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GOVT MAY SACK HEADS OF POORLY PERFORMING POWER COMPANIES

The government may sack heads of three power distribution companies for consumer overbilling and failing to bring improvement and efficiency in the system.

Federal Minister for Power Division Sardar Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari directed on Thursday to issue final warnings and final notices to chief executive officers of Sukkur Electric Power Company (Sepco), Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (Hesco) and Quetta Electric Supply Company (Qesco).

He also gave directives for issuing final warning and show cause notice to Peshawar Electric Supply Company Chief Executive Officer Shabbir Ahmed for failing to comply with the directives regarding accurate meter reading and consumer billing.

The minister issued the directives in a review meeting attended by officials of the Power Division, Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco), Power Information Technology Company (PITC), Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) and other organisations concerned.

Show cause notices were issued to the CEOs of Sepco, Hesco and Qesco for poor performance regarding accurate meter reading through mobile phones and they were directed to fix responsibilities on the poorest performing five sub-division officers under existing rules. The federal minister appreciated the CEOs of Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (Fesco) and Multan Electric Power Company (Mepco) for achieving 99% accuracy in mobile meter reading.

FIVE FIRMS PLAN TO SET UP CELLPHONE ASSEMBLY LINES

After a long wait, Pakistan is finally going to start manufacturing mobile phones locally as five mobile companies are looking to set up their assembly lines in the country.

The development is set to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) worth millions of dollars and is expected to reduce the country’s growing import bill.

The companies that sought government’s permission to set up assembly lines include Haier, G5, Jio Phone, Mobo Mobiles and Foxconn.

Last month, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) issued guidelines for setting up assembly lines in Pakistan in a bid to step up the pace of digitalisation.

“We expect these companies to start manufacturing mobile phones in their plants soon,” a senior PTA official said.

“Mobile phone users in Pakistan are fast shifting to hi-tech products; of the 24 million mobile sets being imported in a year, almost half are smartphones,” he added.

Domestic manufacturing was expected to bring down phone prices and increase demand for smartphones, which would help achieve the goal of rapid digitalisation, he claimed.

China has been the hub of mobile phone manufacturing over the past one decade due to cheap labour. The resulting economic boom, however, has led to an increase in labour costs, which is also impacting cellphone prices in the international market.

“The government should frame a policy to provide incentives to the brands establishing assembly lines in Pakistan,” suggested a Samsung official in an email reply to a query.

PTA has insisted that all devices assembled in Pakistan should have clear marking stating “Assembled in Pakistan”.

IN A TURNAROUND, BUSINESS CONFIDENCE ENHANCES MARKEDLY

In what can be called a surprising survey result, a group of multinationals in Pakistan has said that business confidence in Pakistan has significantly improved over the last six months (May to October 2017).

According to the Business Confidence Index (BCI) survey – Wave 15, overall business confidence in Pakistan stands at a positive 21%, up eight percentage points from 13% in the Wave 14 results announced in May 2017.

BCI is a biannual assessment that has been sponsored by the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) – an association of over 195 multinationals operating in Pakistan – since June 2010.

The survey, which is based on responses from common companies as well as OICCI members, provides a comprehensive review of business aspects that is also indicative of the overall direction of the economy.

This 8% improvement reflects a major turnaround after negative trends recorded in the last two surveys – Wave 13 and Wave 14 – indicating that the business community is once again bullish and increasingly confident of the investment opportunities available in Pakistan, according to source.

However, the current score of 21% is significantly lower than the highest-ever BCI score of 36% recorded in the survey results issued in April 2016.

Latest survey results were largely influenced by the retail and wholesale trade sector, which led the upswing with 40% positive sentiment, a 27% improvement compared with the last survey.

The manufacturing sector followed with a confidence level of positive 16%, showing a substantial increase of 7% while the services sector at 15% net positive sentiment showed a marginal decline of 3%.

The current increase in BCI to 21% was mainly due to the significantly improved perception of the global as well as domestic business scenario over the past six months. This also includes positive business sentiments about the next six months.

RICE EXPORTERS SEEK GRANT TO SIDELINE INDIA IN EU MARKET

Rice exporters have sought government’s support to capture most of India’s $260-million rice business with the European Union as the 28-nation bloc has adopted a zero tolerance policy for the Tricyclazole chemical found in Indian grains.

Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) Chairman Chaudhry Sameeullah Naeem sought the assistance at a seminar organised by the association for the awareness of its members. Naeem emphasised that Pakistan could target India’s basmati rice market in the EU following upcoming application of stringent policies by the bloc to the presence of hazardous pesticides in the commodity.

From January 1, 2018, all countries that export basmati rice to the EU must bring down the maximum residue limit for Tricyclazole to 0.01mg per kg. Until now, the EU has been accepting 1mg per kg in rice shipped from different countries including India.

Naeem suggested that Pakistan could enhance rice exports to the EU from 150,000 tons to 350,000 tons by grabbing Indian exports of 200,000 tons which may be stopped due to the strict regulations.

Tricyclazole is a fungicide used by Indian farmers over more than 70% of basmati crop. But Pakistani farmers do not use such chemicals to protect their produce.

“Basmati varieties grown in Pakistan do not require the use of fungicide and we can gain from the restriction on Indian exports,” Naeem said.

India exported around 350,000 tons of rice worth $260 million to EU countries in the previous fiscal year. Of these, 70% had 1mg per kg of Tricyclazole.

He pressed the government to announce a grant to help promote Pakistani rice in the international store chains.

