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Caretakers rule out relief in power bills



• Elected govt can review accords with IPPs, caretakers unable to withdraw free power quotas: finance minister
• SBP deputy chief says market-based exchange rate followed, refuses to intervene
• Senators express concerns over inflation, high policy rate, inflated bills; demand remedies

ISLAMABAD: In a reality check following almost week-long consultations, caretaker Finance Minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar on Wednesday told senators and the electricity consumers to “manage (their) expectations” raised by caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar for relief in excessive power bills, saying the country’s fiscal space did not permit any subsidy or relief.

“Please manage your expectations,” she said apparently after engagements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the government’s desire for some programme relaxations to provide relief in power bills. “These are things that were approved long before we came and in order to examine things we need to really reflect on…these are there for decades. How can we change decades-old policies,” she said.

Appearing before the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue, Dr Akhtar said there had been staff-level discussions with the IMF and she assured the fund that it was the responsibility of the caretakers to fulfil the requirements of the agreements signed by the previous government.

The minister said she was not “worried about the IMF” but what bothered her the most was the country’s worst than anticipated economic situation and the pressure on fiscal account did not provide room for subsidies except to protect the most vulnerable through higher social safety nets, like BISP.

The Senate committee demanded that immediate steps be taken to reduce electricity theft, end free electricity, and charging fuel costs older than six months should be done away with. Dr Shamshad said the privilege of free electricity was a decades-old policy that could not be withdrawn immediately as it could create legal challenges.

AJK PM shares grievances

In a rare development, Azad Jammu and Kashmir PM Anwarul Haq also attended the meeting to record a protest on behalf of his government and the people of Azad Kashmir on what he called ‘serious discrimination’. He said AJK produced about 2600mw of cheaper hydropower and required only 350mw but the state government was neither being given due share in net hydel profit as permissible to provinces under Article 157 nor under the National Finance Commission (NFC) that entitled it to about 3.64pc share in federal resources.

He said the finance ministry deducted its finances by Rs61bn on account of electricity bills while no federal institution was taking responsibility for Rs400bn payables to AJK on account of Mangla dam water charges or hydel profit on Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower project that was operating for about five years without any agreement with the state government. He said his request for resources to increase in salaries in the recent budget in line with federal and provincial employees was not accepted and he had to divert Rs900 million in development funds to compensate 109,000 government employees.

The AJK premier said the ministry of finance extended Rs70-90bn to AJK as a “grant”. “This is not a grant but our right against resources we contribute,” he said and warned that this was the “last generation emotionally associated” with Pakistan as the social media was changing the landscape and the youth were comparing prices and rights with India and asking questions.

The committee directed the finance minister to personally lead engagements with the AJK government and federal entities as their issues were legitimate and needed redressal urgently.

Dr Shamshad hoped all the stakeholders would jointly be able to resolve the political and economic problems facing the country and promised to give a detailed briefing to the Senate panel next week. She said while foreign inflows faced disruptions, outflows were going on. “Right now we cannot do anything irresponsible that further aggravates the situation. We have to tread very carefully” within the IMF benchmarks because inflows from bilateral and multilateral were also dependent on the IMF.

‘Mobilisation of domestic resources’

She said the mobilisation of domestic resources through capital markets was currently in focus and proactive consultations were taking place with stockholders and the industry in harnessing these avenues. “If we are able to do it successfully, the coming government would be in a very comfortable position,” she said adding that the country was dependent on imported fuel-based electricity and a fixed rate of return to power plants which was ultimately passed on to the consumers.

She said the previous governments had instituted policies under which electricity and gas prices were required to be automatically passed on and because of fixed rates of returns, the consumers were under pressure. She said there was a need to wait for the elected government to come in to negotiate dollar-based fixed rates of returns with IPPs. “This has been a big mistake and nobody tried to fix it,” she added.

Exchange rate

The finance minister said a centralised department for SOEs was being established for stocktaking because the financial account was being managed with difficulty, as funds were being raised from the market at 22-23pc interest which was very inappropriate and the country was in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation.

SBP Deputy Governor Dr Inayat Hussain said the market-based exchange rate was being followed at present which could not be interfered with because of the IMF programme.

Senators said the high policy rate had further aggravated the rate of inflation and increased the debt burden. Dr Inayat conceded that the policy rate had been increased for demand suppression but supply-side constraints and supply-chain disruptions reduced its effectiveness owing to Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Interestingly, Senator Sherry Rehman, who remained a federal minister until August 9 in the PDM government, said the situation was very serious and added that various taxes in power bills should be urgently abolished. She said there were now reports that fresh surcharges were being imposed. “How would an average person pay these bills,” the PPP leader wondered.

The Senate panel expressed concerns over the growing dollar instability, unprecedented electricity costs, and a 22pc interest rate that are making it challenging for current businesses to survive and thrive.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2023


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Pan helps China light up pool after first eSports medals



HANGZHOU: Teen sensation Pan Zhanle swam a freestyle leg at world record pace to drive China to the men’s 4×100 metres medley relay gold at the Asian Games on Tuesday after the hosts claimed the first title at eSports’ official debut in the multi-sport event.

