Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

Employees wearing facemasks wait for customers at a gas station in Rawalpindi on May 31, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 June 2021

Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

  • Oil transporters are also protesting a proposed change in the loading system, saying it will help companies monopolize the business
  • The government has invited transporters of petroleum products for talks in Islamabad on Friday

KARACHI: Local transporters of petroleum products on Thursday announced an indefinite strike after a tax increase in the country’s budget, disrupting 80 percent of supplies from Pakistan’s port city of Karachi and generating fears of a nationwide shortage of petrol and diesel in the coming days.
“The government has increased the withholding tax from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent which is not viable for our business,” Israr Ahmed Shinwari of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association told Arab News.
“They are also changing the 40-year-old loading system that operated on the first-come-first-served basis,” he continued. “This will not only allow companies to monopolize the business but also deprive about 400 people of their jobs.”
Shinwari confirmed that oil supplies from Karachi had been suspended and more than 10,000 tankers were taken off the city's roads.
“The supplies in other parts of country are continuing as per routine,” he informed. “If our demands are not met, however, we will go on a nationwide strike and take more than 42,000 vehicles off the country’s roads.”
Abidullah Afridi, president of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Contractors Association which originally gave the strike call, told Arab News that around 1,500 tankers were loaded in Karachi on a daily basis for the city and upcountry, adding that all of them had been parked by their owners to protest the government’s measures.
“We will not back off until our demands are met,” he maintained.
Shinwari confirmed the government had invited local transporters for talks in Islamabad on Friday.
If the strike continues in the coming days, it will create an acute fuel shortage in the country.
Petroleum dealers said on Thursday they had only received about 20 percent of supplies, though they added that their available stocks had so far prevented a crisis.
“We have received around 20 percent supplies through tankers which were loaded a day before and overnight,” Abdul Sami Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association, told Arab News.
“We have managed the situation by using our available stocks,” he continued. “We hope that a way out will soon be found or else we will have to shut down our petrol pumps.”
Meanwhile, officials of the Pakistan State Oil, a state-owned entity responsible for marketing and distribution of petroleum products, denied any supply disruption due to the strike.
They said that alternative measures would be taken to ensure smooth supplies in the coming days.
So far, the oil supplies have not been fully disrupted since a faction of transporters belonging to the Oil Tankers Owners Association has distanced itself from the protest.
“In the current economic situation, the strike is not in the interest of the country and economy, so we have decided to stay away from it,” Haji Hanif Kakar, the association’s general secretary, said.


Pakistan’s central bank reserves decline to near four-year low

Updated 9 sec ago

Pakistan’s central bank reserves decline to near four-year low

  • Central bank data shows Pakistan’s liquid foreign exchange reserves stand at $6.7 billion
  • Forex reserves can only cover one month of imports, says finance expert Tahir Abbas

ISLAMABAD: As the forex reserves of Pakistan’s central bank decreased by $782 million to a four-year low of $6.7 billion during the week that ended Dec. 2, a financial expert on Friday said the country needed to employ efforts on a “war footing basis” to manage the crisis.

The State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) data showed that it was only left with liquid foreign exchange reserves worth 6.7 billion during the week that ended on December 2. The central bank’s net reserves with other banks remained at $5.867 billion, bringing the country’s total reserves to $12.58 billion.

The last time the central bank’s reserves were this low was on January 18, 2019, when it had some $6.64 billion in reserves.

The South Asian nation is already undergoing a financial crunch, largely aggravated by the unprecedented floods that affected more than 33 million people. Results from a damage assessment survey estimated that the deluges have cost the country more than $30 billion in damages.

“Pakistan’s forex reserves have fallen to a critical level that can only cover one month of imports,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Pakistani security brokerage firm, told Arab News.

“The government needs to manage the foreign exchange reserves on a war footing basis by expediting the process to complete the impending review of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he added.

He added that the completion of the IMF review will not only help inflows from the global money lender, but also from other multinational lenders.

Abbas said to meet the deficit, the government is also trying to arrange $4.2 billion from Saudi Arabia under an emergency relief package, including $3 billion in deposits and $12 billion worth of oil on deferred payments.

