Pakistan postpones dates for Hajj 2020 applications

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A team of Saudi officials check travel documents for Hajj pilgrims at Islamabad International Airport. The Saudi team installed a pre-immigration system at the airport to facilitate Pakistani travellers flying to Makkah and Madinah this year, under the Road to Makkah Project. July 4, 2019. (Photo Courtesy – Saudi Embassy)
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Muslim worshippers pray and circumambulate around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Makkah. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 February 2020

Pakistan postpones dates for Hajj 2020 applications

  • Religious Affairs Ministry cites technical issues
  • 13 banks were to start receiving Hajj applications from Monday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) has postponed the dates for receiving Hajj applications citing technical issues at its end, officials told Arab News on Saturday.

The ministry had directed 13 banks and their designated branches to start processing the applications from Monday.

“All the arrangements for Hajj 2020 have been completed and are in place. There are few technical issues due to which banks have been barred from receiving Hajj applications till further order,” Imran Siddiqui, MRA spokesperson, told Arab News in Islamabad, adding that the new dates would be announced soon.

In a circular issued on Friday, the MRA announced the suspension of a directive from February 17 which had asked the banks to process the applications from February 24 to March 4.

Earlier this month, Siddiqui had told Arab News that 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims are set to perform Hajj this year, out of which nearly 107,000 will be facilitated through a government scheme.

“The Hajj 2020 package, through the government scheme, would cost Rs 490,000 for pilgrims from the northern regions and Rs 480,000 for those from the southern regions of the country,” he said.

According to official statistics provided by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan topped the list of countries with more than 2.1 million Umrah pilgrims last year, while it remained at the second spot for those performing Hajj.

Awaiting final report on sugar scam before taking action — PM Khan 

Updated 05 April 2020

Awaiting final report on sugar scam before taking action — PM Khan 

  • Federal investigations have named close aides of PM Khan and others in a multi-billion rupee sugar and wheat scam
  • PM says no “powerful lobby” will be able to profit at public expense once detailed report out on April 25

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Sunday he would wait for the findings of a detailed forensic investigation, due to be released on April 25, before taking action against those named in a federal investigation regarding a multi-billion rupee sugar and wheat industry scam.
Two reports by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were made public on Saturday, naming Khan’s close aide Jahangir Tareen, allied party leader Monis Elahi, the brother of a sitting federal minister and others for benefiting from government subsidies on sugar export and profiting from increasing prices in the local market. 
“I await the detailed forensic reports now by the high-powered commission, which will come on April 25, before taking action,” Khan said in a Twitter post on Sunday. “InshaAllah [God willing] after these reports, come out no powerful lobby will be able to profiteer at the expense of our public.”
Rising food prices, particularly for sugar and wheat flour, present one of the toughest challenges for Pakistan’s 19-month-old civilian government. Experts have increasingly blamed influential businessmen and politicians for the price hikes, which are fueling public anger.
The price of sugar per kg has increased exponentially in Pakistan in the last six months-- from Rs55 in December 2018 to Rs71.44 in June 2019, though additional taxes were not implemented until July. 
Sugar production in the country was reported in excess of estimated domestic consumption between 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, and was exported. 
Pakistan had an export subsidy in 2015-16, set at Rs13,000 per ton for exports of 650,000 tons of sugar. In 2018, the Khan government quadrupled the volume of sugar eligible for export subsidies to 2 million tons to reduce excessive domestic supplies.
Sugar cane is a popular crop in Pakistan as the government sets procurement prices, while the industry is protected by a 40 percent import tariff which has led to high domestic prices.
According to the report of the FIA investigation, two main groups benefited from the sugar price hike crisis. The first was JWD, which is owned by PM Khan’s top aide Tareen and which obtained 12.28 percent of the total export subsidy of Rs3.058 billion during 2015-18.
The other is RYK group which has a portfolio of four sugar mills owned by Makhdoom Omar Shehryar, the brother of the sitting food security minister, as well as Chaudhry Munir of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and Monis Elahi of the PML-Q, which is part of the ruling coalition. Among them, they received a total of 15.83 percent of the government’s export subsidy, amounting to Rs3.944 billion, during 2015-18.
Arab News could not reach Tareen or Bakhtiar for comment. 
“The ball is now in the prime minister’s court, and let’s see how he moves against the mafia,” Adnan Rehmat, a political analyst, told Arab News on Sunday. “This is the best opportunity for the prime minister to initiate action against his close aides and other members of the ruling alliance to ensure transparency and good governance.”
Outlining the government’s options, Barrister Omer Malik it could order the FIA or National Accountability Bureau to move against the accused after the detailed forensic report was out. 
“An individual can also file a complaint in the Supreme Court or NAB against the accused named in the inquiry report, but he will first have to establish that he is an aggrieved party,” Malik said.