Two nights after becoming the first Asian swimmer to break the 47 seconds barrier in the 100 metres freestyle, 19-year-old Pan clocked an incredible 46.65 as China threatened the United States’ world record.

Pan’s time was 0.21 seconds faster than the 100m world record held by another 19-year-old wunderkind, Romanian David Popovici.

With world champion Qin Haiyang swimming the breaststroke leg in 57.63 seconds — faster than the Asian record — China won in three minutes 27.01 seconds, just outside the US world record of 3:26.78 from the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“We thought we would have to wait until next year to come close to the world record, so tonight we put in a really good performance,” said Qin, who owns the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke world titles. “There must be a higher goal. Our goal has always been to win the gold medal at the Paris Olympics next year.”

China have ruled the Hangzhou pool — and the Games in general. Olympic bronze medallist Li Bingjie won the women’s 400m freestyle to add to the medal haul.

However, Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey has been a bulwark of resistance to China’s dominance.

The former British colony’s first Olympic swimming medallist stormed to victory in the blue riband 100m freestyle with an Asian record swim of 52.17 seconds, a day after taking the 200 title.

“I haven’t swum a [personal] best time since Tokyo,” said 25-year-old Haughey, who took the 100 and 200 silvers at the Olympics. “It just proves that I’m not at my peak yet.”

China took four of the six golds on the night. The other went to Tomoru Honda, who stunned exhausted Japanese team-mate Daiya Seto in the 400m medley.


Gaming is making its debut as a medal event in Hangzhou in what is seen as a major step towards Olympic status one day.

Audiences of overwhelmingly young spectators have packed out the 4,500-capacity Hangzhou Esports Center in the hope of catching one of their heroes, especially South Korea’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.

He will lead the Koreans in League of Legends — and controversially earn an exemption from military service if they win gold.

Medals are up for grabs in seven gaming titles, with China grabbing the first gold when they defeated Malaysia in the final of smartphone game Arena of Valor. Malaysia take home silver and Thailand bronze

“The audience who loves eSports and the veterans in the eSports industry have been looking forward to this for a long time,” China’s captain Luo Siyuan said after his team’s historic victory. “I believe that eSports will develop more and more in the future.”

Underlining just how popular eSports is at the Games, it is the only competition in Hangzhou where tickets were allocated through an initial online lottery.

China’s place in the Games record books helped the home nation stretch their lead atop the medals table with golds in their usual strengths of gymnastics, table tennis and shooting to increase their overall tally to 53 at the end of three days of action.

They are way ahead of South Korea (14 golds), Japan (eight) and Uzbekistan and Hong Kong (both five).


China’s all-powerful table tennis squad swept past rivals Japan 3-0 in the women’s team final. They also claimed men’s team gold over South Korea by the same scoreline.

In artistic gymnastics, home favourite and twice world champion Zhang Boheng grabbed his second gold, adding the all-around individual title to his men’s team triumph on Sunday.

Unbeaten in every rotation, Zhang stuck the landing in the horizontal bar to finish with a total score of 89.299, over two points clear of Japan’s runner-up Takeru Kitazono.

But China were dethroned by Japan in the men’s team sprint at the Chun’an Jieshou Sports Centre Velodrome on the first day of action on the cycling track.

Japanese rider Yoshitaku Naga­sako said his team thrived on the partisan crowd. “When I heard ‘China’ I just thought ‘Japan’. So the crowd was amazing,” he said. “I’m really proud to win this one.”

China’s women made no mistake in their team sprint final, beating South Korea to the title.

In other action, Hong Kong retained their men’s rugby sevens title when they beat South Korea 14-7 in the final, as hosts China won the women’s gold.


The Games had a royal touch when Thailand’s Princess Sirivannavari Mahidol rode in on a horse named ‘Es Fangar’s Samba King’ in the dressage team event.

With Thailand finishing fifth — behind gold-winning India — the 36-year-old daughter of King Vajiralongkorn was unable to add a medal to the crown jewels

“Luckily our father is supporting us,” said the princess, who pla­yed badminton at the 2006 Asian Games and competed in equestrian at the 2014 edition. “He knows that what drives my heart is horses and badminton.”

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2023


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India resumes internet ban in restive Manipur after protests



India has reimposed an internet ban on the restive Manipur state after violent protests erupted following the circulation of photographs of two dead students killed during the months-long conflict, officials said.

More than 150 people have been killed in the remote northeast state since armed clashes broke out in May between the predominantly Hindu Meitei majority and the mainly Christian Kuki community.

The far-flung state has fractured on ethnic lines with rival militia groups setting up blockades.

A nearly five-month-long internet ban was lifted last week, but was reimposed late Tuesday after dozens were injured during violent protests in the state capital Imphal.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas as hundreds of angry students marched following the release of photographs of two dead bodies on social media, a 17-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man from the Meitei community, local media reported. The pair went missing in July.