“In addition, the government needs to stop the bleeding on the Current Account Deficit (CAD) because the country has to run the CAD at a minimum side,” Abbas said.

The IMF review for the release of Pakistan’s next tranche of funding has been pending since September, which has left the country in dire need of external financing.

Islamabad has said all targets for the IMF review have been completed and that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense.


Pakistan’s top court declares agreement for Reko Diq revival legal

Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistan’s top court declares agreement for Reko Diq revival legal

  • Pakistan’s top court blocked Reko Diq’s implementation in 2013 over contractual issues
  • Government consulted experts, Balochistan Assembly taken into confidence, observes court

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday declared an agreement between the country and two international firms, for the development of the Reko Diq mine, as legal, local media reported.

The Reko Diq mine is located in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province which is said to have one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits. The development of the project was suspended in 2011 after Pakistan denied the Tethyan Copper Company, a joint venture between Barrick Gold of Canada and Antofagasta Minerals of Chile, license to continue work.

The country’s Supreme Court blocked the Tethyan Copper Company in 2013 from developing Reko Diq following a court case on how the contract had been awarded. However, Pakistan reached an out-of-court settlement with the mining firms in March this year to avoid paying the $9 billion penalty announced by the World Bank’s arbitration court, and the government said it was hopeful that Barrick and its partners would invest $10 billion in the project.

The verdict was announced by a five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial.

“In its 13-page short order issued today, the court observed that the government had entered the agreement after consulting experts, as per the court order, and the Balochistan Assembly was taken into confidence regarding the agreement,” Dawn, a leading newspaper in Pakistan, reported.

The court observed that the Balochistan Assembly lawmakers were briefed on the matter and they did not raise any objections to the agreement, Dawn said. It said the court order noted that Barrick Gold Corporation had assured labor rights would not be violated during the project’s implementation and that the agreement met environmental requirements.

“There was nothing illegal in the new Reko Diq agreement, the court concluded, adding that it was also not in violation of its 2013 judgment,” Dawn reported.

The revival of Reko Diq project is expected to give a fillip to the economy by creating a more positive investment sentiment and increasing employment opportunities in the country.


FM Bhutto-Zardari urges world to shed ‘stereotypical’ image of Pakistan

Updated 09 December 2022

FM Bhutto-Zardari urges world to shed ‘stereotypical’ image of Pakistan

  • Bhutto-Zardari urges countries to lift travel advisories against Pakistan
  • The foreign minister is on a three-day visit to Indonesia and Singapore

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari urged the world to let go of Pakistan’s “stereotypical” image and invited countries to look at the country with a fresh perspective, Singaporean English-language daily The Strait Times reported on Friday.

Bhutto-Zardari, who embarked on a three-day visit to Indonesia and Singapore from December 7-9, told the Singaporean publication that Pakistan had many opportunities to offer to the world, therefore, countries should revive their travel advisories against it.

On Friday, the minister held a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, reviewing the state of bilateral relations, enhancement of bilateral engagements and cooperation.

Pakistan also offered support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) led processes in the Asia Pacific region.

“As a young political leader, I strongly feel that the world needs to have a fresh look at Pakistan, away from its stereotypical image,” Bhutto Zardari said.

“There are so many opportunities in Pakistan awaiting the world, for which the first step is to lift the travel advisories against the country,” he added.

The foreign minister said he felt strongly that the world “needs to look at us more objectively, as a promising emerging market.”

He said exchanges between Singapore and Pakistan over the years had lost momentum.

“[I am going to] to revive that momentum and intensify our bilateral exchanges. Pakistan is keen to strengthen this relationship in all dimensions,” he said.

Highlighting the political and socioeconomic challenges that Pakistan had been facing for the last few decades, Bhutto-Zardari said the country had come a long way.


After devastating floods, World Food Program calls for converting Pakistan’s debt to hunger relief

Updated 13 min 58 sec ago

After devastating floods, World Food Program calls for converting Pakistan’s debt to hunger relief

  • Floods have caused an additional 7.6 million people to become food insecure, WFP official says
  • 20.6 million people, as per UN data, need humanitarian assistance in flood-ravaged Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The World Food Program (WFP) has stressed converting the debt of disaster-affected countries like Pakistan to hunger relief, as the number of food-insecure people rises to 14.6 million in Pakistan following the devastating floods this year, a senior WFP official said on Thursday.

