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

Pakistanio labourers work at a construction site in the Saudi capital Riyadh on June 6, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 20 January 2022

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.

Pakistan’s top court says gender discrimination form of harassment

Updated 13 sec ago

Pakistan’s top court says gender discrimination form of harassment

  • The Supreme Court maintains workplace harassment is not just limited to sexual behavior
  • A 14-page judgment written by Justice Ayesha Malik sets aside a 2021 high court verdict

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court has ruled this week that discrimination against people on the basis of their gender at the workplace is also a form of harassment as the relevant law is not just confined to sexual behavior.

Cases related to harassment of women at the workplace are common in Pakistan, and according to the Islamabad-based non-profit organization, Alliance Against Sexual Harassment, about 93 percent of Pakistani working women, in both private and public sectors, acknowledge facing some kind of harassment in professional settings.

Moreover, the 2022 report of Pakistan’s Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment at Workplace states that from 2018 to 2022, there were 2,169 complaints of harassment filed in the government sector, 582 lodged by women and 148 by men. In the private sector, there were 994 complaints from women and 445 by men.

The Pakistani parliament ratified the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2022 as a law in January 2022. The amended law expanded the definition of workplace harassment, giving protection to informal workers, students, and freelancers, and redefining the workplace, among others.

Based on the upgraded law, a three-member Supreme Court bench, led by Justice Yahya Afridi and comprising Justices Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Ayesha Malik, heard a review petition against a 2021 judgment related to workplace harassment which had been passed by the court in 2019.

“The purpose of harassment laws is to address gender-based discrimination at the workplace and not to limit it to sexual forms of harassment,” a 14-page judgment, authored by Justice Malik and uploaded on the website of the top court on Tuesday, said.

The judgment added that the law included a broad range of conduct and behavior that results in workplace-related problems with serious consequences, one of the main being gender inequality.

“Being an issue grounded in equal opportunity and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment, sexual harassment in any form violates the dignity of a person as it is a demeaning practice that aims to reduce the dignity of an employee who has been forced to endure such conduct,” it said.

“Sexual harassment as gender-based discrimination is gender-based hostility, which creates a hostile work environment. It is a reflection of the unequal power relations between men and women which translates into a form of abuse exploitation and intimidation at the workplace which makes it a violation of a basic human right.”

In view of the definition of workplace harassment, the court ruled that a 2021 judgment of the Islamabad High Court appeared to have “an error” owing to the interpretation of harassment displayed by the court, the definition of which was “patently against the Act and its statement of objects.”

“Both the president [of the country] and the Islamabad High Court decided the case of [complainant] Nadia Naz on the understanding that harassment means sexual harassment having a sexual nature and form and did not examine the facts in the context of Nadia Naz’s perspective and her understanding of the injury caused,” the judgment read.

The court observed that in cases of harassment, the victim’s perspective on the issue was relevant.

“The standard of a reasonable woman should be considered to determine whether there was harassment, which rendered the workplace hostile and all relevant factors should be viewed objectively and subjectively,” it added.

“In doing so, the order of the president and the judgment of the high court had failed to give due emphasis on the injury claimed and the harmful nature of the events to the complainant.”

Under the circumstances, since harassment was understood in a limited context, it said, both the order as well as the judgment decided the cases on a mistaken understanding of the law,” the verdict said while setting aside the previous orders.

United States seeks access to detained fashion designer in Pakistan

Updated 19 min 8 sec ago

United States seeks access to detained fashion designer in Pakistan

  • Khadija Shah, a PTI loyalist, was arrested following protests over ex-PM Khan’s arrest on May 9
  • US State Department confirms Shah’s dual nationality whose family claims she was non-violent

WASHINGTON: The United States called Tuesday on Pakistan to grant consular access to a prominent fashion designer with dual citizenship who was detained in a wave of protests.

The State Department said its diplomats have not had access to Khadija Shah, the founder of the luxury fashion brand Elan, who was produced before an anti-terrorism court following protests over the May 9 arrest of ousted prime minister Imran Khan.

“We have asked Pakistani officials for consular access to her,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters, confirming Shah’s dual nationality.

He indicated that more US citizens have been arrested.

“Whenever a US citizen is arrested overseas, we stand ready to provide all appropriate assistance and we expect Pakistani authorities to respect all fair-trial guarantees owed to these detainees,” Patel said.

Shah’s family said that she took part non-violently in protests on May 9. Some demonstrators took aim at the powerful military, alleging a plot to sideline Khan, who was arrested on corruption allegations.

Shah’s family said that she voluntarily showed up to an investigation only to be arrested. When she appeared in an anti-terrorism court, her face was covered.

