Tag Archives: some

Debt threat: Some power producers sitting idle

ISLAMABAD: Despite hefty payments running into hundreds of billions of rupees, the ghost of circular debt is still haunting the government, as some power producers are sitting idle because of fears of an increase in debt.

Speaking to the media after the signing of an agreement for a 50-megawatt wind energy project here on Wednesday, Minister of Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif said a tug of war was going on between the government and power thieves and power plants were lying unutilised due to concerns about the circular debt.

Those stealing electricity were raising hue and cry only to win some relief from the government, he said.

Asif said power thieves were staging protests in different parts of the country though the tussle between the thieves and government continued.

He alleged that some big guns were behind the unabated power theft and admitted the government’s failure to convince provinces to pay their dues through a federal adjuster.

Asif said consumers were facing up to eight hours of outages in urban areas but stressed that the government was not resorting to unannounced power shutdown anywhere in the country. At present, power shortfall was estimated at 2,500MW, he added.

The water and power ministry and Yunus Energy inked the agreement for the wind energy project. Besides representatives of Yunus Energy, officials of the water and power ministry were present.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2014.

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Prisoners release: Some elements pressuring govt, says Major Aamir

SWABI: 

Some elements are ‘pressuring’ the government over the issue of the release of ‘non-combatants’, according former government negotiator Major (retd) Aamir. Speaking with the media on Monday, he said the government ‘should only consider the fear of Allah when making any decision in this regard’.

“In my opinion, interlinking the issue of release of innocent people from prisons and those in captivity of others with peace dialogue is wrong,” he said. He said the question of the release of Professor Ajmal Khan, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son and Shahbaz Taseer had also been raised with the Taliban.

Major Aamir said the appointment of PML-N senior leader Sardar Mehtab Abbasi as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor will aid the negotiations process.

He said the government negotiators hope that the new governor will bring ‘water tankers’ from Islamabad to Peshawar rather than ‘oil tankers’ in order to ‘extinguish the blazing fire of unrest in the region’.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2014.


Some advice for Narendra Modi

It is generally accepted that Narendra Modi has run a campaign that has stayed away from communal references. His focus has been on attacking the incompetence and nepotism of the Congress and to a smaller extent, that of the regional forces who are opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the states.

It is true that in taking this track, Modi becomes overly aggressive in tone. He demands not only the defeat of the BJP’s rival but a Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India). This takes political rivalry into the realm of enmity. The latest BJP online ad issues to Indians “the command to destroy the virus that has infected India for the last 60 years”.

The BJP should be careful. Its record of whipping up emotions and then not being able to control the mobs that it has fired up is not very good. But his staying away from mischief was a relief. Until now.

This week, he again turned to a subject that he seems incapable of resisting, and one which will stir trouble in foreign policy once he takes charge.

Modi said at a rally: “Three AKs have emerged as the unique strength for Pakistan. One is AK-47 which has been used to cause bloodshed in Kashmir. The second is A K Antony, who informs the [Indian] parliament that people wearing the dress of Pakistan Army beheaded our soldiers while our army says Pakistanis had done so”. He demanded to know: “Who do you want to benefit with your statement?”

Then he went after someone he is beginning to see as a threat, Arvind Kejriwal, nicknamed AK-49 because he resigned after 49 days as chief minister in Delhi. Modi said: “The map on his party’s website has shown Kashmir in Pakistan. A senior member of his party is shouting himself hoarse demanding a plebiscite in Kashmir. Pakistan is dancing over their statements. These agents of Pakistan, enemies of India, they are speaking the language of Pakistan.”

Why bring Pakistan into this? It is not a major issue in the election. It is not a major trading partner for India and in no way an obstacle or even an irritant to India’s path to growth. The unresolved problems with it are almost 70 years old and not pressing in any way. The fact is that the atavistic Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s view of South Asian Muslims as being either traitors (Indian Muslims) or enemies (Pakistanis and Bangladeshis) is too ingrained in Modi for him to resist. For the BJP voter, Pakistan is to be conflated with “Muslim” and that also brings in the poor Indian Muslim, who is guilty by association.

