Dhabeji Industrial Zone project hits impediments.

• Award of contract challenged in Sindh High Court
• Provincial govt says the project does not have SEZ status

ISLAMABAD: The recently awarded contract for the Dhabeji Industrial Zone (DIZ) project that falls under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is in the doldrums after being challenged before a court of law.

The Sindh High Court will take up on Monday (today) a petition submitted to it challenging that the rules of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) had not been followed in the award of the contract.

The provincial government claims that since DIZ has not been given the status of SEZ so far, the rules of special economic zones do not apply to it. The CPEC Authority also had submitted an official statement to the high court, expressing satisfaction over the bidding process and claiming that no irregularity had been committed in the award of the contract.

According to a document of the Sindh Economic Zones Management Company (SEZMC), however, the DIZ will be declared a special economic zone (SEZ).

The multibillion DIZ, which will be developed under Public-Private Partnership by the successful bidder Zahir Khan & Brothers (ZKB) and the Sindh government, is part of CPEC and may be given the status of a special economic zone later.

The project, spread over 1,500 acres, is being executed jointly by the Centre, Sindh government, and CPEC Authority with an aim to make it a hub of major economic activities in the province.

The Sindh government received bids for the project in February this year. However, after a two-month evaluation, one of the bids was declared ‘technically unfit’. The provincial government then went for re-bidding in which ZKB emerged successfully. Subsequently, the government issued a Letter of Award (LoA) to the winning firm.

However, the award of the contract was challenged before the court that would take up the matter on Nov 29 (today).

Earlier at a meeting held on Nov 23, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed the hope that all economic zones, including Dhabeji Industrial Zone, would be completed at the earliest and economic activity started there.

He, however, lashed out at the Sindh government for the slow pace of development work in the province.

When contacted, the Sindh government’s spokesman Saeed Ghani said he was not fully aware of the project’s details, but believed that there was nothing wrong with the award of the contract.

Meanwhile, a senior SEZMC official said the provincial government had ensured transparency and fair play in the award as the successful bidder had quoted Rs16.25 billion while the second-lowest bid was Rs13.75bn.

He said the total income to be generated from the project was Rs32bn and the successful bidder would have to pay Rs16bn to the provincial government in five to seven years. The remaining amount would be paid to the provincial government by selling plots in the economic zone, he added.

The official believed that like 17 other industrial zones in the country, the DIZ had so far not attained the status of SEZ but the provincial government would apply for it later.

“Allama Iqbal Economic Zone in Lahore was established in 2006 but got the SEZ status in 2016,” he said, explaining that economic zones did not get the SEZ status right away.

The official said unfortunately the court had been misled by the petitioner, who was claiming that rules of SEZs had not been followed while awarding the contract for DIZ.

Meanwhile, it has been learned that due to litigation, the DIZ project is being delayed as the successful bidder has still not signed the agreement with the Sindh government even a month after the issuance of the LoA.

Under the contract, the successful firm will undertake designing, financing, construction, operation, and maintenance of DIZ on a build, own, operate and transfer basis.

The DIZ is located on the N-5 National Highway, close to Bin Qasim and Karachi ports as well as about 700km from Gwadar Port, which connects the Central Asia Republics, Middle East, Europe, and Africa. According to the layout plan, the DIZ will have 130 heavy, 145 medium, and 211 light industries, 82 warehouses, commercial areas, office areas, grid stations, roads, lanes, mosques, recreation areas, captive power generation facilities, and PTCL/SSGC/K-Electric intake points.

Australian govt vows to unmask online trolls

SYDNEY: Australia’s government said on Sunday it will introduce legislation to unmask online trolls and hold social media giants like Facebook and Twitter responsible for identifying them.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative coalition government faces an election in the first half of 2022, said the law would protect Australians from online abuse and harassment.

“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others can just anonymously go around and harm people and hurt people, harass them and bully them and sled them,” Morrison told reporters.

“That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”

Attorney General Michaelia Cash said the legislation, reportedly to be introduced to parliament by early 2022, was needed to clarify that the social media platforms, and not the users, were responsible for defamatory comments by other people.

Attorney general says legislation is needed to clarify that social media platforms, and not the users, are responsible for defamatory comments

Confusion had been sown by a High Court ruling in September that found Australian media, as users managing their own pages on a social network, could be held liable for defamatory third-party comments posted on their pages, Cash said.

Under the planned Australian legislation, the social media companies themselves would be responsible for such defamatory content, not the users, she said.

It would also aim to stop people from making defamatory comments without being identified, she said.

“You should not be able to use the cloak of online anonymity to spread your vile, defamatory comments,” the attorney general said.

The legislation would demand that social media platforms have a nominated entity based in Australia, she said.

The platforms could defend themselves from being sued as the publisher of defamatory comments only if they complied with the new legislation’s demands to have a complaints system in place that could provide the details of the person making the comment, if necessary, Cash said.

People would also be able to apply to the High Court for an “information disclosure order” demanding a social media service provide details “to unmask the troll”, the attorney general said.

In some cases, she said, the “troll” may be asked to take down the comment, which could end the matter if the other side is satisfied.

Australia’s opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he would support a safer online environment for everyone.

But he said the government had failed to propose action to stop the spread of misinformation on social media and accused some of the government’s own members of spreading misinformation about Covid and vaccinations.

