Oct 08 - 14, 2001
Govt puts 70pc sell-off plan on hold
Privatization Minister Altaf Saleem said on
Thursday that 70 per cent of a privatization programme that was to
raise $1 billion by the end of this year has been put on hold because
of the Afghan crisis.
Saleem said the prospect of a US attack on
Afghanistan meant potential foreign bidders were unable to continue
carrying out due diligence on major state assets that were due for
sale by the end of December.
"Our total programme is about $3 billion and
one third of that was planned for the period of October to December
2001," Saleem told Reuters in an interview.
"Thirty per cent of that may go ahead but 70
per cent has to wait till the situation is more clear." The delay
means a planned sale of nine oil and gas fields plus a 26 per cent
stake, with management control, in Pakistan Telecommunications Company
Ltd (PTCL) cannot proceed.
The delay in the privatization programme — which
is designed to reduce the country's foreign debt of nearly $40 billion
as well as to draw new investment into key industries — is another
economic blow from the crisis.
Saleem said the privatization of some $300 million
in state assets that was continuing this year involved mainly small,
domestic sales. They include the National Investment Trust.
He said the delays should not have a major impact
on the later stages of the privatization programme, which is expected
to raise about $2 billion in total.
"We are running our operation on the basis of
business as usual. We are going on because the direction still remains
the same. We are making some tactical adjustments," Saleem said.
"Our programme is not designed to please or displease the
International Monetary Fund. We don't see this programme as a firesale
or something like that," he said. "This programme is because
of the government's own conviction to go ahead — this is a reform programme."
Washington to give $320m assistance for Afghans
President George Bush on Thursday announced $320
million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan and
for neighbouring states to help Afghan refugees. He coupled this by
saying that recent events had provided an opportunity "to make
sure that the subcontinent is more peaceful".
A major component of the assistance, $295 million,
will go to Afghans suffering from drought, famine and displacement
because of the threat of a US-led strike against their country. But
the step was also seen as part of an effort to woo ordinary Afghans
and isolate the Taliban regime ahead of action against Osama bin Laden
and Al Qaida bases.
21 experts appointed investment counsellors
The Board of Investment (BoI), in order to increase
interaction between the private sector and the government, has
initiated a number of steps including appointment of honorary
investment counsellors abroad among the notable overseas Pakistanis.
According to a press release issued on Wednesday,
about 21 renowned overseas Pakistanis in 17 countries have been
appointed. The joint efforts of BoI and these investment counsellors
will improve Pakistan trade and its business related image abroad.
These counsellors will not be a burden on the
government exchequer. They have accepted the task on honorary basis.
All the relevant ministries i.e. ministry of foreign affairs, commerce
and establishment division are on board with BoI and has concurred to
US move to suspend democracy sanctions
The Senate foreign relations committee on Thursday
unanimously approved a draft bill for Congressional approval that
would enable President George Bush to temporarily waive the remaining
sanctions against Pakistan.
The draft, which tailors the waivers to meet
specific objectives rather than give broad or sweeping waiver
authority to the president, has three significant elements. It
proposes vesting the president with the authority to waive democracy
sanctions under Section 508.
Negotiations are under way between the Taliban
authorities and the United Nations for use of Afghanistan's airspace
to deliver food supplies. Addressing a press conference on Thursday,
World Food Programme (WFP) Public Affairs Officer, Khalid Mansur, said
that the world food body "is in the process of identifying safe
air corridors for dropping food to the people."
The federal cabinet on Wednesday approved Rs2,500
as minimum wage for unskilled workers by amending the West Pakistan
Minimum Wage for Unskilled Workers Ordinance, 1969.
The minimum wage will be payable with effect from
August 1, 2001 and apply to all establishments irrespective of the
number of workers employed. The cabinet, which met with President
Pervez Musharraf in the chair, decided that the cost of living
allowance of Rs550 or Rs650, at present admissible to workers, will be
merged into the minimum wages of Rs1,500 and a new payable wage of
Rs2,500 will be fixed for unskilled workers.
Federal Secretary for Communications Iftikhar
Rashid has said that the Shipping Ordinance will be promulgated from
next week. The ordinance will help to modernize shipping sector and
departments related to the sector will be facilitated.
Canada lifts sanctions
Canada said on Monday it was lifting almost all its
economic and political sanctions on Pakistan as a reward for
Islamabad's decision to support a United States-led campaign against
global terrorism. Foreign Minister John Manley and International Aid
Minister Maria Minna said in a statement that Ottawa would also
forgive up to C$447 million ($283 million) in outstanding loans on the
understanding that Pakistan used the money on development projects.