Imran orders stern action against sugar hoarders

• Admits import bill increased by 53pc in a year mainly due to import of sugar, wheat, pulses, palm oil • Launches farmers’ portal to facilitate complaints registration
• PM told CCTV cameras installed at sugar mills to keep track of produce

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday ordered stern action against sugar barons involved in profiteering and hoarding adding to the misery of inflation-hit people.

“The state will take strict action against the profiteers who were the enemies of the poor masses,” Mr Khan said while chairing a review meeting on sale price and hoarding of sugar.

The PM directed the authorities concerned to make strict legislation against sugar hoarders and profiteers and ensure implementation of track and trace system of sugar mills to ascertain the production volume of the commodity.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Adviser to the PM on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Special Assistant to the PM Dr Shahbaz Gill and senior officers attended the meeting. Punjab Minister for Industries Mian Aslam Iqbal and Punjab Chief Secretary Kamran Afzal joined the meeting through video link.

The chief secretary apprised the participants that all district administration had been directed to monitor if sugar was being sold at the price fixed by the government. The process of legislation against hoarders and profiteers was also in progress, he said.

He disclosed that closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras had been installed at sugar mills to keep an eye on the quantity of sugarcane and sugar produce entering and leaving the mills. Besides, data would also be obtained from sugar mills on a daily basis during the crushing season, he added.

Farmers’ portal launched

Earlier, the premier launched the Kisan Portal, a special category for farmers in the Pakistan Citizen Portal, expressing the hope that it would give a voice to small farmers.

At the launch, Mr Khan blamed the previous rulers for not building dams and lack of research in agriculture with the result that Pakistan lagged behind many countries in producing the required agro products. “Pakistan has reduced its research spending in the past, and the countries who had invested in research saw increased agricultural productivity. As long as you don’t do research, participate in seed development, how will your productivity increase,” he added.

The prime minister also lamented that Pakistan did not work on building reservoirs and dams, which could have helped farmers get more water for irrigation. There was a lot of uncultivated land in Pakistan that could be made use of, he remarked.

“We have a lot of land lying unattended. But we didn’t have water and never thought of it. Now big dams are being built after 50 years. We are building dams and you will see we will give more water to farmers. It can also stop the destruction from floods,” Mr Khan said.

Talking about the situation of farmers in the country, the premier said that all research pointed to how small farmers paid the highest prices when buying something from the market but sold their crop at the lowest price compared to those with major land holdings.

“Farmer used to work hard and take his sugarcane to sugar mills. He would be defeated from both sides — first they (sugar mills) made farmers wait in long lines. When I travelled in winter, trucks used to be queued outside sugar mills and they would get low prices,” he recalled.

“Ninety per cent farmers have small landholdings but their problems have never reached those in power,” he said.

The government, he said, had introduced Kisan Card to provide direct subsidy to farmers. Now a small farmer would get money directly through the Kisan Card, he announced.

Farmers also needed insurance, he said, adding that banks would be more than willing to give loans if the farmers’ crops were insured.

53pc hike in import bill

The prime minister admitted: “Our import bill has increased 53 per cent in one year. The pressure on the rupee increased because we imported 4m tonnes of wheat, we imported sugar and pulses and the [price of imported] palm oil nearly doubled.”

He said Pakistan was taking help from China to increase agricultural productivity as the agriculture sector was also made part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“The most expensive and nutritious vegetable, Avocado, is being sold for Rs600-Rs700 per piece here. Its tree starts giving fruit in four to five years. We have a lot of land for [planting avocado trees]. We have to [grow] new crops as our population increases.”

Discussing salient features of the portal, the premier said farmers would be able to directly call the chief secretary’s office with the help of Kisan Portal. According to the PM Office, 123 dashboards have been set up in relevant institutions at the federal and provincial level.

Published in Dawn,

Govt hikes petrol price by Rs10 per litre

The federal government on Saturday raised the price of petrol by Rs10.49 per litre and that of high speed diesel (HSD) by Rs12.44 per litre.

According to a notification issued by the Finance Division, the new price of petrol, effective from Oct 16 (today), is Rs137.79 per litre while high speed diesel will sell for Rs134.48.

Meanwhile, the prices of kerosene and light diesel oil (LDO) were increased by Rs10.95 and Rs8.84 per litre respectively. The new price of kerosene is Rs110.26 per litre and that of LDO is Rs108.35 per litre.