In every single election Modi has contested — and this is the fourth — he has brought up, in some or the other manner, this instinctive dislike of his. He has rallied Gujaratis with attacks on “Mian Musharraf” and “Mian Ahmed Patel”.

On a TV debate, a BJP spokesman said that this was not offensive in Hyderabad, where “Mian” is a sign of respect. I replied that this was not true in Gujarat, where the statement was made. For us, the word “Mian” is nothing other than a signal that the person is Muslim and different from “us”.

Modi also clings to the clichéd view of Muslims as polygamous and more fecund than Hindus. In one notorious reference he used the phrase ‘hum paanch hamare pacchhees’ to riff on the ‘hum do hamare do’ population control line of the government. For Modi and other Sanghis, all Muslim males aspire to four wives and all those wives produce five children. This view also extends to Christians.

He informed Indians, most of whom did not know or care, that the chief election commissioner Modi thought was being too tough on him was a Christian. He did this by referring to James Michael Lyngdoh, a man previously known to Indians only through his initials.

Modi does not need to go the communal route in this election (though he has not needed that in the Gujarat polls either). The Congress is on the ropes and this is because of its record on corruption, legislation and governance. Modi is justifiably the man who is reaping the benefit of this. All opinion polls say he will win, differing only very slightly on his margins. So why stir up mischief where it is neither needed nor, in my opinion, productive?

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.

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Window opening : Some spectrum available for all telecom operators

KARACHI: 

With the country moving closer to the spectrum auction for the next-generation mobile internet services, there is a likelihood that all four operators that are in the race for at least one 3G licence may end up securing some spectrum in 2100 mega hertz (MHz) band.

There is a possibility of four 3G licences – that will be auctioned on April 23 – instead of three, the Islamabad-based IT and telecom blog Propakistani said quoting sources with direct knowledge of the subject.

If the Pakistan Tele-communication Authority – the telecom regulatory body responsible for the spectrum auction – chose that route, it would do so to equip four operators with next-generation licences. This would be to develop a more competitive telecom market in Pakistan in the post 3G era, according to Propakistani.

Talking to The Express Tribune, sources, who are familiar with the current developments at PTA, confirmed the possibility whereby four operators might secure a 3G licence as pointed by the blog.

“This is certainly possible that each of the four operators may win some spectrum in 3G band but it will be decided based on the level of competition once the sealed bids are opened,” said an official who requested not to be named. Barring Warid Telecom, each of the remaining cellular mobile operators want at least one 3G licence to survive in the hypercompetitive telecom industry, according to market sources.

The government wants to auction 30MHz of spectrum in the 3G band or 2100MHz band and four operators are in the race, if no new player submits a bid. As per the terms and conditions of the information memorandum (IM) – the main policy document for the spectrum auction – there is a possibility that PTA could create two lots of 5MHz of spectrum in the 3G band. If the telecom regulator chose that route, all four operators would be able to launch 3G services.

The telecom regulator, according to Propakistani, has created four lots for the spectrum auction. Lot A includes one 3G spectrum of 10 MHz from the 2100Mhz band and one 4G spectrum of 10 MHz from the 1800Mhz band. Likewise, Lot B includes one 3G spectrum of 10 MHz from 2100MHz and one 4G spectrum of 10 MHz from 1800MHz – that is the government has tied two 4G licences to two 3G licences, meaning the bidders willing to buy a 4G licence will also have to buy a 3G one.

Lot C and Lot D each include one 3G spectrum of 5MHz from 2100MHz Band – which means the remaining 10MHz can be split into two licences of 5MHz each.

According to sources, no operator can buy more than 15MHz in 3G band, while one operator can bid for one or two lots.

Among all the possibilities, there is a likelihood that two operators end up buying Lot A and Lot B respectively, while the third and fourth operator secure Lot C and Lot D respectively – which means four operators would win a 3G licence.

Asked if choosing that route would kill the competition, the official said, “Nothing is finalised and things will be clearer after PTA receives sealed bids.”

There might be a demand for 15MHz of spectrum by operators who wanted better network quality for their 3G service, he said. With the 15MHz spectrum, according to him, the service provider’s network capacity increases and it may not need additional cell sites. With the 5MHz spectrum, the service providers require more cell sites to maintain network quality – which is costly.

