Pakistan refiners warn $6 bln upgrades at risk due to fuel price deregulation plan

A worker pumps petrol in a car at a fuel station in Rawalpindi on July 16, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Pakistan refiners warn $6 bln upgrades at risk due to fuel price deregulation plan

  • Regulatory authority proposes oil marketers, refineries be allowed to set prices instead of government 
  • Refiners demand they be consulted before the implementation of “irrational recommendations”

KARACHI: Pakistan’s plans to deregulate fuel prices could lead refiners to halt planned upgrades worth up to $6 billion and force some refineries to close, some of the country’s top refiners said in a letter to the country’s oil regulator.

Looking to drive down prices for consumers, the South Asian nation’s Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) has proposed that oil marketers and refineries be allowed to set fuel prices, instead of the government setting prices.

As part of the change, OGRA proposed scrapping or reviewing a rule that requires fuel buyers to purchase supply from local refineries, another issue the refiners said could result in “disastrous consequences.”

The refiners — state-run Pakistan Refinery and private domestic refiners Pak Arab Refinery, Attock Refinery, Cinergyco, and National Refinery — said they were already struggling to operate near full capacity and asked that they be consulted before the implementation of “irrational recommendations.”

“The refining sector requires OGRA support through pragmatic and supportive measures, rather than suggesting ways that if implemented would result in their permanent closure,” the refiners told OGRA on Monday in a letter, which was reviewed by Reuters.

The deregulation was aimed at boosting competition and protecting the public interest, OGRA told Reuters in a statement on Tuesday, but did not respond to specific questions on the letter from the refiners. However, it said in an April 17 presentation reviewed by Reuters the potential impact of deregulation on refinery upgrades had to be assessed carefully, calling it a challenge.

“The refineries upgradation will bring in investment of $5 — 6 billion and not only result in cleaner environment friendly fuels but also result in savings of precious foreign exchange of the country,” the refiners wrote in the letter to OGRA.


Government runs awareness campaign as Pakistan in grips of ‘severe’ heat wave

Updated 13 sec ago
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Government runs awareness campaign as Pakistan in grips of ‘severe’ heat wave

  • First wave to last till May 30, second to begin from June 7-8 followed by third one in last week of June 
  • Heat wave to persist in Sindh province until June 3, to break in Punjab after June 4, Met office says

ISLAMABAD: The federal government is running an awareness campaign in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) amid an ongoing heat wave this month, state-run media reported as the Pakistan Meteorological Department predicted day-time temperatures to “remain above normal” in June also. 
Pakistan has been experiencing severe climatic changes due to global warming in recent years which has led to frequent heat waves, untimely rains and droughts.
On May 21, authorities had urged people to stay indoors ahead of a heat wave which is expected to last until the end of the month. An estimated 18 million students are also unable to attend classes because Pakistan’s most populous province Punjab ordered shutting down schools this month due to rising temperatures.
Chief Meteorologist Dr. Sardar Sarfaraz has also warned that the heat wave would “intensify” from May 23 onwards.
“Ministry of Climate Change and the NDMA are spreading mass awareness for the public through adopting preventive measures and to reduce its impacts through issuing adviseries, public service messages, ring back tone and awareness campaigns through television, radio and social media platforms,” Radio Pakistan reported.
Addressing a press conference, the Prime Minister’s Coordinator on Climate Change Romina Khurshid Alam said 26 districts of the country were in the grips of a heat wave since May 21. 
Alam said the first wave would last till May 30, the second would begin from June 7-8 and the third one in the last week of June. 
May and June were recorded as the “hottest and driest” with higher monthly average temperatures, she added, appealing to the masses, especially children and elderly, to adopt preventive measures.
She noted that the severity of heat waves had increased rapidly during the past few months with 13 districts of Sindh, nine of Punjab and four districts of Balochistan experiencing “severe heat.”
“Global warming is impacting the entire world, and we are seeing its effects in the form of these frequent and intense heat waves,” the official said, blaming deforestation and unsustainable environmental practices for the harsh weather conditions. 
“Public awareness campaigns through various media outlets are ongoing to educate people on the health risks and preventive measures.”
Alam said heat waves were accelerating the process of glacier melting and the risk of forest fires, advising the public to remain cautious in national parks, avoid discarding cigarette butts, leave vehicle windows slightly open, and ensure access to drinking water.
“NO RESPITE”
The NDMA is also urging people to stay hydrated and wear light-colored clothing to minimize the effects of heat and farmers to carry out agricultural activities keeping in mind the prevalent weather conditions. 
Met Department data showed Jacobabad, Dadu and Mohenjo Daro as the hottest places across the country, with temperature in these cities surging from 49°C on Wednesday to 50°C on Thursday. 
“The cities of Jacobabad, Dadu and Mohenjo Daro are known to have 50°C in May. Jacobabad had 52°C in April in 2022,” the chief meteorologist said.
“Harsh weather is likely to persist at least till June 3. There is no possibility for respite, at least for Sindh. The heat spell may break in parts of Punjab but that, too, after June 4.”
Climate change-induced extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis have died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. A deadly heat wave that hit Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, claimed 120 lives in 2015.
In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.