This is perhaps the first time for which data is publicly available that all the four major petroleum products are being sold above Rs100 per litre in the country.

The notification stated that oil prices in the international market had risen around $85 a barrel which was the highest since October 2018.

“Importantly, entire energy chain prices have witnessed a strong surge in the past couple of months due to higher demand for energy inputs and supply bottlenecks,” it further stated.

The government had absorbed the pressure of increasing international rates and provided “maximum relief” to consumers by keeping the petroleum levy and sales tax to a minimum, the Finance Division said.

“Therefore, prices worked out by Ogra (Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority) have been approved,” it added.

It is pertinent to mention here that the government had raised the price of petrol by Rs4 per litre at the start of the month as well.

Govt took a hit of billions to ensure minimal burden passed on to public: minister

Minister of State for Information Farrukh Habib defended the price hike, saying it was still lower when compared to the international petroleum prices as he blamed global inflation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In the last 15 days, petroleum prices rose by 13.5pc globally but we have increased the rates by only 8pc,” the minister said in a media talk delivered in Faisalabad. “The difference was absorbed by the government. We chose to take a hit of billions on our revenue but ensured that the burden passed on the public of this hike was as low as possible.”

“Coal, through which electricity is generated and is used in a lot of our industries … it’s price has risen from $50 to $250. We import all of the edible oil. Its price has gone up from $500 to $1200 and $1300. This is extraordinary inflation that has taken place in the entire world.

Habib cited a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reportedly saying that it was the greatest surge in inflation since 1970.

He detailed the government’s plans to curb inflation and held the previous governments responsible for the energy crisis the current government is embroiled in.

Petrol bomb will push people to the brink of starvation, says Shehbaz

PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif blasted the latest hike in petrol prices, calling it “utterly shameful” and saying it would “push people to the brink of starvation”.

“No words to describe the extreme cruelty this selected PTI regime has inflicted on the people in the form of yet another increase in the prices of items of daily use,” he tweeted.

Hike would make common man’s life go from bad to worse: PSP’s Kamal

Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) Chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal criticised the federal government for raising the price of petroleum products, which he said was akin to forcing the common man up against the wall.

“This has been repeated so many times that it now sounds strange even to say that the government does not [care for the common man],” he said while delivering a media talk in Karachi. “Forget giving them 10m jobs, the ones who already had jobs are now unemployed as well.

“This hike in prices of petroleum products [would make] the life of a common man go from bad to worse. You don’t give gas in the winters and electricity in the summers so the common man has been forced against the wall.”

Petrol and HSD are two major products that generate most of revenue for the government because of their massive and yet growing consumption in the country. Average petrol sales are touching 750,000 tonnes per month against the monthly consumption of around 800,000 tonnes of HSD. The sales of kerosene and LDO are generally less than 11,000 and 2,000 tonnes per month, respectively.


PM Imran urges Bill Gates to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghan people

Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates to consider providing humanitarian assistance to poverty-stricken people in Afghanistan.

In a telephonic conversation on Tuesday, the prime minister highlighted that more than half the population in the war-torn country was living below the poverty line and in dire need of financial assistance.

The two leaders shared their concerns regarding the health system in Afghanistan — the only other country in the world that is polio-endemic along with Pakistan, according to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Expressing their resolve to eradicate the infectious disease from both countries, they discussed the resumption of polio campaigns in Afghanistan to secure Pakistan’s recent gains in the elimination of the poliovirus.

The premier apprised Gates of Pakistan’s “continued progress” against polio eradication and appreciated the invaluable assistance provided by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in that regard.

He added that the country had reported only one case of wild poliovirus (WPV) this year and positive WPV environmental samples had decreased substantially.

He stressed that his government remained committed to ending all forms of polio in the country.

Gates praised PM Imran for the progress and pledged his Foundation’s continued support to the Pakistan polio programme for ensuring that no child in Pakistan was at risk of paralysis due to poliovirus.

The tech billionaire also congratulated the prime minister for Pakistan’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out and noted the Foundation’s support of government-led programmes, including Ehsaas, which was “making impressive progress in reducing stunting, and the digitisation of the National Savings Programme”.

He offered his continued collaboration through the Gates Foundation to improve the health and well-being of the people in Pakistan.

