UK parliament launches inquiry into £300 million development aid to Pakistan

Cargo from UK Aid waiting to be loaded on to an Antonov An-12B aircraft at East Midlands Airport on August 13, 2014. (AP/File)
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Updated 14 February 2021

UK parliament launches inquiry into £300 million development aid to Pakistan

  • Pakistan has been the largest recipient of British development and humanitarian aid in the past five years
  • Through the inquiry, MPs will assess the UK government’s development policy towards Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The UK parliament has relaunched an inquiry into its government’s aid to Pakistan to assess the transparency and effectiveness of the development funds that amount to over £300 million a year. 

The inquiry started in June 2019, but was not completed as the parliament was soon dissolved.  It is now carried out by the International Development Committee (IDC) — a select committee of comprising 11 members of the House of Commons.

Pakistan has been the largest recipient of British development and humanitarian aid under the Department for International Development (DFID) in the past five years. In 2019-20, it was estimated to amount to £302 million.  
 
The IDC announced on Thursday that it would assess the UK government’s development policy towards Pakistan, considering its strategic focus, coherence, performance and value for money. 

"The IDC chose to re-launch the inquiry looking at UK aid in Pakistan because of its sheer scale — over £300m a year — and it’s the largest bilateral aid program,” Chloe Jago, a senior media and communications officer at the IDC, told Arab News through email on Friday. 

"It will offer an interesting case study for how departments talk to each other in spending the aid budget," Jago said, adding the public submissions will help shape the direction of the inquiry and offer evidence as to where the IDC would like to probe during the oral evidence sessions. 

To a question about the inquiry's possible impact on the aid flow to Pakistan, Jago said that it would depend on evidence as all inquiries and resulting reports are “always evidence-based.” 

“Once all the submissions and evidence are collected, the committee will only then make recommendations to the government on policy,” she said. 

The deadline for written submissions from the public is April 1, 2021. 

Mohammad Tahseen, executive director of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan organization, said the IDC would look into different aspects of aid utilization in Pakistan and then submit a final report to the parliament. 

“The DFID already has very stringent measures in place in Pakistan to ensure transparent and effective use of the aid,” he told Arab News. 

“Therefore, I don’t see any disclosure regarding misuse of funds or corruption coming through this inquiry.”


Pakistan plans to double insurance coverage, financial benefits for overseas workers – officials

Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistan plans to double insurance coverage, financial benefits for overseas workers – officials

  • The country’s state-own insurance company wants to increase the coverage period to ten years and take monetary benefit to Rs2 million
  • It also intends to provide organ insurance coverage for those nationals who suffer kidney or liver failures abroad

KARACHI: Pakistan plans to increase insurance coverage period along with financial benefits for its overseas nationals and add organ insurance to its product list, officials said on Thursday.
State Life Insurance Company, the only state-owned entity in the life insurance business, currently covers over half a million Pakistani workers, mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other gulf countries.
Officials are now planning to enhance the coverage of overseas Pakistani workers through the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment.
“We have presented a proposal to the government by working with the Bureau of Emigration to provide maximum monetary benefits to our laborers,” Shoaib Javed Hussain, the company’s chairman, said while briefing members of the Council of Economic and Energy Journalists on Thursday.
“The major insurance usage comes from our labor force based in the UAE and other gulf countries,” he said, adding: “On the whole, about 130 million lives of Pakistanis are covered by the company.”

Chairman State Life Insurance Shoaib Javed Hussain is briefing members of the Council of Economic and Energy Journalists about the performance of the country's only state-owned insurance company in Karachi, Pakistan, on January 20, 2022. (AN photo)

Hussain informed the insurance coverage was currently provided for five years which was proposed to be increased to 10 years while exceeding monetary benefits to two million rupees.
“Currently, Pakistani workers pay a premium of Rs2,500,” Dr. Mushtaq Ahmed Memon, who works with the company as divisional head (group and pension), told Arab News. “We provide the Rs1 million insurance coverage against that amount in case of loss of life or limb.”
“We have proposed to increase the coverage to 10 years and financial benefits to Rs2 million so that overseas Pakistanis can get maximum benefit,” he added.
The company officials said they had also planned to provide insurance coverage to Pakistani workers who suffer organ damages abroad and are eventually repatriated.
“We are going to add organ insurance to our list,” Memon said. “When Pakistanis move abroad, their work environment changes. We frequently hear from them instances of kidney and liver failures. Many of them come back after losing their jobs in such instances. In this case, we have proposed to compensate them with Rs500,000 against a payment of only Rs300.”
Life insurance penetration is only 0.6 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product with a total market size of about Rs243 billion as of 2020. About nine organizations are operating in life insurance in Pakistan, but the state-owned company has the major market share of 54 percent.
The company officials said their net income had increased by more than 34 percent to Rs160 billion after its assets posted a growth of about 14 percent to Rs1.36 trillion.
“The company has paid Rs103.25 billion in claim payments to policy holders which is 60 percent more than the previous year,” its chairman told journalists, adding: “Social protection rather than profit maximization is the core purpose of the company.”
He said that state life was in process of launching health insurance in the country which would be cost effective and provide extensive coverage.