LNG IMPORT PROJECT CONSORTIUM HAS BEEN DISSOLVED

A consortium behind a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import project in Pakistan, including oil giant ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Qatar Petroleum, has been dissolved, shipping company Hoegh LNG said on Thursday.

Hoegh LNG was due to supply the project’s ship-based import terminal, a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU), where LNG brought in by tanker is converted back to gas to feed into Pakistan’s grid.

Other members of the consortium were Japan’s Mitsubishi and Turkish developer Global Energy Infrastructure (GEI).

“The consortium has spent considerable time and resources on finding (the project’s) final form and structure. However, by mid-November it has been concluded that no agreement with GEI could be found and the consortium has consequently been dissolved,” Hoegh LNG said in a statement.

Last month, it was reported that ExxonMobil pulled out of the project owing to disagreements with GEI and that Total and Mitsubishi could also quit and join a rival scheme.

FBR USES COMMERCE MINISTRY’S SHOULDERS TO IMPLEMENT DUTIES

Amid growing public outcry over the levy of heavy duties on imported goods, the Ministry of Commerce on Thursday distanced itself from the decision of imposing regulatory duties on big ticket items such as industrial raw material and put the entire blame on tax authorities.

“The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) deviated significantly from the list of items that the commerce ministry shared with it for the levy of regulatory duties on non-essential items to curb imports,” Additional Commerce Secretary Anjum Assad Amin said.

Amin was presenting the ministry’s views in a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance that was looking into the latest move to impose heavy duties on 356 tariff lines.

Of these, 136 have been targeted for the first time while duties on 220 tariff lines, which were already subject to high regulatory duties, have been jacked up, according to the FBR’s notification.

In terms of number of goods, 27 items have been targeted for the first time having annual import value of just $1.3 billion. Duties on 31 goods having annual import value of only $1.9 billion have been increased further. The low import value of $3.3 billion clearly suggests that the purpose was to increase revenues instead of curbing imports. The FBR targeted even those items that were considered basic raw material for the industries.

Amin further said the FBR did not share the final list of items with the technical team of the commerce ministry.

CEOS OF DISTRIBUTION FIRMS UNDER ‘STRICT MONITORING’, SAYS FEDERAL MINISTER

The Ministry of Energy has issued a statement saying that “non-performing Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of Distribution Companies (DISCOs)” shall be “shown the door if they fail to meet targets assigned to them in the next review meeting” which is to be held in December 2017.

Federal Minister for Power Division Sardar Awais Ahmed Khan Laghari has directed Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO) (PEPCO) to set targets and “prepare key performance indicators to gauge the ability of the present CEOs of all DISCOs”.

The statement was issued after a meeting in which CEOs of DISCOs were all present via video links. Senior officials from Power Division and PEPCO were also present.

Laghari also directed PEPCO to write a letter to all the board of directors of DISCOs to “strictly monitor the performance” of the company and take “strong actions as per the existing rules” against all those who fail to achieve the set targets.

“The dynamics of Power sector must change 180 degrees and it must change accordingly to the aspiration of the consumers,” the statement quoted Laghari. “Consumers service and facilitation is the central point of the CEO’s performance”.

TRADE BETWEEN PAK, BELGIUM CROSSES $1BN

Trade between Pakistan and Belgium has been growing steadily over the years, but there is still potential to maximise the trade and economic ties. Sector-specific measures are required to enhance the two-way commerce to the desired level.

These views were expressed by Honorary Consul of Pakistan in Belgium Luc Meurrens while talking to office-bearers of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).

Meurrens lauded the LCCI, saying exchange of trade delegations and organisation of trade fairs were the most effective marketing tools in the fast changing global scenario.

Speaking on the occasion, LCCI Acting President Khawaja Khawer Rasheed said Pakistan and Belgium enjoyed good diplomatic relations and the latter was an important trading partner of Pakistan in the European Union. He said among the important importing and exporting destinations for Pakistan in the EU, Belgium came at the third and sixth places respectively.

“Traditionally, bilateral trade has been in favour of Pakistan. It is great to see that the trade has crossed over a billion dollars for the first time,” Rasheed said.

In 2015, the level of bilateral trade stood at $817 million, which increased to $1.22 billion in 2016. Increasing trends were witnessed both in imports and exports over the last two years, which led to a healthy transformation in bilateral trade.

“Pakistan’s exports to Belgium registered a 10% increase in a year whereas imports from Belgium went up 154%. I think we need to maintain this trend while focusing more on increasing exports to Belgium,” said an LCCI official.

CPEC CHANGING PEOPLE’S LIVES: SHAUKAT AZIZ

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative, has stated bringing real and long-lasting change in the lives of people as well as business community, said former prime minister Shaukat Aziz.

He made these remarks at the opening session of a symposium on the “19th CPC National Congress: Implications for China and the World.”

He said excitement was at the peak for the people and business community as benefits of CPEC were being felt. A lot of job opportunities were being created and industries were being revived while work on infrastructure projects was under way in different parts of the country, said the former premier.

Massive investments under the CPEC framework had started attracting international investors and now they were examining different opportunities, Aziz added.

He was of the view that the Belt and Road Initiative was providing an opportunity to create new routes for both China and Pakistan with Central Asia, Africa, Europe and the regions beyond.

On the outcome of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), he said it gave a two-strategy roadmap for the development and prosperity of China, but also invited other countries to join it and reap benefits under the initiative.

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