It is, therefore, early to predict any outcomes, the official says. “Maybe two operators bid for 15MHz each that will result in intense competition. Who knows,” he said.

Commenting about the state of competition in the bidding process, an independent expert said the auction was planned such that it would give a chance to each operator to buy a 3G licence if they wanted to survive in the post-3G scenario.

However, the only cost an operator would have to pay in case of buying a 5MHz option would be to install more cell sites (BTS towers) to maintain network quality. But with four operators winning 3G, the competition will result in a price war and that would benefit consumers.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2014.

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Performance evaluation: Some Hajj tour operators win ministry’s favours

ISLAMABAD: 

A private Hajj tour operator scored off the charts in an evaluation last year – awarded 20 marks out of 15 – the National Assembly subcommittee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony was informed.

Marks are allocated on the basis of services and hospitality offered by the tour operators and used to determine the inclusion of operators on merit lists and allocation of their Hajj pilgrims’ quota annually.

The subcommittee was informed that according to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan’s [SECP] website, ‘Top Care Hajj & Umrah Services (pvt) Limited’, based in Multan, were not alone in receiving such excess marks. Four other operators – Evershine Travels (pvt) Limited, Carvan Gojra Hajj and Umrah, Al-Khalid Hajj and Umrah Services (pvt) Limited and Al-Qaswa Hajj and Umrah Services (pvt) Limited – were also given such preferential treatment by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.

Ministry officials were asked to submit detailed records of all tour operators, which revealed that as many as 1,500 private tour operators filed complaints, saying they were not given marks reflecting their credentials. One private operator based in Lahore said he was awarded zero marks for ‘experience’, despite the fact that he has maintained this business for over two decades.

Ministry officials maintained that they were not responsible for such discrepancies as six chartered accountant firms scrutinized the credentials of the enrolled companies and awarded the marks.

However, when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Syed Imran Ahmed Shah, convenor of the committee, questioned the accountants’ credentials, he found the officials’ response unsatisfactory and questioned whether ‘bogus firms’ were hired for the task of awarding marks to operators; the committee has asked the ministry to submit records for the involved firms at the next meeting on April 29.

Additionally, the committee asked the ministry to submit records of 19 tour operators who were given quotas even as they failed to meet certain criteria.

The operators were asked to submit Umrah Agreements, a certificate from the International Air Transport Association, registration certificates from the SECP and audit reports.

Meanwhile, some tour operators approached the Lahore High Court, which judged that the ministry should invite bids for the allocation of quota instead of going through these accountant firms.

However, the Supreme Court deemed that the LHC cannot interfere in policy matters of the ministry in this manner.

Former State Minister for Religious Affairs Shagufta Jumani of the Pakistan Peoples Party came to the defence of Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Shahjahan, saying he might be unaware of such discrepancies, arguing that ‘ministry officials have done this during the rule of caretakers’.

Interestingly, it was the sub-committee’s convenor, Imran Ahmed Shah, who raised allegations of corruption against former PM Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son; at the time, Jumani was accused of being a beneficiary of this corruption, a charge that she denied.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2014.


Taking the initiative: As ‘copy culture’ grows, some students say no to cheating

SUKKUR: A large number of people can be seen outside examination centres for the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) part-I and part-II exams, providing ‘support’ to candidates.

The SSC part-I and part-II annual examinations started on April 2 and like every year, a large number of people can be seen helping the candidates cheat, with the approval of the police, the teachers and other school staff.

The Sukkur deputy commissioner has imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, according to which no one is allowed within 100 metres of examination centres. However, dozens of people can be seen hanging about the centres, despite the ban.

These ‘helpers’ send cheating material to candidates through the policemen deployed at the centres or through the school’s teaching and non-teaching staff. The cost of the ‘service’ often varies between Rs50 and Rs100, a cost that parents and students are more than willing to bear.

Due to the increase in cheating, the Sukkur Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education has constituted 26 vigilance teams to monitor the process at 200 centres. However, it is not possible for the vigilance teams to visit all examination centres, the controller of examinations, Abul Sami Soomro, told The Express Tribune. “We are taking all possible measures to curb cheating,” he added.