Thousands of people, including grassroots supporters and key Khan aides, have been rounded up since the Supreme Court declared that his detention was illegal and allowed him to walk free.

Pakistani industrialists demand tax relief, incentives for growth in federal budget

Updated 39 min 52 sec ago

Pakistani industrialists demand tax relief, incentives for growth in federal budget

  • Industrialists want income tax to start from Rs1.2 million, demand incentives to channel dollars from lockers to bank accounts
  • Pakistani economists dismiss the likelihood of significant incentives following the fragmentation of ex-PM Imran Khan’s PTI party

KARACHI: As Pakistan gears up in these challenging times to present the fiscal budget for the next year, the country’s industrialists hope to receive maximum relief, though economists dismiss the possibility of significant incentives under the evolving political circumstances.

Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar is all set to present the fiscal budget for the year 2023-24 on June 9 in the National Assembly, amid an inconclusive deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under a bailout program signed back in 2019.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has expressed hope the budget would bring economic prosperity, business-friendly policies, and public welfare to the country. He has also promised to increase Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) from Rs700 billion to Rs950 billion to boost growth and create jobs.

Unlike the past few years, Dar interacted with a number of industrialist groups and representatives from various trade bodies to get their input and discuss budget proposals.

“He was receptive and listened to our proposals and assured to consider,” Abdul Aleem, general secretary of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI), a representative body of multinational companies operating in Pakistan, told Arab News.

A Pakistani labourer works at an iron factory in Lahore on April 30, 2019, on the eve of the International Labour Day celebrated on May 1.(AFP/File)

“We proposed to broaden the tax net to boost revenue collection and not burden people with more taxes as they are already reeling under super inflation and high taxes. We also proposed to enhance the annual income tax threshold from Rs600,000 to Rs1.2 million,” he continued, hoping the OICCI recommendations would be considered by the government.

In another meeting with the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) delegation, the finance minister assured that “the most difficult reforms have been done and the bleeding is over,” according to a statement issued after the meeting.

As the South Asian nation faces dire dollar liquidity crunch, the KCCI suggests that importers be allowed to arrange payments of foreign exchange through their own sources amid declining forex reserves.

Tariq Yousuf, KCCI president, said the chamber has called for “introducing a tax-friendly environment so that the maximum number of individuals could be encouraged to get into the tax net.”

The KCCI has also proposed to reduce the rates of customs duty to two percent, sales tax to 12 percent, and waive the value addition sales tax of three percent on commercial importers.

The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) in its proposals strongly suggested an “agriculture emergency” and recommended the formation of a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) for the agriculture sector.

“Agri REIT has the potential to significantly transform the Pakistani agricultural landscape,” Irfan Iqbal Sheikh, FPCCI president, said.

A Pakistan textile labourer checks the quality of the yarn at a power loom in Karachi, on January 25, 2019, the financial capital and the largest industrial city of Pakistan. (AFP/File)

According to an estimate, Pakistan’s agriculture sector has the potential to overcome the current account deficit and balance-of-payments crisis within six years if the agriculture sector grows at six percent to achieve the necessary economic growth and job creation, he said.

The FPCCI called for budgetary measures for the growth of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, the industrial and commercial segment, and tax policies and reforms.

To end the uncertainty, chaos and rumors in the market, the FPCCI suggested the government should launch an incentive scheme to channel dollar holdings from lockers and personal safes into bank accounts, exempting such deposits from any taxes.

Upon withdrawal of the Pakistani rupee, a one or two percent profit should be offered as an incentive.

The government will be presenting the budget for FY24 amid stagflation and a lot of uncertainties related to the upcoming elections and the fate of inflows from the IMF and other lenders, according to Topline Securities.

Amid these circumstances, Pakistani economists rule out any significant incentives under the evolving political situation after recent actions taken by the state against former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

“I don’t think the government will dole out any significant incentives,” Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“It was thought the government would give a pre-election budget, even if it would be unrealistic, to raise public expectations. But after the political developments that led to the disintegration of a major opposition party [PTI], it is most likely the next government will be formed by parties from the [ruling] PDM [Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance].”

Suleri said after the next elections, the new government would have to negotiate an IMF program, adding that the budget would therefore not have too many “adventurist measures.”

“I think the budget will have a net-zero impact, giving from one hand and taking from the other,” he added.

The budget outlay for FY24 is estimated at Rs13-15 trillion, against Rs9.6 trillion proposed for FY23, assuming a record-high markup cost due to the high-interest rate.

The government is likely to set a tax revenue collection target of Rs9-9.2 trillion for FY24, 8.6 percent of GDP, which is up 21 percent from the target of Rs7.5 trillion set for the current fiscal year and 29 percent higher than expected tax collection, according to Topline Securities.