Doctors declare Zahir Jaffer fit to stand trial in Noor Mukadam murder case

Updated 56 min 39 sec ago

Doctors declare Zahir Jaffer fit to stand trial in Noor Mukadam murder case

  • Police brought the prime suspect in the case to the courtroom on a stretcher, handcuffed and in a shabby condition
  • Investigation officer told the court during cross-examination the victim was in touch with her mother on the day of the murder

ISLAMABAD: A team of doctors at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on Thursday declared Zahir Jaffer, a prime suspect in the murder of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam in July last year, mentally and physically fit to stand trial.

The key suspect was arrested from the crime scene on the day of the murder and has since been incarcerated.

The police on Thursday presented him before the trial court on a stretcher. Jaffer was also handcuffed and in a shabby condition.

“Zahir Jaffer is mentally and physically fit [to stand trial],” the doctors said in a report submitted to additional sessions judge Ata Rabbani who is hearing the case.

During the previous hearing on Monday, the police brought the accused to the court in a plastic chair, making his lawyer demand his client’s medical treatment.

“His mental health has deteriorated seriously,” Jaffer’s lawyer maintained.

The suspect was examined by a team of doctors at the prison facility in Rawalpindi following the judge’s instruction which later submitted its report in the court.

“The accused has undergone medical checkups numerous times,” the doctors said. “A psychiatrist has also declared him healthy after a complete checkup.”

The case is now said to be entering its final stage wherein defense counsels are cross-examining witnesses.

Last week, the court was informed that Jaffer was facing “some medical issues” in the prison and was not able to walk, stand and move for the last ten days.

“The accused Zahir is on wheelchair but prison authorities are not providing him proper medical treatment and playing with the life of a prisoner whose custody is under the control of this court,” said an application submitted by the father of the prime suspect on Saturday.

Earlier in January, the court rejected an application seeking the constitution of a medical board to determine Jaffer’s mental health after he was expelled from the courtroom twice for disrupting the trial hearings.

Islamabad police also registered a criminal case against Jaffer for using “abusive language” and attempting suicide on the court premises.

On Thursday, when Jaffer was presented in the court on a stretcher, advocate Sajjad Bhatti pleaded the court to send him back to the lockup, saying that the suspect was unwell.

The judge remarked that he did not want to summon the accused due to “humanitarian” reasons, but the prosecution insisted on his presence.

Jaffer was later sent back to the judicial lockup after a brief attendance in the court.

During the cross-examination by defense lawyers, the investigative officer of the case Inspector Abdul Sattar said the victim was in touch with her mother over the phone on the ill-fated day according to a call detail record.

“On July 20 at 1:53, the plaintiff [Noor’s father] and Zakir Jaffer spoke for 668 seconds over phone,” he continued, adding the plaintiff never revealed this information to him during the interrogation.

The police officer said the victim was continuously in touch with a specific number on July 19 and 20, but this person was not made part of the investigation.

He did not provide any further details.

The court will now resume the hearing on January 24.


Over 90 percent of Pakistan’s primary students are ‘weak’ in math, science - study

Updated 20 January 2022

Over 90 percent of Pakistan’s primary students are ‘weak’ in math, science - study

  • The nationwide survey involved over 15,000 students who were asked to take standardized math, science tests
  • The teaching practices of nearly 9 in 10 faculty members were graded weak, and roughly 1 in 10 were graded mediocre

ISLAMABAD: A nationwide study conducted by the faculty at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development revealed on Thursday that more than 90 percent of primary and pre-secondary students in Pakistan have a weak or basic understanding of mathematics and science subjects which they are required to learn.

The research involved over 15,000 students from grades 5, 6 and 8 who were taken from 153 different public and private schools.

The students took standardized tests in math and science as part of the study that was funded by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, the country’s top education authority.

The findings of the research painted a dismal picture, showing an average test score of 27 out of 100 in mathematics and 34 out of 100 in science.

Only one percent of children were able to score more than 80 percent in both subjects, demonstrating “excellent understanding” of the subjects as per researchers. In science, girls slightly outperformed boys while both fared the same in mathematics.

“The average score in private schools was higher than in public schools, but did not exceed 40 in either subject,” says the report, adding: “The average score in Punjab was the highest among the country’s regions but did not exceed 40 in either subject.”

“Science and mathematics education is in dire need of attention from practitioners and policymakers,” said Assistant Professor Nusrat Fatima Rizvi, a study co-principal investigator.

Researchers found that multiple factors significantly correlated with students’ learning outcomes.

“In increasing order of importance, those factors were high-quality teaching practices, a student’s mother having a bachelor’s or master’s degree (a father’s educational attainment was relatively less important), only one language being used in the classroom, attending private school and going to school in Punjab,” the report continued.

