At COP27 in Egypt, Pakistan-led negotiators adopt accord to set up ‘loss and damage’ fund

Victims of the unprecedented flooding from monsoon rains use makeshift barge to carry hay for cattle, in Jaffarabad, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, on September 5, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 20 November 2022

At COP27 in Egypt, Pakistan-led negotiators adopt accord to set up ‘loss and damage’ fund

  • The development is viewed as an achievement for countries enduring the impact of heatwaves, droughts, floods
  • Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif says ‘it is up to the transitional committee to build on the historic development’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman on Sunday applauded the creation of a special fund at the United Nations COP27 conference in Egypt to help cover the losses incurred by developing nations due to extreme weather conditions triggered by the problem of global climate change.

Rehman described the development as “an important first step” while calling for an early operationalization of the fund that was approved after long negotiations that stretched over a period of about two weeks.

According to AFP, the “loss and damages” inflicted by climate-induced disasters was not even officially up for discussion when the UN talks in Egypt began earlier this month. This changed, however, due to the effort of developing nations that insisted on making it the central focus of the conference.

“We welcome today’s announcement and joint text hammered out [through] many nights,” said Pakistan’s climate minister in a string of Twitter posts. “It’s an important first step in reaffirming the core principles of climate justice. Now that the Fund has been established, we look forward to it being operationalized, to actually become a robust body that is able to answer with agility to the needs of the vulnerable, the fragile & those on the frontline of climate disasters.”

Rehman maintained the announcement offered hope to vulnerable communities all over the world who were fighting for their survival from climate stress, adding it also gave credibility to the UN-led COP process to deal with environmental challenges.

Molwyn Joseph, right, minister of health wellness and environment of Antigua and Barbuda, and Sherry Rehman, minister of climate change for Pakistan, speak during a news conference on loss and damage finance inaction at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, on November 17, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP)

Pakistan witnessed unprecedented monsoon rains and floods this year that claimed over 1,700 lives and destroyed houses, farmlands and public infrastructure. Extreme weather conditions were also witnessed in other parts of the world, with the people of Somalia suffering the impact of severe drought.

In an official statement issued from his office, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also appreciated Rehman and her team for their hard work while pointing out that the proposed fund could benefit rehabilitation activities in the wake of the floods in his country.

“The establishment of loss & damage fund at the UN climate summit is the first pivotal step toward the goal of climate justice,” he said in a Twitter post. “It is up to the transitional committee to build on the historic development.”

The development has been widely viewed as a major achievement by developing economies that have endured major heatwaves, droughts and floods in recent years despite contributing little to the climate change phenomenon.

The conference also demanded “rapid” reduction in carbon emissions by major world economies to address the overall issue of global warming.

Pakistan’s climate minister said before the approval of the fund that its creation would be “a historic reminder to vulnerable people all over the world that they have a voice and that if they unite ... we can actually start breaking down barriers that we thought were impossible.”

Most countries facing climate-induced disasters already have weak economies and have to deal with spiraling inflation and mounting debts.

The proposed loss and damages fund gives them hope of getting some financial compensation from developed economies that are mainly responsible for unleashing extreme climate patterns with increased carbon pollution.

Economists criticize Pakistan’s budget for lack of tangible poverty alleviation measures

Updated 23 sec ago

Economists criticize Pakistan’s budget for lack of tangible poverty alleviation measures

  • Some experts believe nearly 100 million people in Pakistan have slipped below the poverty line
  • Most economists call for increased Benazir Income Support Program allocation amid rising inflation

KARACHI: Pakistan’s top economists criticized the new federal budget on Saturday, saying it lacked tangible poverty alleviation measures at a crucial historical juncture when the current financial situation of the country had pushed about 100 million people below the poverty line.

The government proposed a Rs14.46 trillion ($50.4 billion) budget on Friday in which it allocated nearly 50 percent for interest payments. This implied that only meager resources would now be available for other expenditures like poverty alleviation.

A leading Pakistani economist, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Pasha, said poverty had increased in Pakistan due to unemployment resulting from last year’s devastating floods and a major spike in inflation amounting to 38 percent in May.