Lahore, Islamabad courts challenge Pakistan media regulator’s ban on reportage of court cases

Updated 35 min 31 sec ago
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Lahore, Islamabad courts challenge Pakistan media regulator’s ban on reportage of court cases

  • PEMRA ban came amid tensions between government, courts over alleged kidnapping of poet Ahmad Farhad 
  • Farhad’s family says he was abducted from his home on May 14 by officials from the military’s ISI spy agency 

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore and Islamabad high courts on Friday issued notices to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) while hearing petitions challenging a ban by the regulator on TV channels airing news, opinions and commentary on proceedings of ongoing court cases.
PEMRA announced the ban on Tuesday amid tensions between the government and the Islamabad High Court over hearings into the alleged kidnapping of Kashmiri poet Ahmad Farhad from outside his home on May 14. The poet’s family has filed a case with the IHC and accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of being behind his disappearance over social media posts critical of the military. The army has not commented on the development or the accusations by the family. 
Pakistan media had been extensively reporting on the hearings of the case this week, with the high court directing authorities to produce the missing poet within four days and fiercely criticizing intelligence agencies for overstepping their jurisdiction.
“The Lahore High Court (LHC), during the hearing of pleas conducted by Justice Abid Aziz Shaikh, also ordered the electronic media watchdog to respond to its notice on May 29,” Pakistan’s Geo News reported. Multiple other Pakistani news websites also reported that the LHC and IHC had sent notices to PEMRA over the ban.
Petitioners against the PEMRA ban have said it is in violation of Article 10-A, 19 and 19-A of the constitution of Pakistan, which pertain to the right to a fair trial as well as freedom of speech and right to information. One of the pleas also requested the court to reject the prosecutor’s plea and declare it “inadmissible” and the PEMRA notification “null and void.”
Petitions challenging the ban have been filed in the Sindh, Lahore and Islamabad high courts as well as the Supreme Court.
Journalists in Pakistan are increasingly reporting on growing media censorship, with many blaming Pakistan’s powerful military for putting pressure on critical voices. The military has repeatedly denied it suppresses the press. 
“TV channels are directed to refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings and shall only report the written orders of the court,” the PEMRA notification said on Tuesday. 
The regulator also directed TV channels to air “no content including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of sub judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal.”
However, PEMRA allowed TV channels to report on court proceedings if they were broadcast live by the judiciary.


Pakistan approves $8 million to pay severance packages of PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York

Updated 24 May 2024
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Pakistan approves $8 million to pay severance packages of PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York

  • Pakistan’s national airline bought the Roosevelt Hotel in 1999 for $36.5 million 
  • Islamabad is pushing for privatization of state entities for a fresh IMF bailout

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Thursday approved $8 million to pay severance packages of the Pakistan International Airlines-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York, Pakistani state media reported, amid the South Asian country’s push for privatization of state entities.
The development came at an ECC meeting presided over by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, during which the Ministry of Aviation presented a summary to allow the utilization of $8 million available with National Bank of Pakistan to pay severance packages of the establishment.
Roosevelt Hotel, a 19-story building located at a prime location in New York, was inaugurated in Manhattan on September 22, 1924. Named after the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, Pakistan’s national airline leased it in 1979 through the Pakistan International Airlines Investments Limited (PIA-IL). 
Saudi Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud was also one of the investors in the 1979 investment deal, though the PIA decided to buy the hotel for $36.5 million in 1999 and later struck a deal with its Saudi partner in 2005 to buy his share in the property as well. 
“The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Thursday approved $8 million to pay severance packages and operational expenses of the Roosevelt Hotel,” the state-run APP news agency reported.
In 2021, the government of then prime minister Imran Khan had allowed the release of $27.3 million for the payment of liabilities accumulated by the hotel, which permanently closed its door on October 31, 2020, after remaining operational since 1924.
A year earlier, it had also approved $142 million for the PIA-IL last year to meet the hotel’s financial challenges.
The $8 million severance grant comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization and reforms in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as it negotiates with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a fresh bailout program, for which Islamabad must implement an ambitious reforms agenda, including the privatization of debt-ridden SOEs.
Among the main entities Pakistan is pushing to privatize is its national flag carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), while the government is putting on the block a stake ranging from 51 percent to 100 percent.
The South Asian country, which has been facing low foreign exchange reserves, currency devaluation and high inflation, last month completed a short-term $3 billion IMF program that helped stave off a sovereign default, but the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has stressed the need for a fresh, longer-term program to keep the $350 billion economy afloat.