The prime minister thanked Gates for his Foundation’s valuable partnership with Pakistan

In military shuffle, Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum replaces Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as top spymaster

Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum has been appointed as the new director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military’s media affairs wing announced on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, formerly the ISI director general, has been posted as the Peshawar corps commander.

In a statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced other postings as well, saying Lt Gen Mohammad Saeed has been posted as the Karachi corps commander, Lt Gen Nauman Mehmood has been appointed the president of the National Defence University, and Maj Gen Asim Malik has been promoted to the rank of lieutenant general as well as appointed the army’s adjutant general.

Earlier, the ISPR announced that Lt Gen Mohammad Amir has been posted as Gujranwala corps commander, while Lt Gen Asim Munir has been appointed as the quarter master general.

The appointment of the ISI director general is the prerogative of the prime minister. The spymaster’s choice is, however, made by the prime minister in consultation with the army chief.

Lt Gen Anjum was previously the commander of Karachi Corps. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in September 2019.

Hailing from the Pakistan Military Academy’s 78th Long Course and the Punjab Regiment, Lt Gen Anjum has also served as the commandant of the Command and Staff College, Quetta.

The outgoing DG ISI, Lt Gen Hameed, was given the role on June 16, 2019, in a surprise military shake-up. He had previously served in the ISI as the head of internal security and is believed to be a close confidant of Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa.

Gen Faiz is from the Army’s Baloch Regiment. His appointment had come at a very crucial time when both external and internal security challenges seemed to be growing.

His name first caught public eye when he helped end the Faizabad dharna by a religious group in November 2017 through an agreement. The group had then staged the sit-in against amendments to Elections Act 2017.

Lt Gen Mohammad Amir is currently serving as the adjutant general. He has also served as the General Officer Commanding Lahore.

Lt Gen Asim Munir was serving as the Corps Commander Gujranwala. He served as the IS director general prior to Gen Faiz.

More names in Pandora Papers: Media moguls, families of army personnel, businessmen

More Pakistani individuals ranging from media group owners to family members of army personnel to businessmen and executives were identified in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) “Pandora Papers” — a major international research into the financial holdings of high-profile individuals around the world.

The exposé was unveiled on Sunday and some of the names already reported include prominent figures from the PTI-led government including Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin and Senator Faisal Vawda.

The papers included the names of as many as 700 individuals from Pakistan, according to investigative journalists Umar Cheema and Fakhar Durrani of The News International who were part of the research.

report by The News published on Monday said Jang group editor-in-chief Mir Shakilur Rehman, Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon and Express Media Group CEO Sultan Ali Lakhani also owned offshore companies.

According to the report, Rehman owns an offshore company named Brookwood Ventures Limited in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) — he was transferred the shares on April 17, 2008. When contacted by The News, he was hesitant to answer, claiming that his company was already declared so there was no point in answering the question.

However, he agreed to answer upon being urged by the investigation cell to respond otherwise questions of its transparency would arise, the report said.

“No, it’s not true, I don’t own any company. However, I had this till 2018,” he told The News when the investigation cell sent him a questionnaire. When asked about why he chose to establish a company in BVI when it was a “tax and secrecy haven”, he said it offered attractive conditions for investment.

Questioned by the cell on whether he had declared his company with the relevant tax authorities, The News quotes him as answering: “Yes, it was part of my wealth for the tax year 2018 and subject to taxes where applicable.”

Meanwhile, Dawn‘s CEO owned an offshore company called Bardney Limited that was registered in Seychelles, the report said. According to his official response to The News, the company was “duly declared” and being reported to the relevant Pakistani authorities in accordance with the law.

Similarly, Lakhani owned an offshore company Century Media Network Inc that was incorporated in February 2005 — Lakhani owned shares in the company with Muhammad Anwer Abdullah. A spokesperson for the Lakhani family told The News that “all companies are legal” and in accordance with applicable laws.

The report added that the Gourmet group, which owns TV channel GNN, also owned an offshore company, Gourmet Holdings Limited in the BVI jurisdiction, and had appointed an employee, Amna Butt, as its director.

“It is, however, not confirmed whether the company is declared with the Pakistani tax authorities or not,” the report said, adding that no response had been received from Butt over a questionnaire sent to her.