“At this time, it is estimated that around 100 million people have gone below the poverty line,” he told Arab News. “Many of them also belong to lower middle class. Two things have primarily contributed to increased poverty and unemployment. The people were affected by the recent floods and the prices of food items increased manifold.”

Pasha said the unemployment rate had surged to 11 percent, though it was less than seven percent before the COVID-19 pandemic four years ago.

“The government measures to restrict imports and price hike have rendered 3.5 million more workers jobless,” he continued.

Pakistan’s planning minister Ahsan Iqbal and state minister for finance Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha did not respond to queries on poverty and unemployment numbers.

The finance minister, Ishaq Dar, announced to enhance the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) allocation by Rs50 billion to Rs450 billion on Friday.

However, Pasha said the gap between income and poverty was somewhere around Rs1.7 trillion, and the government should have covered at least one-third of it.

“The government should have increased the BISP allocation to at least Rs635 billion and taken steps to reduce flour prices,” he said. “It has not done these two things in the budget.”

Dr. Ikram ul Haq, senior economist and taxation expert, agreed with Pasha, saying the BISP allocation was too small under the circumstances.

“The scope of targeted cash benefits should have been extended both in terms of numbers and scope, including food stamps. The fiscal policy alignments needed under the challenging times for the people below the poverty lines are missing. Taxation remains largely dependent on indirect mechanism which is also anti-poor,” he told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abdul Jabbar, a poverty alleviation expert, said BISP was a “political tool” for distribution of cash with the intention of getting votes.

“They have increased cash incentives in BISP but that is a delusion and it will not reduce the poverty since the program has created no impact since it was launched,” he said.

“BISP is a political tool for the distribution of unconditional cash transfers,” he continued. “But in Africa, all such cash transfers are conditional which means the receivers are bound to educate children or create social impact through cash utilization in a productive manner which we have been lacking.”

Haq said no steps have been taken to increase the income of poor and vulnerable segments of the society.

“There is nothing in the budget that can be for the poor and the vulnerable segments in terms of countering inflation and creating opportuneness for raising their incomes,” said adding “It is the budget by the rich and for the rich.”

The finance minister has increased ad hoc relief allowance of government employees by 35% for grade 1-16 grades and 30% for employees falling in 17-22 grades while increased pensions by 17.5% and proposed Rs32,000 minimum wage.

“The higher echelons of the powerful civil-military bureaucracy has got raises when even the government will borrow further even to pay part of interest payment,” Haq said adding “It is classic case of debt trap.”

As far as the income is concerned, the government has not changed the rates on lower sides, according to Ali A Rahim, a renowned tax consultant.

“There are no change in income tax rates but for lower class they announced price reduction at Utility stores but no especial relief for the salaried class,” he told Arab News.

Rahim called for implementation of minimum wages in the private sector but cautioned that the current economic situation was bigger hurdle.

Majyd Aziz, former president and board member of Employers’ Federation of Pakistan (EFP), conceded that the current minimum wage which is too low was not even being implemented by 60% in formal and 90% in informal sector.

“We morally and ethically believe that the current wage is very low but still it is not being implemented across the board,” Aziz told Arab News. “government has announced in the budget to increase minimum wage which would be decided after wage boards meetings.”

However, Aziz said the due to the current economic condition the workers prefer to secure their jobs rather than demanding increments.

Pakistani consumers said they have made drastic change in spending habits after price hike of essential commodities amid administrative failure.

“I used to smoke gold leaf but when its priced doubled to Rs500 I switched over to Capstan which is available for around Rs220 but it seems that the option will be Birri or Hookah in order meet increasing kitchen expenses,” Ahmed Khan Malik, a senior researcher said.

“The ironically there is not prices mechanism in the country, multiple prices are charged for a single commodity in single market that is also fueling inflation,” he said adding no measures have been taken to address financial issues of fixed income groups.