“Surprisingly, students tended to learn less from experienced teachers than from those new to the profession. They also tended to learn less from teachers with a degree in education, compared to teachers having no degree in education,” it added.

As part of the study, researchers visited the classrooms of 589 teachers to assess the quality of the education being imparted to students.

“The teaching practices of nearly 9 in 10 were graded weak, and roughly 1 in 10 were graded mediocre,” the study said.

“In most classrooms, teachers spend their time reading and explaining words from the textbook instead of encouraging students to ask questions or participate in activities that bring concepts to life,” said Associate Professor Sadia Bhutta, the study’s principal investigator. “This results in poor understanding of concepts and poor performance on tests.”

Another important finding of the study was that students in monolingual classrooms – where the textbook, teaching and examinations were all in one language – outperformed those in multilingual classrooms.

Teachers also pointed out the need for professional development opportunities to improve both their subject matter knowledge and their ability to reflect on their own teaching.


UAE thanks Pakistan for expressing solidarity after Abu Dhabi attack

Updated 20 January 2022

UAE thanks Pakistan for expressing solidarity after Abu Dhabi attack

  • The Houthi rebels targeted an oil facility in the United Arab Emirates on Monday in which three people, including a Pakistani, were killed
  • The Pakistani prime minister condemned the ‘heinous’ attack in a recent phone call with the Abu Dhabi crown prince

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday thanked Pakistan for expressing solidarity with it after a Yemen-based rebel group targeted an oil facility in Abu Dhabi earlier this week.
The Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the strike in which a Pakistani and two Indian nationals were killed on Monday, saying it used missiles and drones to launch the attack.
The targeted oil facility belonged to ADNOC, the UAE’s state-owned oil giant, which employs workers from several different countries.
The UAE is part of the Arab Coalition that has been fighting Houthi rebels since 2015 after a civil war broke out in Yemen and the Houthis took control of the capital, Sanaa, and other parts of the country.
The UAE embassy in Islamabad thanked the Pakistani authorities in a twitter post on Thursday “for their sincere solidarity with UAE against terrorist attack by Houthi militia on civilian sites in Abu Dhabi.”
“Our deepest condolences & sympathy to the families of victims wishing speedy recovery for injured,” it added.

UAE Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi also met with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad on Wednesday to offer his condolences to the family of the Pakistani citizen who lost his life in the Abu Dhabi attack.

Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attacks on the oil facility in a phone call with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed on Wednesday.
“The Prime Minister strongly condemned the heinous terrorist attack by Houthi militia on civil facilities in Abu Dhabi on 17 January 2022,” the PM Office said in a statement. “He offered deepest condolences to the families of all the victims and prayed for speedy recovery of the injured.”
“The Prime Minister expressed solidarity with the leadership, government and people of the United Arab Emirates,” the statement added. “He underlined that such attacks cannot be justified and stressed on immediate cessation of these attacks, which continue to pose grave threat to regional peace and security.”
The UAE crown prince also offered the prime minister his condolences over the death of the Pakistani national.
Similar attacks have also been used to target Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan has repeatedly condemned them in the past.

 


Pakistan's lone representative says ready for Winter Olympics

Updated 20 January 2022

Pakistan's lone representative says ready for Winter Olympics

  • 2022 Winter Olympics is scheduled to take place from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20 in Beijing
  • Mohammad Karim's appearance will be his third and Pakistan’s fourth in the Winter Olympics

ISLAMABAD: Alpine skier Mohammad Karim, Pakistan's lone representative for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, says he is ready for the competition after extensive training abroad.

The 2022 Winter Olympics is scheduled to take place from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20 in the Chinese capital and venues near neighboring towns of Yanqing and Chongli.

Karim, who competed in alpine skiing at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018, will be Pakistan's only athlete to take part in Beijing 2022 following the withdrawal of fellow alpine skier Mia Nuriah Freudweiler due to injury.

"For the Beijing Olympics, I have been practicing for the last three years. I am fully ready for the competition because I practiced and took part in the races in Turkey, Lebanon and Italy," Karim told Arab News in a phone interview on Wednesday evening.

Mohammad Karim, middle, poses for a photo with fellow skiers at the Malam Jabba ski resort, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, Pakistan on Feb. 16, 2020. (Photo courtesy: M0hammad Karim)

Karim's appearance will be his third and Pakistan’s fourth in the Winter Olympics. The South Asian nation first participated in the games at Vancouver 2010, when Mohammad Abbas became its first athlete to qualify in the alpine skiing (giant slalom) category.

Born and raised in Naltar Bala Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan's north, 26-year-old Karim has been practicing skiing since the age of four.

“I started to play locally in childhood," he said. "From 2007, I started professional skiing."

Being brought up in Pakistan's mountainous north has contributed to Karim's sports career, and he believes that with more training more athletes could be groomed to represent the country on the international level.

"The country’s snowy mountains have the perfect slopes to promote skiing," he said. "If our government pays attention to winter sports, and athletes are properly trained, then the youth will leave no stone unturned to make the country proud."