IMF satisfied with Pakistan’s utilization of COVID-19 fund – finance ministry

A man stands near a logo of IMF at the International Monetary Fund - World Bank Annual Meeting 2018 in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on October 12, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Updated 28 November 2021

IMF satisfied with Pakistan’s utilization of COVID-19 fund – finance ministry

  • The global lending agency provided $1.4 billion to Pakistan last year to mitigate the negative economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak
  • The ministry says the IMF acknowledged there was no embezzlement in the utilization of the COVID-19 fund

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance ministry said on Saturday the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had expressed satisfaction over the country’s utilization of COVID-19 fund after an audit report of the urgently procured supplies related to the disease was shared with it.

Last year, the international financial institution provided $1.4 billion to Islamabad to meet its balance of payment requirements stemming from the coronavirus outbreak, though it also required the government to conduct an ex-post audit of its utilization.

The ministry published the audit report on its website on Friday to fulfil an IMF condition, making the local media say some Rs40 billion of irregularities had been found in the COVID-19 budget.

Responding to the claim, the ministry said the auditor general of Pakistan had discussed the report “in detail” with the IMF in June and during the recently concluded sixth review for a multibillion-dollar bailout package.

“The IMF was fully satisfied that there was no case of fraud and embezzlement,” it said in a statement.

The ministry informed a majority of paragraphs and observations included in the report related to procedural shortcomings due to emergency procurements.

“The IMF was further informed that divisions/organisations have noted those shortcomings and taken remedial measures,” it added.

The ministry admitted it had published the report on the website as a “prior action under the recently completed 6th review” of the IMF extended fund facility.

It said the report had already been presented to parliament and was therefore in public knowledge.

“The government strongly believes in and is committed to transparency and accountability,” it continued.


Pakistan’s currency, stocks recover some losses after government jacks up fuel prices

Updated 27 May 2022

Pakistan’s currency, stocks recover some losses after government jacks up fuel prices

  • Government’s decision to make highest-ever fuel price hike will unlock around $1 billion IMF funding
  • Experts forecast the hike in petroleum prices will increase inflation to 15.8 percent in the month of June

KARACHI: Bulls at Pakistan’s currency and stock markets on Friday celebrated the weekend trading session with considerable gains, traders and analysts said, after the government increased fuel prices as prior action for the revival of $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program. 

The rupee recovered 1.13 percent of its value as the United States (US) dollar closed at Rs199.76. On Thursday, the greenback hit another all-time high of Rs202.01, with the Pakistani currency losing its value by over Rs20 since April 16. 

The equity market closed in the green zone as well, with the benchmark KSE100 index reaching 42,861-point level by gaining 319 points on the back of the fuel price hike, which is expected to unlock IMF funding. 

“Stocks closed bullish amid higher trades as investors weigh petroleum price hike by the government, abolishing energy subsidies and paving way for the IMF release of $900 million under the EFF (Extended Fund Facility),” Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Karachi-based Arif Habib Corporation business conglomerate, told Arab News. 

“The 7th review Doha talks setting up targets for FY23 and discussions over federal budget due next month and surging global equities played a catalyst role in the bullish close.” 

Pakistan’s reluctant new government finally increased the petroleum prices by over 20 percent, or Rs30 ($0.15) per liter, after a meeting with IMF officials in Doha, in which the global lender emphasized the importance rolling back energy subsidies announced by former premier Imran Khan earlier this year. 

Financial experts said the impact of the fuel price hike would reflect on the inflation numbers next month. Inflation in the country is expected to rise to 15.8 percent from 13.4 percent in April and an expected 14.3 percent in May, they said. 

“For every Rs10 per liter change in petroleum prices, the impact on CPI (Consumer Price Index) is expected to be around 24 basis points. So, for the current Rs30 per liter increase, the impact would be around 72 bps (0.72 percent),” said Tahir Abbas, head of research at the Arif Habib Limited brokerage firm. 

“Also, this is the direct impact on the CPI, indirect impact would also be there with some lag. It would be visible in June 2022 and we expect inflation would increase to 15.8 percent in June 2022.” 

Pakistan’s energy subsidies, compared to the country’s GDP, were one of the highest in the region. The government was estimated to give around $2 billion in petroleum and electricity subsidies from April till June. 

“Today’s subsidy is the future’s inflation,” Khurram Schehzad, CEO of the Alpha Beta Core financial advisory firm, said. “We, as a nation, need to understand this very basic yet very important underlying relation that leads to structural problems disrupting the country’s finances eternally.” 

Schehzad said inflation varied from person to person according to their income levels. “Inflation is always relative, and not the same for all... inflation for people earning Rs100,000 ($502) per month would be entirely different from ones earning Rs20,000 ($100) per month, and those earning nothing at all,” he said. 