Pakistani women take up key roles in Hajj mission as number of pilgrims surge in Saudi Arabia

Updated 10 June 2023

Pakistani women take up key roles in Hajj mission as number of pilgrims surge in Saudi Arabia

  • Over 40 women are currently deployed in the kingdom to serve pilgrims, with 15 more expected to join the mission
  • Religious affairs ministry says more than 50,000 Pakistani people have arrived in Saudi Arabia for annual pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has deployed more than 40 women with its Hajj mission in Saudi Arabia, with many of them in leadership roles, to serve pilgrims, a religious affairs ministry official said on Saturday, as more than 50,000 pilgrims arrived in the kingdom from the South Asian country.

The Saudi authorities have reinstated the country’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota, allowing 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims to participate in this year’s pilgrimage while removing the upper age limit of 65 years. Around 80,000 of them will perform Hajj under the government scheme, while the rest will be facilitated by private tour operators.

According to Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, over 50,000 Pakistanis have so far arrived in the kingdom for the annual Islamic pilgrimage since the government launched a special flight operation on May 21.

“Currently, over 40 women are working shoulder to shoulder with men in the Hajj mission in Makkah and Madinah, and approximately 15 more are expected to arrive in the coming days,” Muhammad Umer Butt, a ministry spokesperson, told Arab News over the phone from the kingdom.

“These women are serving in various sections, and some of them are even leading different departments,” he continued, adding that some lady doctors and female paramedics were also contributing to the country’s Hajj medical mission.

Nadia Razzaq, serving as the information technology (IT) in-charge in Makkah, said numerous women were playing crucial roles within the Hajj mission.

“More than 40 women have already arrived in Saudi Arabia to fulfill various responsibilities across different sectors, such as food, accommodation, and transportation,” she told Arab News in a video statement from Makkah.

In this picture, provided with the courtesy of the Hajj Ministry, Pakistani women facilitators attend a Hajj mission meeting in Makkah. (Photo courtesy: Hajj Ministry)

She said that, in addition to their primary responsibilities, women were also performing field duties as required.

“Women are making valuable contributions to every sector of the Hajj operations, showcasing their best efforts,” Razzaq added.

Another woman, Ayesha Ijaz, who is responsible for monitoring the Hajj mission in Makkah, said her role involved overseeing the arrangements made by private tour operators for pilgrims who have arrived in Saudi Arabia.

“This includes addressing their issues and ensuring the provision of the facilities promised to them in Makkah, Madinah, and other locations during the Hajj,” she told Arab News.

In this picture, provided with the courtesy of the Hajj Ministry, Pakistani women facilitators attend a Hajj mission meeting in Makkah. (Photo courtesy: Hajj Ministry)

Since a large number of female pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia for Hajj every year, Ijaz said their problems were usually resolved by women volunteers.

“Women staff also hold crucial positions in the Hajj mission, which greatly contributes to our smooth operations,” she added.

Beenish Ashraf, the call center in-charge at Makkah’s main control office, said her department tried to ensure the resolution of pilgrims’ complaints at the earliest by forwarding them to the relevant departments.

“We have employed call agents who handle pilgrims’ calls round the clock,” she told Arab News.

“As soon as we receive these calls, we promptly enter the details into our [online] system, notify the respective sector commander, and contact the relevant department to expedite the resolution of pilgrims’ complaints,” she added.

Furthermore, the call center actively gathered feedback from the pilgrims by conducting follow-up calls and collaborating with other departments to ensure a comprehensive assessment, Ashraf informed.

In this picture, provided with the courtesy of the Hajj Ministry, Pakistani woman officer, Beenish Ashraf leads a call centre of Pakistan's Hajj mission in Makkah, Saudi Arabia on June 10, 2023. (Courtesy: Pakistan's religious affairs ministry)


Pakistan finance minister hints at ‘Plan B’ as revival of IMF bailout hangs in balance

Updated 10 June 2023

Pakistan finance minister hints at ‘Plan B’ as revival of IMF bailout hangs in balance

  • Ishaq Dar says Pakistan is expecting transfer of $2 billion and $1 billion from Saudi Arabia and UAE respectively before June 30
  • Minister says the government has levied only $697 million additional taxes in the budget to promote documentation of economy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister Senator Ishaq Dar said on Saturday his government was looking for a ‘Plan B’ in case the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did not release a $1.1 billion tranche of the stalled $6.5 billion bailout program Islamabad secured in 2019.

