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
Updated 24 March 2023
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.
ISLAMABAD: The United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to hold an informal meeting in New York on Wednesday to review the outcome of commitments made by the international community to support flood-affected families in Pakistan following the monsoon devastation of last year.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani expressed optimism last week that the financial pledges made by various bilateral and multilateral donors to help Pakistan carry out reconstruction activities would soon materialize.
His statement came months after the United Nations and Pakistan co-hosted a conference in Geneva to generate the funds needed to rebuild homes, roads and railway tracks that were washed away by flash floods, submerging much of the country and displacing millions of people.
According to estimates, Pakistan needed $16.3 billion for reconstruction activities, with participants at the event committing over $9 billion.
“The informal meeting will hear a briefing on the implementation of General Assembly Resolution 77/1, passed last year in October 2022, which expressed ‘solidarity and support for the Government and the people of Pakistan and the strengthening of emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and prevention in the wake of the recent devastating floods,’” said the curtain-raiser for the upcoming meeting, released by Pakistan’s permanent mission at the UN.
“UN Secretary-General H.E. Antonio Guterres will share the update with the participants of the meeting,” it added.
The General Assembly resolution sought to “sensitize the international community” to Pakistan’s reconstruction needs and “mobilize effective, immediate, and adequate international support and assistance.”
Prior to its passage, the UN secretary-general visited Pakistan to witness the extent of flood damages and noted that the country had experienced “a monsoon on steroids” that had devastated much of its southern regions.
Pakistan has since called for the required global assistance, pointing out that the world needs to collectively deal with the growing issue of climate change.
It was also at the forefront of efforts to establish a loss and damages fund at COP27 in Egypt, aimed at assisting those nations facing the brunt of erratic weather patterns without contributing significantly to global warming.
A rocket launcher shell accidentally explodes at a home in southern Pakistan and 8 people are dead
Police believe family members took unexploded shell home after finding it at nearby farm
City of Kandhkot where the explosion took place is known as hideout of robbers and criminals
Updated 8 min 32 sec ago
KARACHI: A shell of a rocket launcher apparently accidentally exploded at a home in a remote village in southern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least eight people, including women and children, police said.
At least two people were also wounded in the blast in southern Sindh province, said regional police chief Rahil Khoso.
Investigators believe that family members took the unexploded shell home after finding it at a nearby open farm field. Such blasts often happen when people try to dismantle unexploded ammunition to sell as scrap metal.
The city of Kandhkot, where the explosion took place, is known as a hideout of robbers and criminals who are well armed, including with rockets. Security forces have launched operations against criminals in the area.
ISLAMABAD: Khairullah Khan, a 50-year-old taxi driver, remembers a time when he could fill his tank with cheap fuel to drive passengers across the Pakistani capital and take home enough money for food, drink and a decent life for his wife and nine children.
Today, spiraling fuel costs and soaring inflation mean he is left at the end of a busy day with less than a few dollars in earnings.
Last week, parked under a tree near a bustling market in Islamabad, Khan waited for customers but said rising fuel costs had driven most of his clients away.
On Sept. 15, Pakistan announced a record rise in petrol and diesel prices — by 26.02 rupees to 331.38 rupees a liter and by 17.34 rupees to 329.18 rupees a liter, respectively — the second big increase in two weeks for the South Asian nation already struggling with high inflation. A $3 billion loan program, approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July, averted a sovereign debt default in Pakistan but reforms linked to the bailout have fueled annual inflation running at 27.4 percent.
“We have no work, no income, we are ready to kill ourselves,” Khan, who has been plying the streets of Islamabad since 1991, told Arab News. “It has become very difficult to make ends meet now.”
Khan complained that customers were now unwilling to pay the high cost of rides that drivers were forced to charge due to new fuel prices.
“When we raise the fares, people argue that they are not responsible for the fuel prices so why should they pay higher costs,” the cabbie said.
Yellow cab driver Talib Hussain, 47, said now even “middle class people” could not afford taxi rides.
“I have not had any customers since morning, neither have any other cabbies standing here,” he said, pointing to a line of cabs behind his car.
Hussain said he used to make almost Rs25,000 ($85.6) per month last year but now took home barely Rs 8-10,000 ($27-34) monthly.
“If we [family] were eating thrice a day [last year], now we can only afford to eat one meal per day. Earlier my kids used to go to school by a van but now they have to walk to school every day. I have enrolled them in a government school because I could not afford to pay for private schools.”
Many drivers who work with ride hailing apps like Uber, Careem, Bykea and InDrive reported a 50-60 percent decrease in average income compared to last year.
“The way fuel prices have increased, the rates per kilometer have not been increased the same way [by the ride-hailing company] which has resulted in a 50-60 percent drop in our incomes,” part time cabbie Naveed Alam said.