Self-control

Despite the prevalence of cheating at examination centres, Public School Sukkur is devoid of policemen and loiterers.

The Public School has seen radical changes since the Sukkur Institute of Business Administration (IBA) took over. A shortage of teachers has been addressed and special importance has been placed on efficient transfer of knowledge to students.

The students of the school have taken it upon themselves to end the ‘copy culture’ and are committed to proving their claim by saying no to cheating. Today was the first exam for class 10 – of English – and the candidates sat in a secluded auditorium and lived up to their claims.

“Till last year, most of us used to copy and cheat but our conscience always haunted us after it,” said a Public School student, Daniyal, while talking to The Express Tribnue. “I feel proud of myself for saying no to cheating and hope that other schools also follow our example.”

For other students of the school, the move does not represent a change. “I have never cheated in exams,” said Mahnoor, another student at the school. “I think teachers and parents are just as responsible for those who cheat as the students themselves since they need to nip the issue in the bud but most often fail to do so.”

Mahnoor’s words were echoed by her schoolmate Areesha. “The environment at home and at school are the main contributing factor towards cheating,” she said. “What is the point of education and getting degrees if you can’t even write a job application? I advise my fellow students to think about their future and to stop cheating.”

A proud school

Sukkur IBA director Nisar Ahmed Siddiqui told The Express Tribune that the school was adopted by the university in 2013. “We offered extra classes after school hours for students so that we could complete the syllabus,” said Siddiqui while discussing their efforts to ensure that the students do not need to cheat. “Our commitment motivated students to pointedly say no to cheating and I hope that other institutes follow suit.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2014.


Pakistan Superstar — some hope for upcoming musicians

LAHORE: 

Pakistan Superstar, Pakistan’s first online music reality show, has been in the works for a while. Headed by Farhan Ali and produced by Hassan Omer, two of the three members of music band Symt, this ambitious project aims at unearthing the musical talent of Pakistan.

After receiving nearly 3,000 entries from amateur musicians on its website, the project is shaping up.

“We were quite amazed by the entries we received. They show that there is so much talent and quality in the country,” says Ali. We [as a band] were able to release an album despite constraints, but there are so many others who are involved in music and don’t have a proper direction or avenue,” he continues.

The competition has entered its second phase, where 10-12 contestants will be shortlisted.

Each of these contenders will record two tracks each at the Walnut Studios over two weeks with the house band, which comprises Kami Paul on drums, Rupert Shahzad on keyboard, Waqar Ahmed on guitar, and Ravail Sattar on percussion.

The second round will essentially be divided into two parts: the first song each contestant sings will roughly determine who the top five are, but no one will be eliminated; the songs will then be posted online for public voting.

Out of the top three selected by the voters, one will end up winning the chance to record with the coveted record label Universal Music India.

Ali says the competition’s emphasis will be on supporting the musicians and providing them with musical facilities that may not be available to them otherwise.

By making the selection more democratic, the show attempts to distinguish itself from television-based music competitions.

“A lot of people complained that other musical competitions don’t base their decisions purely on talent and focus more on looks and image. We want to change that,” Ali shares.

In this regard, Ali says he has tried to go out of his way to accommodate submissions and spent hours ensuring that the submissions are received. In some cases, he even had a few hopefuls come to the studio and record there if they faced issues while making entries on the website.

The excitement surrounding the competition originates from the fact that it is an avenue dedicated solely to local musical talent, who don’t get the chance to perform live. One of the contestants from the top 12 has been a journeyman musician who has performed at various spots in the city.

“This opportunity was God sent. I am only a vocalist and have been trying to make it through. I performed a couple of times at the knowledge factory, but I didn’t get the type of response, which makes one want to pursue music full time,” says the 24-year-old musician.

His first recording experience took place at the Walnut Studios through the platform of Stage Monks. He finished his matriculation and has a diploma in electrical engineering. He now feels that this competition is an important aspect of his musical career.

“Music is my passion, so I knew I was not going to waste my time with the television reality shows. On this platform [Pakistan Superstar], I know that my talent will not be wasted,” he shared.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2014.

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