The statement came a day after the minister presented a Rs14.46 trillion ($50.4 billion) budget for the next fiscal year, setting a tax collection target of Rs9.2 trillion ($32 billion) that is 23 percent higher than the last year’s and envisioning a 3.5 percent GDP growth.

The government’s fiscal plan was unveiled amid record inflation, a depreciating currency, and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves. While it stated its intention to provide relief to financially vulnerable segments, the budget numbers were aimed at securing the tough IMF loan amount to stave off a balance of payments crisis.

“A Plan B is always there and that is self-reliance,” the finance minister said, addressing a post-budget press conference in Islamabad. “Pakistan will not default.”

“If we don’t get it, we have a plan ready …. we hope to receive $1.1 billion [tranche], but there is no chance for the tenth review now,” the finance minister said. “We will only be fair to get the money after the ninth review.”

Pakistan’s IMF bailout program has been stalled since November and is set to expire on June 30, with its 9th and 10th reviews still pending the IMF board’s approval.

The finance minister said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had given a commitment of $2 billion and $1 billion respectively to the IMF as external financing support to Pakistan. 

“We expect if this amount was not transferred to Pakistan by June 30, it will come next year then,” he said, clarifying that debt rescheduling from the multilaterals was not on the cards.

“We can always negotiate with the bilateral for an ease-out.”

The finance minister clarified that there was no need to reschedule domestic loans because it would be a “serious issue” if a sovereign country could not fulfil “requirement of own currency.” 

He said the nation would have to “learn to live” as the country could not print dollars to repay external debts.

“We are trying to mobilize exports and remittances for the external debt [repayments],” Dar said.

About the 3.5 percent growth target, he termed it modest, realistic and in line with the IMF projection, admitting that servicing was one of the biggest items in the budget that the government was “trying to reverse.”

The government has paid special attention to agriculture and information technology (IT) sectors in the budget and given them tax exemptions on seeds and the import of machinery, according to Dar.

The economy is out of the woods now as hectic efforts by the government halted further decline of the economy.

He defended the government’s tax and non-tax revenues as “realistic and achievable” that were set after thorough consultations with stakeholders.

The budget levied new taxes of just Rs200 billion ($697 million) as the tax revenue had increased from Rs7,200 billion in the previous fiscal year to Rs9,200 billion.

“These 200 billion rupees taxes are mostly to promote documentation or fix an anomaly. This is not inflationary,” he said, adding that Rs900 billion out of Rs1,074 billion subsidies allocated in the budget were only meant for the power sector.

“This was a major stumbling block between us and the IMF, we have to focus on it,” he said. “No new major subsidy is being given.”

Pakistan’s target of 3.5 percent GDP in 2023-24 fiscal year ‘realistic’ — finance minister 

Updated 10 June 2023

Pakistan’s target of 3.5 percent GDP in 2023-24 fiscal year ‘realistic’ — finance minister 

  • In year ending this month, Pakistan’s GDP was projected to grow just 0.29 percent, fiscal deficit for the following year projected at 6.54 percent 
  • The budget is being closely watched by the International Monetary Fund as the South Asian country seeks further bailout money 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister said on Saturday a projection in the government’s budget of 3.5 percent economic growth for the year ending in June 2024 was a “realistic target.” 

The target was “on the lower side,” Ishaq Dar told a press conference in Islamabad, a day after presenting the budget for the fiscal year 2023-24. 

The budget is being closely watched by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the South Asian country seeks further bailout money during an economic and balance of payments crisis. 

In the year ending this month, Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) was projected to grow just 0.29 percent. The fiscal deficit for the following fiscal year was projected at 6.54 percent of GDP, according to the budget. 

The country faces a series of economy crises, exacerbated by a stall in bailout funding from the IMF, which analysts said was unlikely to be significantly impressed by the budget. 

