Pakistani Umrah pilgrims will be compensated, says Saudi envoy

Umrah pilgrims go through passport control upon their arrival at Jeddah airport on September 17, 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 29 February 2020

Pakistani Umrah pilgrims will be compensated, says Saudi envoy

  • Ambassador Al-Malki says pilgrims will be able to travel to the Kingdom on the same visa or get a new one
  • PIA spokesperson says passengers can get full refund or get their seats readjusted

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki said on Friday that all Pakistani Umrah pilgrims affected by the temporary travel ban to the Kingdom due to the threat of coronavirus would be compensated.

“Pakistani Umrah pilgrims who had to travel to Saudi Arabia during the dates of suspension will be compensated in the best possible way,” Al-Malki told Arab News on Friday. “They will be able to travel on the same visa or will be issued a fresh one free of charge.”

Saudi Arabia on Thursday placed a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims in an attempt to ensure public safety and prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also supported the Kingdom’s decision to protect its citizens from the epidemic.

“All those passengers who have Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) tickets will be able to get full refund from the PIA offices or their travel agents,” the national carrier’s spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan told Arab News on the phone from Karachi, adding it was up to the passengers if they wanted to avail the refund option or get their seats readjusted after the ban.

Meanwhile, Saudi airlines also announced full refund of tickets through a circular which is available with Arab News.

“The Pakistani mission in Saudi Arabia is in touch with the Saudi authorities on this issue and will take all possible measures to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims,” spokesperson of the Pakistani embassy in Saudi Arabia Arshad Munir told Arab News on the phone from Jeddah.

Faizan Akhtar, a member of Pakistan’s Umrah Travel Agents’ Association told Arab News from Rawalpindi that the situation would become clear in the next few days, but all the passengers would get refunds or manage to travel on the same Umrah package after the ban.

“There was a previous incident of flight suspension during the Pak-India standoff last year which disturbed Umrah pilgrims. They were compensated by the Saudi authorities who extended their visas without extra charges and airlines adjusted their seats accordingly. We haven’t received any official communication on this so far, but the situation will become clear in the next few days,” Akhtar said.

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.