people of Jammu and Kashmir were grateful to Pakistan for being the only sovereign window for them, for highlighting the Kashmir dispute and fighting the case at international forums. Unfortu­nately, he said, the world order was ste­e­red by realpolitik and major international capitals were still silent over India’s aggression and human rights viola­tions in held Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK).

Chairman Parliamentary Comm­ittee on Kashmir Shehryar Afridi urged the champions of human rights all over the world to stand up for the Kashmiri people. He vowed to take the issue of Kashmir to every international forum. He said the government would take all political parties along and maintain a united stand on Kashmir.

He said it was unfortunate that social media accounts were being bloc­ked over raising the issue of Kashmir.

Former AJK prime minister Sardar Atiq Ahmed Khan said that Accession to Pakistan Resolution and this auspicious day was an important event in the history of Kashmir. The conference on July 19, 1947, was attended by representatives from all over Jammu and Kashmir and in a way it was a referendum in which the Kashmiris gave the verdict in favour of Pakistan.

The seminar was also addressed by Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Sobia Kamal, Member of National Assembly Noreen Farooq and others.

Meanwhile, Speaker of National Assembly Asad Qaiser said that Kashmiris had sacrificed a lot during the struggle of freedom from Indian occupation. He said the blood of innocent Kashmiris would not go waste.

In his message on the Kashmir Accession Day with Pakistan commemorated on Sunday, he said that the fascist Indian government had imposed a lockdown on the valley for the last 11 months and because of this thousands of Kashmiris were facing acute shortage of medicines and food.

He asked the international community to take notice of Indian brutalities in the occupied Kashmir valley.

GB to be reopened to tourists soon, says caretaker CM

GILGIT: Gilgit-Baltistan caretaker Chief Minister Mir Afzal has announced that the region will be reopened to tourists soon, and directed to formulate the SOPs for the purpose.

According to a press release issued by the CM House the other day, Mr Afzal said that Prime Minister Imran Khan was taking keen interest in promoting tourism in GB.

“Tourism is important sector for development of the region, but it has been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,’’ he said. The caretaker chief minister said tourists would be allowed to visit GB provided they observed the SOPs.

He said the GB tourism department should develop a mechanism to implement SOPs at the entry points and airports of the region.

“SOPs for tourists would be advertised,’’ he said.

Mir Afzal said with opening the region to tourists, economic activities would gain impetus to the benefit of the locals.

The caretaker chief minister directed GB secretary tourism to establish a museum in Gilgit to preserve traditional heritage. He said he would talk to the prime minister to start flights from other provinces to GB to facilitate tourists.

During a recent visit to the region, PM Imran had directed the caretaker chief minister to reopen GB to tourists after formulating SOPs.