The removal of fuel subsidies is also expected to have political consequences for the new coalition government, especially when the next general elections are expected within the next one-and-a-half year. 


Ex-PM Khan says feared bloodshed, did not call off protest due to ‘deal with establishment’

Updated 27 May 2022

Ex-PM Khan says feared bloodshed, did not call off protest due to ‘deal with establishment’

  • Khan led march to capital on Wednesday saying he wouldn’t leave until government announced fresh polls
  • He abruptly ended the protest and gave government six day ultimatum to announce date for new elections

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Friday said he had called off this week’s anti-government protest fearing violence and bloodshed, rejecting reports he had reached an agreement with the country’s powerful military establishment.

Khan, who was ousted after losing a no-confidence vote last month, has refused to accept the new government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, saying his administration was ousted as part of a “foreign conspiracy.”

Since the fall of his government, Khan has held rallies all across the country and on Wednesday marched to the capital with thousands of supporters, calling on the government to dissolve assemblies and announce early elections. The government blocked all roads leading to the federal capital and rounded up supporters, while Khan’s supporters clashed with security forces in major cities, including the capital, Islamabad, the southern port city of Karachi and the eastern city of Lahore.

While Khan had earlier vowed not to leave Islamabad until a date for elections was announced he addressed his supporters in the early hours of Thursday morning and ended the protest after giving the government a new ultimatum: announce elections in six days or he would return to Islamabad again. 

“No one should consider this [calling off the march] as our weakness,” Khan told reporters on Friday. “And no one should also think that we struck a deal with anyone.”

“I’m hearing people say we struck a deal with the establishment. We have not struck a deal with anyone,” he added. 

Khan said he had decided to call off the march as he feared bloodshed and conflict would take place in the country. 

“If I was not concerned about the country … I knew that bloodshed would take place that night,” he said, referring to police firing tear gas at protesters and baton charging them.

Khan warned the government he would march to the capital again if it did not announce an election date.

“Let me clarify that if they do not announce clearly the date for elections after dissolving the assemblies,” he said, “I will come out [to protest] again and this time, with preparation.”


Pakistan reports two new poliovirus cases in northwest tribal area

Updated 27 May 2022

Pakistan reports two new poliovirus cases in northwest tribal area

  • New cases push tally of Pakistan’s poliovirus cases this year to six
  • Pakistan and Afghanistan only two countries in the world where polio still endemic

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health authorities said on Friday two more wild polio cases had been reported from the country’s North Waziristan tribal area, leaving a young boy and girl paralyzed.  
 
Both children are aged 18-months-old and belong to Mir Ali Town in North Waziristan, the Ministry of Health said. 

Young children under the age of five are considered extremely vulnerable to polio, but can be protected against its lifelong impact by building immunity through vaccination. 
 
Most people residing in conservative Pakistan’s tribal areas consider the polio vaccination a Western campaign aimed at sterilizing the country’s population. In 2012, the local Taliban ordered a ban on immunization against polio in Pakistan’s western tribal areas. Hundreds of polio workers have been killed in Pakistan in the line of duty. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the only two countries in the world where polio is still endemic. 

“Both cases were confirmed by the Pakistan National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad on Thursday, 26 May. This is the sixth case in North Waziristan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, this year,” the health ministry said in a statement.

“These children will struggle for the rest of their lives because of the pain of disabilities caused by polio. I urge the people of Pakistan to vaccinate your children,” Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said in a statement.

Pakistan reported its first polio case this year on April 22, when a 15-month-old boy from the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan was found infected with the virus. The case was reported after a gap of over a year.

The health ministry said the southern districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which include North and South Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Tank and Lakki Marwat, are at the highest risk of the wild poliovirus.  
 
While no human transmission has been reported outside North Waziristan, two positive environmental samples between April and May were reported from Bannu.

“All children suffering from wild polio are being offered rehabilitation services but regardless of the support the government provides, there is a cure to polio. The only way to protect children is to give them repeated doses of the polio vaccine,” Federal Health Secretary Aamir Ashraf Khawaja said.

“The Pakistan Polio Programme has conducted emergency campaigns in the area, while children are administered the vaccine at all entry and exit points from southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to control the spread of the virus,” Dr Shahzad Baig, Coordinator, National Emergency Operations Centre, said. 
 
“The programme is working relentlessly to control the spread of wild polio, but we need the support of parents and caregivers to succeed in our mission of a polio-free Pakistan.”