“If I was saving Rs 1,000 ($3.42) per day from this work last year, now I can barely save Rs600 ($2) … Customers have decreased, and fuel prices have doubled, which has reduced our income manifold.”
An InDrive bike rider who only identified himself by his first name, Usman, said he earned Rs1,000 ($3.42) per ride last year while burning Rs200 ($0.68) on fuel.
“Now for the same job, the fuel costs us around Rs 500-600 ($2),” he said, adding that maintenance costs for his bike had also doubled. “The fuel costs have almost doubled, and inflation has also increased so much, which has made our lives very difficult.”
Many cab drivers said the price hikes were forcing them to seek alternative means of livelihood, an uphil task, or get a second job.
“We toil for over 18 hours a day, yet we are unable to cover our expenses,” said Vilayat Khan, a cab driver in Islamabad who has been associated with the profession for the last 28 years. “But to start any other work we need investment, but we don’t have any money to invest, we don’t even own the cars we are driving.”
Bykea motorcycle driver Haider Ali Bykea said he saw no silver lining in the clouds:
“People like us will be forced to end our lives … what else can we do? I have five kids, how do I feed them? How is a poor man supposed to survive?”
ISLAMABAD: Punjab’s interim health minister Dr. Javed Akram announced on Tuesday an experimental medication suspected of causing vision loss among dozens of diabetics across the province was administered by hospitals without following proper procedures that included obtaining “informed consent” from patients.
Nearly 70 individuals from various districts in Punjab reported eye infections leading to blindness in recent weeks after receiving injections of Avastin. The medication is primarily used to treat cancer but is also prescribed off-label in Pakistan for diabetic retinopathy-related edema.
Pakistan imposed a temporary ban on the drug earlier this week after patients began losing their vision and initiated an inquiry to assign responsibility.
In a media briefing in Lahore, the provincial health minister said the off-label use of any medication required prior authorization from the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).
“This did not happen,” he clarified. “Moreover, the good clinical practice of securing informed consent [from patients in such cases] was also not followed.”
Dr. Akram emphasized that it was mandatory to seek a patient’s consent “in the local language when administering an experimental drug.”
He disclosed that the government had now decided to require audiovisual recordings from hospital authorities, demonstrating that patients had been clearly informed of the benefits and risks associated with off-label medication use.
The minister reiterated the government’s commitment to bringing those responsible for this criminal negligence to justice and confirmed that Avastin would be available only for cancer treatment while the inquiry continued.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interim information technology minister Umar Saif said on Tuesday his team had prepared the draft of the National Artificial Intelligence Policy and was currently in consultation with relevant stakeholders to finalize it by December.
Artificial intelligence, often abbreviated as AI, refers to the development of computer systems that can perform tasks typically requiring human intelligence. These tasks include learning from data, recognizing patterns, making decisions, and solving problems. AI aims to create machines that can mimic human-like thinking and decision-making processes.
With this technology becoming more readily accessible, governments and private sectors across the world are beginning to reap its benefit while performing day-to-day functions. Pakistan’s planning ministry also acknowledged in April the AI incorporation in different government sectors would lead to better decision-making processes, personalized medical treatments, and enhanced learning experiences and solutions that were previously unattainable.
“There are far reaching consequences of this policy,” the information minister told Arab News in a brief conversation. “We have put it for public consultation. There is a draft which helped us get public comments from outside as well as inside the country … We need to train people to develop AI skills according to the policy since they can be quite valuable.”
“My goal is to finalize and notify this AI policy by December,” he continued.
Syed Junaid Imam, the spokesperson for the information technology ministry, also informed Arab News the country’s official artificial intelligence would be finalized after consultation with all stakeholders before being sent to the federal cabinet for approval.
“It is based on four main points,” he said while sharing details. “Enabling AI through awareness and readiness, AI market enablement, building a progressive and trusted environment, and its transformation and evolution.”
A recent notification by the information ministry said it was “forming a policy committee that will lead the policy consultation process and finalize the draft,” adding that the members of the committee would have experts from industry, academia and the government.
“The National AI Policy is crafted to focus on the equitable distribution of opportunity and its responsible use, having the defining attributes such as evidence-based and target oriented, user-centric and forward-looking, objective and overarching,” according to the draft of the policy, a copy of which was seen by the Arab News.
The draft also outlined how Pakistan would collaborate with other countries to share best practices and expertise in the AI field.
“The policy proposed the establishment of an AI regulatory directorate that ensures the ethical and responsible use of AI,” it read.
The draft policy also addressed the potential job displacement that could result from the global proliferation of the new technology.
“AI can help to promote economic growth by encouraging investment in AI research and development which can lead to the creation of new jobs and industries, as well as improved productivity and efficiency,” it said.
It further stated that owing to the impact of artificial globally, the Pakistani government envisioned embracing it by appreciating human intelligence and stimulating a hybrid intelligence ecosystem for equitable, responsible and transparent AI use.