EU, Nato vow action over the migrant crisis, Russian build-up

VILNIUS: European Union and Nato leaders on Sunday vowed to counter “hybrid threats” during visits to Lithuania and Latvia dominated by the Belarus migrant crisis and Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also repeated his call on Russia to “de-escalate” its military build-up on the border with Ukraine and warned of “consequences” if it used force.

The visit by Stoltenberg and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen came ahead of a meeting of Nato foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Latvia this week.

Stoltenberg and von der Leyen both accused Belarus of orchestrating the migrant crisis on its border as a “hybrid” threat against the European Union — a charge that the regime has denied. A hybrid threat is a security challenge combining traditional military means and non-military tactics such as disinformation.

“To respond to such events, it is important that the European Union and Nato work hand in hand,” von der Leyen said at a joint news conference with Stoltenberg and Lithuanian leaders in Vilnius.

Stoltenberg said: “We discussed how we could step up our joint work between Nato and the EU”.

Von der Leyen said the EU had decided to triple to $226 million in its funding for border management in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland for 2021 and 2022.

She said the money would go on patrol vehicles and electronic surveillance, including drones.

Thousands of migrants — mostly from the Middle East — have crossed or tried to cross the Belarus border in recent months into the eastern members of the EU and Nato: Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

Referring to the situation on the Belarus border, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said that “if the security situation gets even worse, we do not rule out consultations under Nato’s Article 4”.

Under the article in Nato’s founding treaty, any member can convene a meeting of the alliance to consult when it feels its security is threatened. Poland has also said it may invoke this article.

The two-day meeting of Nato foreign ministers starting in Latvia on Tuesday is also expected to address Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said the “unusual” build-up of tanks, artillery, drones, and thousands of combat-ready troops was “very concerning for many reasons”, also “because it is unprovoked and unexplained”.

“The message to Russia is that they should de-escalate, reduce tensions and be transparent,” he said, adding that “if they decide to use force, then, of course, there will be consequences”.

“We stand ready to defend all our allies and we will continue to provide our partner Ukraine with political and practical support,” he said.

Pak vs Ban: Babar Azam and Co was given 202-run target after Tigers skittled for 157

Pakistan has been set a target of 202 runs after they bundled out Bangladesh for a mere 157 in the second innings of the first Test in Chattogram on Monday.

Shaheen Afridi was the star of the innings as he claimed five wickets while spinner Sajid Khan clinched three and Hasan Ali two.

Liton Das, who had top-scored for Bangladesh in the first innings with 114, did so again, contributing a battling 59 and helping the hosts add 118 to their score after resuming on 39-4 overnight.

Inevitable that Omicron variant will come to Pakistan, we have weeks to reduce its threat: Asad Umar

Federal Planning Minister Asad Umar warned on Monday that the latest concerning variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, will inevitably come to Pakistan and the country had only a few weeks to contain its threat.

Addressing a press conference alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan, Umar stressed the need for citizens to get vaccinated and complete their doses.

“This [strain] has to spread in the whole world as we saw before that when a variant comes, the world is so interconnected that it is impossible to stop it,” the minister said, adding that vaccination was the most logical solution to curb the threat.

He said the initial information the government had received was that although Omicron was a “very dangerous” variant, vaccination will be effective against it.

“So it is my appeal to Pakistanis, particularly those who’ve gotten one dose to get the second dose because this is one effective thing we have to protect ourselves from the danger of this variant,” Umar said.

He noted that a big vaccination campaign was being started in the provinces in the next 2-3 days, saying there was a need to speed it up further. “This variant will come to Pakistan, and we have the next 2-3 weeks to reduce its threat.”

In view of the variant, Umar said additional measures were being taken such as increasing the number of daily tests — particularly in high-risk areas — which had previously been reduced as the positivity rate declined.

He added that the contact-tracing system would be revived as well and emphasized the need to “rejuvenate” it with more resources and increased efficiency.

Additionally, a consultation will be completed on administering booster shots to the population most at risk from the coronavirus, he said.

The minister also said that restrictions had been placed on travelers coming from abroad and further measures would be taken to delay the variant’s entry into the country.

On Saturday, Pakistan had placed a complete ban on travel from six southern African countries — South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana, and Namibia — and Hong Kong in the wake of the variant’s discovery.

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) said that travel from the aforesaid countries to Pakistan would be allowed “on extreme emergency”, provided that the travelers obtained the required exemptions and followed the necessary health and testing protocols.

The NCOC also directed the Aviation Division, airport management, and the Airport Security Force to devise a mechanism for screening passengers traveling from the banned countries via indirect flights and share its details with all relevant departments by November 29.

The Omicron scare

The NCOC’s decision to ban travel from the African nations followed similar decisions by a host of other countries wary of the spread of Omicron, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified as a “highly transmissible” variant of concern — the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the US.

The new variant was first detected in South Africa last week, with scientists holding it responsible for a recent spike in Covid-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

The discovery of the strain sent a chill through much of the world on Friday as nations raced to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings to weigh the exact risks, which were largely unknown.

The United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Russia, European Union nations and a host of other countries have restricted travel for visitors from southern Africa.

However, medical experts and bodies, including the WHO, have warned against any overreaction before the variant is better understood.