'Democracy is fragile’: New Zealand PM pays tribute to Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto

Updated 27 May 2022

'Democracy is fragile’: New Zealand PM pays tribute to Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto

  • Bhutto was the first Muslim female prime minister elected in an Islamic country when a woman in power was rare, Ardern says
  • Remembers that Bhutto was the first to give birth in office and Ardern was the second, her daughter was born on Bhutto’s birthday

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern paid tribute to the late Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, during her Harvard University Commencement address on Thursday, echoing Bhutto’s caution about the fragile nature of democracy.

Bhutto, the “daughter of Pakistan,” was twice elected prime minister and was killed on December 27, 2007, in a combined shooting and bombing attack at a rally in Rawalpindi.

“I met Benazir Bhutto in Geneva in June of 2007. We both attended a conference that drew together progressive parties from around the world. Seven months later she was assassinated,” Ardern said in her commencement address. 

“There will be opinions and differing perspectives written about all of us as political leaders. Two things that history will not contest about Benazir Bhutto. She was the first Muslim female Prime Minister elected in an Islamic country, when a woman in power was a rare thing. She was also the first to give birth in office.  The second and only other leader to have given birth in office almost 30 years later, was me.”

Ardern said her daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, was born on June 21, 2018, Benazir Bhutto’s birthday. 

“The path she carved as a woman feels as relevant today as it was decades ago, and so too is the message she shared here, in this place,” Ardern said about Bhutto’s own 1989 commencement address at Harvard entitled “Democratic nations must unite.”

“She said part way through her speech in 1989 the following: ‘We must realise that democracy can be fragile’,” Ardern said. “Now I read those words as I sat in my office in Wellington, New Zealand, a world away from Pakistan. And while the reasons that gave rise for her words then were vastly different, they still ring true.”

“Democracy can be fragile. This imperfect but precious way that we organise ourselves, that has been created to give equal voice to the weak and to the strong, that is designed to help drive consensus – it is fragile.”

Bhutto was born in 1953 into a wealthy landowning family. The first of four children, she was educated at a Christian mission school in Karachi, and then at Harvard and Oxford universities.

The daughter of Pakistan’s first popularly elected leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her mission began in 1977 when army chief Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq overthrew him. Twenty-one months later Zulfikar was hanged after a controversial trial.

Bhutto became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world when she was elected in 1988 at the age of 35. She was deposed in 1990, re-elected in 1993, and ousted again in 1996 amid charges of corruption and mismanagement.

She said the charges were politically motivated but in 1999 chose to stay in exile rather than face them.

After more years spent abroad, Bhutto, 54, flew back again in October 2007 to lead her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) into national elections. 

Hours after she returned home after eight years of self-imposed exile, a suicide bomber killed nearly 150 people in an attack targeting her motorcade in the streets of Karachi.

The attack followed threats by militants linked to al Qaeda, angered by Bhutto’s support for Washington’s war on terrorism.

“They might try to assassinate me,” Bhutto had told the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview before she set out to return to Pakistan. “I have prepared my family and my loved ones for any possibility.”


Punjab chief minister promises 'immediate justice' in roadside gang-rape of minor girl

Updated 27 May 2022

Punjab chief minister promises 'immediate justice' in roadside gang-rape of minor girl

  • Two unidentified robbers raped 13-year-old at gun-point in front of family, police report says
  • Fewer than three percent of sexual assault or rape cases result in conviction in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz Sharif visited the family of a minor girl who was allegedly gang-raped on a roadside this week near the central Pakistani city of Patoki, promising that investigators would deliver "immediate justice."

A police report filed at the Patoki police station on May 26 and seen by Arab News said the incident took place on May 25. The case has been reported by the uncle of the victim who was accompanying his brother and his brother's two children on a motorcycle from village Kani near Pattoki city to a village in Chunian where the family lives.

The group was stopped by two robbers along the route, who escorted them to a nursery on the road side, tied up the male relatives and gang-raped the girl at gunpoint. The robbers then fled with cash, mobile phones and the motorcycle.

The incident has revived memories of a widely reported assault in September 2020 when a woman was gang-raped beside a major highway in front of her two children, and led to new calls for tougher punishment for sexual crimes against women and children.

“I went to the house of the daughter who suffered from the inhumane incident at Chunian,” CM Sharif wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “I consoled them that it was my duty to provide them immediate justice.” 

Shahbaz said his “heart is crying tears of blood” and the best police officers in Punjab were investigating the case.  

“The suspects will soon be brought to justice,” he added.  

Fewer than 3 percent of sexual assault or rape cases result in a conviction in Pakistan, according to the Karachi-based group War Against Rape.

The last government of Prime Minister Imran Khan passed an anti-rape criminal law in parliament last year. The law will create a national sex offenders register, protect the identity of victims and set up special fast-track courts to hear rape cases and reach a verdict within four months.