Renowned journalist and editor of Pakistan Today, the late Arif Nizami was also among those who had their names in the report. He owned New Mile Production Limited in BVI that was incorporated in July 2000 with him and his wife declared as its beneficial owners.

“Both Mr and Mrs Nizami through this company held investment portfolios with Standard Chartered Bank Singapore, which included cash accounts, bonds, equities and mutual funds.

“The documents reveal that the estimated value of these assets at that time was $1.6 million. It is, however, not clear whether the company is declared with the tax authorities in Pakistan or not,” the report said.

Family members of military personnel

The report by The News identified more former military leaders and their family members named in the Pandora Papers.

According to the report, the son-in-law of former Punjab governor Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Maqbool, Ahsan Latif, owned an offshore company Dylan Capital Limited that was registered in the BVI jurisdiction.

It added that according to the documents, the company was incorporated for “investment holding for certain properties in the UK and the UAE, but it was used for importing LPG (liquid petroleum gas) from Russia’s Vacus Oil Company Ltd”.

The report mentioned that it was not clear whether Latif had declared these assets to Pakistan’s tax authorities and no response to a query was received.

The Pandora Papers also reveal that Muhammad Hasan Muzaffar, the son of Lt Gen (retd) Muhammad Afzal Muzaffar, owned shares in a company registered in BVI, Creek Growth Capital Holding Ltd. According to the report by The News, this offshore company owned Southeast Healthcare Holding which controlled a medical centre based in Dubai that was apparently closed now.

“Hasan told ICIJ that the simple fact is there is no relation of this investment to his father. He further commented that the investment was made solely from his own income earned in the UAE and came from his UAE bank account. No other family member, including his father, was involved,” the report said.

Zahra Tanvir, the wife of Lt Gen (retd) Tanvir Tahir, was also identified by the report as owning an offshore company, Ener Plastic Limited, in the BVI jurisdiction.

“The Pandora Papers show that Mrs Zahra Tanvir is one of the beneficial owners of the company. As per the leaked documents, Ener Plastics Limited is a holding company and dividends and real investment [are] the main source of funds for the company,” the report said.

It added that The News received no response over a questionnaire sent to her.

Businessmen & executives

Javed Afridi, owner of the Peshawar Zalmi franchise, also owns three offshore companies according to revelations from the Pandora Papers: Old Trafford Properties Ltd, Sutton Gas Works Properties Ltd and Gas Works Property Ltd.

The News report said he confirmed his ownership of the companies, explaining that the reason behind incorporating them was for the “good intention to save tax rather than avoiding any tax”.

“According to him, the companies were almost dormant, and no business or investment was done by any of the companies,” the report said.

According to the report, National Bank President Arif Usmani incorporated a company, Sasa Partners Inc, in the BVI offshore tax havens in March 2018. It added that the Pandora Papers revealed him to be the company’s beneficial owner where he kept bankable assets.

Usmani was questioned on a number of issues by The News to which he responded that all his tax records had been provided to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and every asset he owned — internationally or locally — was declared in his wealth statements filed with the FBR.

The report also identified the managing director of National Investment Trust, Adnan Afridi, as having registered an offshore company, Veritas Advisory Services Ltd, in the BVI jurisdiction in October 2011.

Afridi confirmed owning the company to The News, adding that it was struck off the register of companies in the BVI in December 2017 due to being dormant.

Among family members of bureaucrats identified in the Papers, the report said former FBR chairman and finance secretary Salman Siddique’s son, Yawar Salman, owned an offshore company as well.

According to the documents, his son had registered Cres Tech Holdings Limited in the BVI with partner Noeen Ahmed Anwar just months prior to Siddique’s retirement.

“Yawar Salman told The News that the entity Cres Tech Holdings was incorporated as part of a then-envisaged plan to undertake a foreign business. However, owing to certain circumstances, neither any equity was contributed nor any bank account opened.

“Since no equity was ever contributed and the entity’s worth remains ‘nil’, the question of disclosing it to the tax authorities does not arise,” the report quoted him as saying.

What’s in a name

The papers are named after the Greek myth of Pandora’s box.

In the tale, Pandora opens a sealed box containing the forces of evil and suffering which, once released, were uncontainable.

BBC quoted Gerard Ryle, the director of ICIJ, as saying this leak was given the name because “we’re opening a box on a lot of things”.