Pakistan’s new fuel pricing scheme needs to be agreed before IMF deal

In this photo, taken on February 16, 2023, an employee of a petrol station updates the latest fuel prices on a board in Karachi. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2023

Pakistan’s new fuel pricing scheme needs to be agreed before IMF deal

  • Pakistan PM last week announced a pricing plan to charge affluent consumers more for fuel
  • Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik says his ministry has been given 6 weeks to work out the plan

ISLAMABAD: A long-awaited loan agreement between Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be signed once a few remaining points, including a proposed fuel pricing scheme, are settled, an IMF official confirmed on Friday.

Pakistan and the IMF have been negotiating since early February on an agreement that would release $1.1 billion to the cash-strapped, nuclear-armed country of 220 million people.

The latest issue is a plan, announced by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif last week, to charge affluent consumers more for fuel, with the money raised used to subsidise prices for the poor, who have been hit hard by inflation, which in February was at its highest in 50 years.

Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik told Reuters on Thursday that his ministry had been given six weeks to work out the pricing plan.

But the IMF’s resident representative in Pakistan, Esther Perez Ruiz, said the government did not consult the fund about the fuel pricing scheme.

Ruiz, in a message to Reuters, confirmed a media report that a staff level agreement would be signed once a few remaining points, including the fuel scheme were settled.

The petroleum and finance ministries did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

With enough foreign reserves to only cover about four weeks of necessary imports, Pakistan is desperate for the IMF agreement to disperse a $1.1 billion tranche from a $6.5 billion bailout agreed in 2019.

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 1 min 4 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. 

Day after budget, Pakistan PM says charter of economy ‘only way forward’ to achieve prosperity 

Updated 10 June 2023

Day after budget, Pakistan PM says charter of economy ‘only way forward’ to achieve prosperity 

  • Shehbaz Sharif’s government has struggled with an unprecedented economic downturn since taking over last year 
  • The country is currently facing record inflation, fiscal imbalances and critically low levels of foreign exchange reserves 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Saturday that a charter of economy was the “only way forward” for the political leadership to achieve prosperity for the Pakistani people, a day after the cash-strapped government presented budget for the next fiscal year. 

PM Sharif’s government, which succeeded that of former premier Imran Khan, has struggled with an unprecedented economic downturn since taking over last year, with talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the revival of the $6 billion bailout package yielding no result since December. 

The draft budget envisaged $50.4 billion for the next fiscal year, starting July 1, a significant increase from last year’s budget, aiming for a 6.5 percent deficit and allocating approximately 50 percent for interest payments. 

“The economy direly needs reforms, which, in turn, can be undertaken in a stable political environment, for economic development is intrinsically linked to political stability,” Sharif said on Twitter. 

“It is here that the Charter of Economy appears to be the only way forward for our political parties to achieve prosperity for our people.” 

Sharif said the making of Budget 2023-24 was particularly a difficult task in view of the persistent challenges arising out of the floods-related relief and rehabilitation, global supply chain disruptions and geostrategic upheavals. 

“Never-ending headwinds of political instability created by Imran Niazi damaged the economy and created uncertainty, as the country remained on the boil for well over a year,” he added. 

Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote last year, has since launched a campaign against his political rivals, demanding snap nationwide polls. The ex-premier dissolved two provincial legislatures in an attempt to pressure the central government into announcing countrywide elections. 

The political upheaval has compounded the countries the economic woes, with record inflation, fiscal imbalances and critical levels of reserves that cover barely a month of imports. 

Sharif said a more balanced budget that levied no new tax could not have been possible within the existing constraints. 

“Budget (FY23-24) represents the beginning of the process to fix the economy’s long-term ailments. The coalition government has prioritized the right areas that have the potential to spur economic growth, attract investment and make the economy self-sufficient,” he said. 

“Mindful of the impact of inflation, the government has provided relief to public sector employees and pensioners in the form of pay raise of up to 35 percent and 17.5 percent respectively, and increased minimum wage to Rs. 32000.” 

Pakistan is currently in talks with bilateral creditors to restructure its debt, the cash strapped country’s finance minister said on Friday. 

Pakistan’s IMF program ends this month with about $2.5 billion in funds yet to be released as it struggles to strike an agreement with the lender. 

Bilateral creditors made up $37 billion of Pakistan’s debt in the fiscal year 2021, out of which $23 billion is owed to China, according to an IMF country report released last year. 

“We are in the process of engaging bilateral lenders to restructure debt,” Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said in televised comments after the budget on Friday. 

“No haircuts will be made... Interest will be serviced, and principal payments will be staggered.”