The cash-strapped South Asian nation had already been going through a serious financial crunch before the heavy monsoon rains hit in mid-June this year, triggering unprecedented floods that, at one point, left a third of the country’s territory submerged. Governmental estimates show the floods affected more than 33 million people or one in every seven Pakistanis.

Raging floods swept away huge swaths of crops, leaving already impoverished families struggling to get access to food and clean drinking water. With the country already undergoing a foreign reserves shortage, farmers and officials have warned that Pakistan now faces serious food shortages at a time when food prices around the world are high.

After a damage assessment survey, Pakistani officials have estimated that the deluges have cost the country more than $30 billion in damages.

“In general, food insecurity has doubled in Pakistan because of the floods, meaning the country has seven million food insecure people, and floods have added almost 7.6 million people more [to that number],” Arif Husain, WFP’s chief economist, and director research assessment and monitoring division, told Arab News in Islamabad.

“So now, we are talking about 14.6 million people, which is a huge jump.”

Based in Rome, Italy, Husain’s work focuses on analyzing food security and welfare conditions in developing countries to inform humanitarian and development responses.

“One thing which we are proposing is that maybe we need to think about debt relief for hunger relief, meaning if we can have debt relief for climate, why not debt relief for hunger relief?” he said.

“These poor countries which have too much debt can use that for exchange, for at least importing their food and fertilizers.”

Speaking about measures needed to bring down food inflation, Husain said Pakistan should consider starting trade with India.

“If China and India can trade then, we should reconsider trade with India too as it will bring food inflation down quickly,” he said, adding that the world needed to help Pakistan to enable it to afford food, fuel, and fertilizers to deal with looming food crisis.

“For Pakistan, relief is required as urgently as possible,” the WFP official said, adding that his organization was running a big operation in the South Asian nation, but others should also extend a helping hand due to the magnitude of the crisis.

“WFP alone is assisting about 2.7 million people in Pakistan right now — including Sindh, Balochistan, and southern Punjab — and that needs to continue, so we can save people’s lives,” he added.

WFP is providing technical assistance and helping in building human capital, Husain said, adding the UN body was also investing in education and nutrition.

“We are working in food for world type projects where you are building livelihoods, you are building the resilience of people, and also working with the government for the system development in terms of technical assistance providing knowledge,” he added.


Pakistan’s ‘Harry Potter’ spinner works his magic, takes fifer on debut

Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistan’s ‘Harry Potter’ spinner works his magic, takes fifer on debut

  • Debutant Abrar Ahmed dismisses seven English batters in Multan Test match
  • He becomes 13th Pakistani bowler to take five or more wickets in an innings on debut

MULTAN: Pakistan debutant Abrar Ahmed mesmerized England on Friday, grabbing five wickets as the visitors reached 180-5 at lunch on the opening day of the second Test in Multan.

The 24-year-old — nicknamed “Harry Potter” by friends because he wears glasses similar to those of the fictional boy wizard — spun magic of his own after England won the toss and decided to bat on a turning pitch.

He dismissed Zak Crawley (19), Ben Duckett (63) and Joe Root (eight) in the first two hours, before sending Ollie Pope (60) and Harry Brook (nine) on their way.

Ahmed became the 13th Pakistan bowler to take five or more wickets in an innings on debut.

At the break, Ben Stokes and Will Jacks were at the crease with 14 and zero respectively after the first session was extended for Friday prayers.

It was in complete contrast to the first Test, when England smashed 174-0 by lunch on the opening day.

Pakistan, aiming to level the series after losing the first Test by 74 runs, included three spinners in the line-up after paceman Naseem Shah was ruled out with a shoulder injury.

Despite losing wickets regularly, England scored at a brisk pace, with Duckett knocking nine boundaries and a six and Pope cracking five to the rope.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam employed spin as early as in the ninth over, and Ahmed bowled Crawley with a sharp incoming delivery with his fifth Test ball.

He then trapped Duckett and Root leg-before — both given out only after Azam reviewed the on-field calls.

Ahmed made it 167-5 when Pope and Brook miscued aggressive shots and were caught.