The internet was then cut to curb the “spread of disinformation, false rumours, and other types of violent activities through social media platforms”, a government order read.

Biren Singh, the state’s chief minister, said on late Tuesday that officers were investigating the deaths.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for his administration’s failure to end the violence in the state, which is governed by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Human Rights Watch has accused the Manipur authorities of facilitating the conflict with “divisive policies that promote Hindu majoritarianism”.

Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the opposition Congress party, on Wednesday accused the ruling party of turning Manipur “into a battlefield”, in a post on X.


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Avastin use banned for indefinite period



LAHORE: The Punjab government has slapped a ban on the use of Avastin injection for eye patients for an indefinite period across the province, besides launching a portal to collect data of the patients affected by the drug and provide them treatment facilities.

The data collection through the portal launched by the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department will help the government prepare a policy regarding the use of the injection.

Provincial health ministers Dr Jamal Nasir and Dr Javed Akram said this while addressing a joint press conference here on Tuesday.

They said the ban was imposed as a high-level inquiry was underway to find out the prime factors leading to vision loss among patients administered the injection in Punjab.

68 affected patients have surfaced in Punjab so far

They asked the affected patients to provide necessary information on the portal to get treatment and help the government in assessing the true impact of the drug’s reaction.

They said that so far 68 patients affected by this injection have been reported in the province, for whom special beds have been allocated in the Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi, Mayo Hospital, Lahore and Nishtar Hospital, Multan.

The ministers said a new 10-member committee has also been constituted by Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi to analyse the situation caused by Avastin injection’s reaction.

The committee will point out deficiencies and weaknesses at various levels in handling and use of the injection and prepare a comprehensive action plan to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future.

Primary Healthcare Minister Dr Jamal Nasir said this injection, available in the market in 100mg pack, was primarily meant for the treatment of colon cancer and its use for the treatment of eyes in diabetic patients falls under the category of “off-label” use, adding that the injection was neither fake nor locally manufactured.

“The diabetes patients require only 1.2mg dose and some people sell this injection in small syringes for this purpose,” Dr Nasir said.

He said the injection should be kept at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius temperature and administered to the patient within six hours of opening the pack. However, he said, apparently due to increase in temperature its chemical composition changed and this might have happened because of not maintaining the required temperature during its transportation.

Dr Nasir said that efforts were under way to arrest those who sold this injection in small syringes illegally, adding that the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) has also been directed to trace the doctors and hospitals involved in this issue.

The minister said that 11 drug inspectors in eight cities of Punjab have been suspended from service and an inquiry has been ordered against them for failing to check the illegal sale of the injection in small doses.

Punjab Specialized Healthcare Department Minister Dr Javed Akram said new members have been added to the committee constituted by the chief minister, including Professor of Microbiology Dr Sidra, Professor of Ophthalmology Dr Moin and Professor of Forensic Medicine Dr Allah Rakha.

He said the committee would also inspect the premises where the injection was being packaged in small syringes and determine whether those places were suitable for the process or not.

Apart from this, he said, the record of temperature maintained during shipment, off-loading and transportation etc of the “contaminated” lot of the injection would also be sought from Switzerland-based company.

Dr Akram apprehended that it seemed good clinical practices had not been taken into account while using this injection for eye treatment. He said it was mandatory to seek consent of the patient in local language before administering the injection, adding that those responsible for this episode would be held accountable without any leniency.

PHC: The Board of Commissioners of the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) has directed the senior management of the commission to be prepared for special inspections of the hospitals where eye infection cases were reported due to the administration of Avastin injection to the patients.

The directions were issued in an emergent meeting of the PHC Board of Commissioners (BoC) headed by chairperson retired Justice Muhammad Bilal Khan.

A representative of the PHC, who had attended the meeting of the recently formed committee by the government also attended the BoC meeting.

He briefed the BoC regarding the proceedings of the meeting convened by both interim health ministers – Prof Javed Akram and Dr Jamal Nasir.

The BoC was informed that the issues related to import, compounding and dispensing of the dosage for eye patients will be investigated by the committee, while the PHC was asked to investigate the practices in the hospitals where the injection was administered.

After deliberations, the BoC directed the PHC senior management to make preparations for any action, especially, the inspections of the hospitals where the infections have been reported.

The BoC also ordered inspections of these healthcare establishments to ensure implementation of the minimum service delivery standards, especially pertaining to infection protection and control, medication management, qualifications of the medics, and sterilisation of operation theatres.

The BoC also ordered issuance of an advisory for the affected patients to initiate complaint about these incidents. For this, they can also WhatsApp their complaints at 0306 0843500, for initiation of investigation by the PHC.

In a related development, the Lahore police arrested a suspect, Bilal, from Arifwala, in connection with Avastin injection scam.

The police said a case had been registered against the suspect by Faisal Town police.

A special police team investigating the case traced the location of the suspect at Arifwala and arrested him in a raid on a premises, with the help of local police, sources said.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2023


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