In addition to requirements related to the currency and budget, Pakistan is required to secure firm and credible financing commitments to close the $6 billion gap in order to unlock funding under its long-delayed ninth IMF review. The government has gotten commitments of only $4 billion, mainly from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Pakistan's Shahroz Sabzwari says new Eid Al-Adha flick alongside ex-wife will give 'butterflies in your tummy'

Updated 54 min 54 sec ago

Pakistan's Shahroz Sabzwari says new Eid Al-Adha flick alongside ex-wife will give 'butterflies in your tummy'

  • Syra Yousuf, Sabzwari say they work hard on maintaining a ‘good equation’ for their child that seeps into other areas of their lives too 
  • ’Babilicious,’ a rom-com by Essa Khan that was shot in Karachi, Nawabshah and Bahrain, is slated to be released in Pakistan for now 

KARACHI: Pakistani actor Shahroz Sabzwari has said his new movie, ‘Babylicious,’ with ex-wife Syra Yousuf will give “butterflies in your tummy,” with the flick scheduled to be released on Eid Al-Adha. 

Babylicious was announced in December last year when Yousuf and Sabzwari revealed the first look of the film, initially slated for a release in February 2023. The news came as a surprise for many, particularly after the real-life couple parted ways in 2020. 

Nonetheless, the former couple this month began promotions for the film, which had been in the works since 2017 when Yousuf and Sabzwari were married to each other. 

In an exclusive interview together with his ex-wife, Sabzwari, who plays the role of a college student Omar, told Arab News the film is “romantically entertaining.” 

The still image taken from a video on June 9, 2023, shows Syra Yusuf (lrft) and Shahroz Sabzwari, during an interview for their upcoming film called Babylicious. (AN Photo)

“Go watch all the films but if you want butterflies in your tummy, watch Babylicious. Like true butterflies in your tummy if you really want to feel happy and sad at the same time. Watch Babylicious,” he said, when asked what the picture will bring to viewers apart from other movies slated for release on Eid. 

“If you want to cry a little and then get excited and jump on your seat then watch Babylicious. Otherwise, you can watch other films also.” 

The movie, shot in Karachi, Nawabshah and Bahrain, is written, directed and co-produced by Essa Khan, who described it as: 

“Fun, date movie set in a super affluent Pakistani neverland where college students drive fancy new cars, have top brand wardrobes and lavish weddings.” 

But Yousuf believes Babylicious portrays romance in an “old school” manner and is very different than what “love means in today’s time.” She stars as Omar’s college sweetheart, Sabiha. 

“It’s funny because we shot this movie over a span of five years,” said Yousuf, who thought the former couple has “really changed” over the years. 

“I’m kind of looking forward to see how that’s going to turn out.” 

Sabzwari said the film is equally relatable to youngsters and their parents. 

“Anyone who has fallen in love in their teens, or early 20s. Maybe, their first love. This film is for them,” he said. 

“It is also for the parents.” 

Babylicious is not the first time Yousuf and Sabzwari have worked together. The former real-life couple appeared in the sequel of cult-classic ‘Tanhaiyaan’ in 2012. 

They mutually opted for divorce due to “irreconcilable” differences three years ago. The two have a daughter, Nooreh, who they co-parent, while Sabzwari later married Pakistani model Sadaf Kanwal. 

The two shared they work hard on maintaining a “good equation” for their child that seeps into other areas of their lives too. 

“Along with being very dedicated actors, we are also very dedicated parents. We both are very big on the responsibility we share,” Yousuf said. 

“It’s mainly the fact that we work really hard on maintaining a good equation for our child. It just kind of leaks into other areas of our lives as well.” 

Asked if they would sign up for another project together, Yousuf said they were good “co-parenting.” 

“It was very smooth [working together in Babylicious] because we have known each other for a very long time,” she shared. “So, we know what works, what doesn’t work.” 

Sabzwari said people were “shocked” when they learnt the two actors were starring in a film. 

“[They should] live and let live but it doesn’t happen, which is okay,” he said. “It was [a surprise] for a lot of people and that’s why they’re going to go watch the film.” 

Babylicious, according to Sabzwari, does not have an international release planned yet, however, if the film does well at the box office, they hope to release it in the US, England and Dubai.