First batch of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrives in Jeddah

Updated 24 May 2024
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First batch of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrives in Jeddah

  • A total of 34,316 Pakistanis reached Madinah by May 23 in first phase of Pakistan’s pre-Hajj flight operation
  • As many as 114 flights will be transporting another 34,422 Pakistani pilgrims to Jeddah from May 24 to June 9

ISLAMABAD: The first batch of 720 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrived in Jeddah on Friday, Pakistani state media reported, a day after Pakistan diverted its pre-Hajj flights from Madinah.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
These 720 Pakistani pilgrims departed from Islamabad and Karachi under the Makkah Route initiative and arrived via Saudia airline flights that landed at the King Abdulaziz International Airport, the APP news agency reported.
“The first flight SV-3705, with 370 passengers on board, arrived by 5 a.m. (local time) and the second SV-3727 landed at 6:10 a.m. carrying 350 Hajj pilgrims,” the report read.
Head of Pakistan Hajj Mission Abdul Wahab Soomro, Consul General Khalid Majeed and senior officials of the Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs as well as representatives of the Saudi government welcomed the pilgrims.
Under the Makkah Route initiative, the passengers directly left for their hotels avoiding long queues at the immigration counters and their luggage was shifted automatically to their residences.
In the first phase of Pakistan’s pre-Hajj flight operation, a total of 34,316 Pakistanis reached Madinah by May 23 through 146 flights, according to the report.
From May 24 to June 09, as many as 114 flights will be transporting 34,422 Pakistanis to Jeddah.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators.
This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Security of Chinese workers tops agenda as Islamabad, Beijing hold key investment meeting

Updated 24 May 2024
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Security of Chinese workers tops agenda as Islamabad, Beijing hold key investment meeting

  • Pakistan has said over 50 projects worth $25 billion under CPEC umbrella completed since 2015
  • Chinese interests increasingly under attack in recent years by separatist and other militant groups 

KARACHI: Pakistan and China are holding a virtual meeting of the 13th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) today, Friday, with the security of Chinese organizations and personnel working in the South Asian nation expected to be at the top of the agenda.
China is a major ally and investor in Pakistan but both separatist and other militants have attacked Chinese projects in recent months, killing Chinese personnel, including five Chinese workers who perished in a suicide attack on Mar. 26 while on their way to the Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan’s northwest.
The hydropower project falls under the ambit of CPEC, a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative through which it has pledged more than $65 billion for road, rail and other infrastructure developments in the South Asian nation of 241 million people. Pakistan has said more than 50 projects worth $25 billion under the CPEC umbrella have been completed since the project was launched in 2015.
On Friday, the 13th JCC meeting formally began with a minute of silence in honor of the Chinese nationals killed in the March suicide bombing, with Pakistan’s planning ministry describing them as “heroes of Pakistan” whose contributions had supported the realization of CPEC.
“China and Pakistan have embarked on a journey of shared dreams working hand in hand to build high-quality development projects,” Pakistani Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said in his opening remarks at the meeting. “It is heartening to note the steady progress CPEC has made since its inception in 2013.”
He lauded President Xi Jinping’s vision to forge an “upgraded version” of CPEC and turn it into a growth, livelihood-enhancing, innovation, green and regional connectivity corridor to align it with Pakistan’s 5E socio-economic framework approved last year for the promotion of exports, energy, environment, equity and empowerment.
“We are ready to work with NDRC [National Development and Reform Commission of China] to finalize the scope and implementation plan on these corridors,” Iqbal added.
The minister detailed a number of projects completed so far under CPEC, including the construction of around 888 kilometers of motorways and highways. He said an 884-megawatt hydropower project at Sukhi Kinari, worth $1.7 billion, was under construction and expected to be commissioner later this year. 
Three hydel power projects and one coal-based Gwadar power project with a generation capacity of 2,100 megawatts were in advanced stages of completion, Iqbal added. 
Beijing has also over the years readily provided financial assistance to bail out its often-struggling neighbor, including in July last year when China granted Pakistan a two-year rollover on a $2.4 billion loan, giving the debt-saddled nation much-needed breathing space as it tackled a balance-of-payments crisis.
But Chinese projects and interests have also increasingly come under attack in recent years. 
The Dasu assault in March was the third major one in a little over a week on China’s interests and followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects including a deep-sea port, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest.
Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.
Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.
Pakistan is home to twin insurgencies, one mounted by religiously-motivated militants and the other by ethnic separatists who seek secession, blaming the government’s inequitable division of natural resources in southwestern Balochistan province.
Chinese interests are mostly under attack primarily by ethnic militants seeking to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan, but that area is far from the site of the Mar. 26 bombing.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s top economic body approved $2.5 million in compensation for families of Chinese workers who were killed in the Mar. 26 Dasu attack.