Tough Karachi cop, expert in Lyari gang wars, turns to art for respite

Updated 7 min 8 sec ago

Tough Karachi cop, expert in Lyari gang wars, turns to art for respite

  • Naeem Khan started painting after he met a renowned artist brought in over a domestic violence complaint in 1990s
  • Currently serving as police DSP, Khan hopes to devote himself entirely to painting after retiring in September

KARACHI: It was a typical work day for a cop named Naeem Khan sometime in the 1990s when a renowned artist was brought in over a domestic violence complaint to the Ajmer Nagri Police Station in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi.

Though his interaction with the artist that day lasted only a few hours before the case was closed, the two went on to form a mentor-student bond that lasted decades, turning the tough officer into a skilled artist.

“Throughout this relationship, I had the opportunity to learn a great deal from [the artist],” Khan told Arab News as he returned from patrolling the city in a police van. He declined to name the artist, who died in 2018.

The still image taken from a video shows cop named Naeem Khan working on a painting at his residence in Karachi, Pakistan on June 6, 2023. (AN Photo)

Initially, the artist guided the police officer in how to use shades and create color palettes but later taught him to paint portraits also, with Khan going on to paint stills of both senior police officers and top politicians.

But though he was brimming with passion for art, Khan’s demanding job fighting crime in Karachi — especially his years working in Lyari, a poor neighborhood known for crime and gang wars — did not allow the police officer to devote much time to painting. But once he was posted to a relatively calmer police station in the city in 2013, he had spare time to pursue art once again.

That was when he began creating portraits of Pakistani leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan, and the rulers of Dubai, as well as exploring the art of calligraphy.

“Currently, I am working on various other art forms. I work on landscapes, calligraphy, portraits, and other contemporary styles, as I have made significant progress,” Khan said.

The still image taken from a video shows a painting of Pakistan's ex prime minister Benazir Bhutto made by cop named Naeem Khan at his residence in Karachi, Pakistan on June 6, 2023. (AN Photo)

When asked why his paintings did not depict crimes and the dark world he dealt with as a cop, Khan said: “I will do what I have learned from my master, who used to create portraits of beautiful girls, beautiful horses, and human beings.”

In terms of striking a balance between his tough job as a police officer and his passion for art, he said the latter allowed him some time to relax.

“In fact, my police job is hard and tiring, so whenever I find even a small amount of free time, be it five minutes or half an hour, I turn to my artwork,” he said.

Khan said that it was not difficult for him to shift his focus, as he took inspiration from his crime scenes and patrol work in so far as it had taught him to be able to fully immerse himself in any environment he found himself in th middle of. 

Currently serving as a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), Khan will retire this September after which he hopes he will be able to devote himself entirely to art.

“I will be able to spend more time with colors,” he said, “which is what I truly enjoy.”

Pakistani PM says energy reforms to be part of annual budget this year

Updated 07 June 2023

Pakistani PM says energy reforms to be part of annual budget this year

  • South Asian nation seeking to reduce value of fuel imports, protect itself from geopolitical shocks
  • Grid failure this year plunged 220 million people into darkness for a day, disrupted commercial activity

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday energy reforms would be part of the annual budget for fiscal year 2023-24, due to be presented on June 9.

The South Asian nation, which is battling a wrenching economic crisis and is in dire need of funds, is seeking to reduce the value of its fuel imports and protect itself from geopolitical shocks.

Power outages remain common in Pakistan, with a grid problem earlier this year plunging 220 million people into darkness for a whole day and disrupting commercial activity. Excess fossil fuel energy capacity also is boosting electricity costs — and raising questions about whether the country will now manage to achieve its climate change goals, with scientists saying coal needs to rapidly disappear from the world’s energy mix to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

“The Prime Minister decided to make energy reforms part of the budget,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported after Sharif chaired a meeting on budget proposals.

“He said that renewable energy projects should be started by reducing reliance on the expensive imported fuel in a gradual manner … effective measures should be proposed in the next budget in order to control line losses and electricity theft.”

Sharif said wind and solar energy projects should be included in the upcoming budget and ongoing solarization projects in the country should be expedited.

“Emphasizing the importance of an efficient transmission system, he said power transmission projects should be completed at the earliest … transformer metering should be made part of the next budget for the elimination of line losses and the pilferage of electricity,” Radio Pakistan said.

In 2020, then Prime Minister Imran Khan promised Pakistan by 2030 would produce 60 percent of its electrical power from renewable sources.

Currently the country gets 64 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, with another 27 percent from hydropower, 5 percent from nuclear power and just 4 percent from renewables such as solar and wind.