PM rejects audit report on inflated electricity bills, orders refund to consumers

ISLAMABAD: Rejecting an audit report on inflated electricity bills, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered concerned authorities to refund overcharged bill money to consumers, Express News reported on Friday.

The audit report submitted to the premier revealed that energy consumers were charged over Rs2 billion in over-billing in July.

The report was presented during a special cabinet meeting called to discuss the issue of over-billing and performance of various ministries particularly Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of Planning and Reform and Ministry of Railways.

According to the audit, the over-billing was a result of debt adjustment, wrong meter reading and incorrect bills.

The report, however, failed to hold any official responsible. The prime minister, however, rejected the report and called for a reassessment.

Officials said the Cabinet meeting could continue for three days, and could possibly continue after Muharram and the prime minister’s visit to China in the first week of November.

Over-billing

Distribution companies, which install electricity meters, had allegedly put up meters which functioned at a fast pace, hence increasing electricity costs. However, power companies were reportedly not aware of this issue.

As per government policy, meter readings for July should be taken again and additional money should be repaid to the consumers.


Cooperation body: Pakistan elected to UN Economic, Social Council

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has been elected member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for a three-year term starting January 1st, 2015.

Pakistan secured 181 out of a total of 186 votes cast by member states at the election held at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. A country required two-thirds majority of 124 to win a seat in the elections.

Pakistan was contesting for one of three Asian seats in the body. The other Asian countries elected were India and Japan.

This overwhelming support of the international community manifests confidence in Pakistan’s diplomacy and is an acknowledgment and appreciation of Pakistan’s longstanding commitment and contribution to the United Nations.

The 54-member body is one of principal organs of the United Nations mandated with the important task of coordination, policy review and formulating recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as for implementation of the internationally agreed development goals.

Pakistan’s election as a member of Ecosoc comes at a critical time when the UN-led deliberations to shape the Post-2015 development agenda are underway. Pakistan has remained actively engaged in this process.

Upon taking seat at the Ecosoc next year, Pakistan will continue its constructive engagement with the international community to help shape the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will have elimination of abject poverty by 2030 as its overarching goal.

Pakistan will work with member states to make the Ecosoc stronger and more responsive to the contemporary social, economic and environmental challenges.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2014.


Fox News documentary: Soldier who killed OBL to reveal identity

WASHINGTON: The US Navy Seal commando who fired the shots which killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden (OBL) is to reveal his identity in a Fox News television documentary next month, the network announced on Wednesday.

“The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden” will air in two segments November 11-12, with the commando recounting his role in the raid that killed bin Laden at his Pakistani compound in 2011.

The Navy Seal “will share his story of training to be a member of America’s elite fighting force and explain his involvement in Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that killed bin Laden,” the network said in a press release.

“Offering never before shared details, the presentation will include ‘The Shooter’s’ experience in confronting bin Laden, his description of the terrorist leader’s final moments as well as what happened when he took his last breath,” it said.

The program would also offer a look at a “secret” ceremony in which the commando donated the shirt he was wearing during the mission to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, it said.

The nighttime raid on May 2, 2011 saw a team of Navy Seals in Blackhawk helicopters swooping on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad.  There were no casualties among US forces, who killed bin Laden and four others at the compound.

The operation was ordered by President Barack Obama after the CIA traced bin Laden’s courier to the high-walled compound. Fox News Channel is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2014.


Inquiry commission’s report: ‘Starvation not the cause of Thar deaths’

KARACHI: 

An inquiry commission formed on April 14 to probe negligence in handling the drought that led to deaths of 234 people, mostly children, in Tharparkar placed the onus of blame on the Sindh Health Department and elected representatives of the area. 

The commission’s report, available with The Express Tribune, also criticised the Provincial Disaster Management Authority’s role in dealing with the drought.

Members of the commission, retired judges Syed Aley Maqbool Rizvi and Syed Jamil Raza Zaidi, led by Justice Zahid Kurban Alavi, visited Tharparkar several times and interviewed families of victims, doctors, health experts,  elected representatives and civil servants.

The report says that the Thar region has historically been neglected by those in power.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Justice Alavi said the commission wanted to suggest a possible structure for development but that went beyond their mandate. He said it was unfortunate that two former chief ministers and a prime minister hailed from the region yet the development indicators for the area remained abysmal.

Alavi said millions of rupees were given to parliamentarians of the region. “I don’t know where the money goes or when they will spend it on development, especially in health and education sectors,” Justice Alavi said.

“If we can take natural gas from Sui to Quetta through mountainous terrain, surely we can transport potable water to the residents of Thar?”

The inquiry report says that district health officers are supposed to be aware of the goings-on in their districts. One hospital in Mithi cannot take care of residents of the entire district.

The report says that the death toll would not have been so high if residents were provided sufficient medical facilities in their areas of residence. Similarly, the drought could have been averted if the government had a comprehensive strategy to deal with it.

The report quotes residents of the area as saying many people die each year. The official death toll only takes count of people who died in Mithi Hospital, Tharparkar. As many as 439 people died in 2011, 588 in 2013, and 234 in 2014.

In his statement before the commission, Health Secretary Iqbal Durrani said the plight of Tharparkar came to light in February while the Health Department had begun rehabilitating people towards the end of December, 2013.

When asked about the lack of health facilities, he said they had appointed 53 doctors to Mithi Hospital, of which only 20 had joined. He said most of the mothers gave birth to children on sand as a result of which the newborns developed infections of all sorts. “No matter how many doctors we appoint, they’re still going to turn to their local midwives.”

The report does not mention starvation as a cause of death.

National Institute of Child and Health Care Hospital Director Jamal Raza, who visited Tharparkar to set up camps, told the commission that while many among the children he had checked suffered from dysentery and skin infections, chronic malnutrition was the most common ailment – even the mothers were malnourished.

The commission recommended incentivised mandatory service of three years for doctors in the area without political interference. “Doctors who refuse to work in Thar should be asked to leave.”

The report calls for basic health centres and hospitals with doctors, safe water and adequate equipment.

Army to help Tharis

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of reports of famine in Tharparker and directed the Army to provide food and medicine to the people there. He also directed the National Disaster Management Authority to submit a report in this regard. Nawaz has asked the BISP to submit a report on financial assistance given to residents of Thar in the last six months.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2014.


34 Indian transit passengers taken to Lahore hotel by PIA crew: FIA

LAHORE: Pakistan International Airlines crew allegedly took 34 Indian passengers to a local hotel in Lahore despite them not having the relevant visas, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said in a report, Express News reported on Friday.

According to initial reports, the Indian passengers from New Delhi were flying to Saudi Arabia with a stopover in Pakistan.

The PIA crew took the passengers to the hotel, bypassing FIA check points inside the airport. The passengers reportedly spent a night at the hotel.

The FIA has compiled a report on this issue and will submit it to the concerned authorities.

As per the law, transit passengers should remain within a designated area usually inside the airport.